Alaska Airlines is testing a new program to provide pilots with more flight options, saving fuel and time.
There are all sorts of things that can make flights late: headwinds, thunderstorms, or simply too many airplanes trying to crowd into the nation’s increasingly jammed airports.
Right now when you fly, airline dispatchers have pre-designed a plan to get your flight to your destination, hopefully on time. But as a plane makes its way on a long flight, things can change, particularly when it comes to weather.
What if a computer program could take all of that into consideration and suggest to pilots how to better cope with changes, or take advantages of unexpected benefits.
So far, three Alaska Boeing 737s are equipped with new computers that run the TAP software, standing for Traffic Aware Planner. The prevailing winds across the country are blowing from west to east. That’s why a transcontinental flight eastbound is usually shorter flying westbound against the wind.
The TAP software could suggest that there’s less headwind at a certain angle. Then as the software develops, as part of NASA’s Traffic Aware Strategic Aircrew Requests, it could even request clearance from an air traffic controller. The software would already be calculating no conflicts with other airplanes.
Alaska is currently the only airline testing this technology. See reporter Glenn Farley's ride in the simulator: