Anyone who has taken to the skies this summer knows that those skies have not been very friendly. Just before the July 4th holiday, a near-record number of travelers found their flights delayed or canceled altogether. Many faced multiple flight disruptions.
Weather was to blame for some of the delays, but others were caused by problems with air traffic control in the busy travel corridors in the Northeast.
When passenger flights are delayed or canceled, it also means the cargo riding in the bellies of those planes is delayed. All-cargo flights are subject to disruptions as well. When scheduling problems develop, they may face difficulty finding the takeoff slots they need to meet delivery obligations.
But there is hope on the way with new technology designed to better manage the crowded skies. This past June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) teamed up with its counterparts in Japan, Singapore, and Thailand to conduct a test demonstration utilizing Trajectory Based Operations, or TBO.
The TBO system is designed to expedite the movement of aircraft for better traffic control. It relies on the use, sharing, and management of an aircraft’s trajectory to guide the aircraft along an optimal flight path under changing conditions.
The FAA says that air traffic controllers in the future will shift from sharing information via the current voice-based system to one centered on data exchange. This will allow each country to be immediately aware of how changes in other countries will affect a flight and better plan for when an aircraft enters its area of responsibility.
The June test involved an aircraft conducting four flight segments over six days, routing on June 11 from Seattle to Tokyo, then Tokyo to Singapore, Singapore to Bangkok, and finally from Bangkok back to Seattle on June 16. The participating countries shared data on the aircraft’s trajectory, and then air experts sequenced the routes to achieve the optimal flight paths. The FAA reports that controllers factored in conditions such as weather, air traffic, and airspace closures. The successful tests marked the first joint effort to manage flights across multiple countries by predicting where an aircraft will be at what time.
The FAA says that with greater predictability and flexibility, aircraft may be able to reduce the amount of fuel they carry to cover contingencies, resulting in less fuel burn and lower emissions. Better alignment in the strategic planning and coordination among the various nations will also decrease uncertainty in air traffic control systems and increase reliability.
The FAA and its international partners plan future tests to fully define the capabilities of the TBO technologies. This successful cooperation will hopefully lead to a future marked by more peaceful transit for both passengers and cargo.