FAA and NASA carbon-reducing aircraft management system takes off

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NASA have launched a new software system which is expected to save thousands of tonnes of CO2 in American airports each year.

The launch marks the completion of research and testing on a software capability that calculates gate pushbacks at busy hub airports so that each plane can roll directly to the runway and to take off. The FAA plans to deploy this capability as part of a larger investment in surface management technology to 27 airports.

“The future of flight must be more sustainable and environmentally friendly,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “This new capability as part of a flight merging system has a double benefit: It reduces aircraft emissions and ensures air travellers experience more on-time departures.”

The capability, which will be part of the FAA’s Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM) program, was developed by NASA and tested for nearly four years.

“NASA is developing transformative technologies that will revolutionize the aviation sector as we know it,” added NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The proof is in the pudding. This air traffic scheduling technology enhances aircraft efficiency and improves dependability for passengers every day. I’m excited that the software NASA developed for air traffic controllers and airlines will be soon rolled out at airports across the country and know the results will continue to be extraordinary.”

The plan is to roll the system out to 27 US airports and both organisations believe by minimising taxi delay and ramp congestion, the program reduces fuel burn and CO2 emissions and support the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal to build a sustainable aviation system. When completed, the FAA anticipates a savings of more than 7 million gallons of fuel every year and the elimination of more than 75,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

During testing at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the program:

  • Reduced taxi times that helped save more than 275,000 gallons of fuel annually, equivalent to the fuel burn of 185 flights between New York and Chicago by a Boeing 737;
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 8 tons of CO2 daily;
  • Reduced delays by 916 hours, equivalent to shaving 15 minutes of waiting time on a taxiway for more than 3,600 departing flights.

“When you are ready to go, you want to go. Waiting in line on a taxiway is not part of the flight plan,” adds FAA Assistant Administrator for NextGen Pamela Whitley. “Through a productive partnership between the FAA, NASA and the airlines, we now have technology that brings better predictability of aircraft movements on and above our busiest airports. This will yield benefits for air travellers and for the environment.”

Dickson added: “The thing about aviation is … it’s a team sport. And we are lucky that NASA is on our team. We are better for it … and we are safer for it.”

He added: “The climate crisis isn’t something we can leave to the next generation.”

“The capability that we have been testing for the last few years … and that we plan to deploy across more airports as part of a larger surface traffic management system … shows that we aren’t standing by,” Dickson added. “This capability reduces aircraft fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions. And it shaves minutes of time off each flight.

“This software calculates when it is best to have the aircraft pushback from the gate at busy hub airports, so that they can roll right to the runway. With this capability, we can reduce taxi delays and ramp congestion. And after take-off, this system enables air traffic controllers to merge you right into the stream of jet traffic.”

The benefits are clear he added: “For instance, at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, this system generated enough fuel savings each year for 185 flights between New York and Chicago by a Boeing 737. Very impressive! This system also shaved off 15 minutes of waiting time on a taxiway for more than 3,600 departing flights.

“If you do the math, the numbers get very big, very fast – in a good way.”

The plan is to roll the system out to 27 US airports and both organisations believe by minimising taxi delay and ramp congestion, the program reduces fuel burn and CO2 emissions and support the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal to build a sustainable aviation system.

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