NASA has developed a way to prevent flight delays using a new technogy that safely increases the number of airplanes that can land on the same runway at busy airports by more precisely managing the time between each aircraft arrival.
Less time in the air also means additional savings in expensive jet fuel and reduced aircraft emissions, and passengers would enjoy an increased chance their flights – connecting or otherwise – will arrive on time, NASA said.
Current air traffic control technology and procedures can predict arrival times to within a minute or so.
The Flight Deck Interval Management (FIM) is expected to enable controllers and the airport to count on aircraft arriving within five to ten seconds of a predicted time.
The cockpit-based prototype FIM system combines NASA-developed software with commercially available hardware and connects the system to the aircraft’s onboard information and navigation systems.
“FIM allows controllers to deliver the aircraft more precisely and more predictably, which is a huge advantage that helps the airlines and airport operators more efficiently manage air traffic to minimize delays,” said William Johnson, project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Centre in the US.
Relying on their experience and existing tools – some previously developed by NASA and turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for deployment – air traffic controllers determine the ideal goal for spacing aircraft as they approach the airport.
A controller then contacts the pilots of a particular aircraft, informing them of the spacing goal, the trajectory the aircraft should fly, and the ID of an aircraft ahead of them.
The pilots then enter all of this information into the FIM system, which then computes a solution with the additional help of input from the airplane’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) unit.
The result is a number displayed on FIM screens for the pilots to see that tells them what speed to fly so they can follow the specified aircraft a safe distance in front of them all the way down to the runway.
“The FIM operation was designed to work in today’s modern commercial aircraft with minimal changes to the aircraft and flight crew procedures,” Johnson said.