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Advancing Air Traffic Efficiency: NASA Collaborates with Airlines for Sustainable Operations

In a significant development, NASA has partnered with five major U.S. airlines to further develop an air traffic decision-making tool that saved over 24,000 pounds of aviation fuel in 2022 for flights departing from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field.

Throughout 2022, NASA's Digital Information Platform (DIP) machine learning tool empowered flight coordinators at the two Dallas airports to reduce delays and fuel consumption significantly.

The Collaborative Digital Departure Reroute (CDDR) tool, developed by DIP, utilized traffic predictions to identify more efficient alternative departure routes, resulting in reduced delays and fuel savings. Currently, NASA is working alongside American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines to test a cloud-based version of the CDDR tool in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The CDDR aims to enhance current air traffic operations at commercial airports by integrating FAA airspace traffic and restrictions data with flight-specific surface traffic data from the five airlines and the two airports.

Applying machine learning to these data sets, the tool provides traffic predictions regarding runway availability, estimated departure and arrival times.

These five airlines are collaborating with NASA to further improve the CDDR tool and explore additional opportunities for data-driven solutions to enhance flight planning and re-planning operations.

"The abundance of digital aviation data offers flight operators and air traffic controllers opportunities to achieve more sustainable operations," said Dr. Gilbert Wu, head of the DIP team at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"Collaborating with partner airlines allows the DIP team to identify these opportunities and apply the most advanced technical approaches, such as CDDR, in an operational demonstration that showcases real-world benefits. If you are flying from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport or Dallas Love Field any day, your flight may take off from the surface faster or arrive at your destination earlier, thanks to CDDR."

This digital tool is designed to be scalable and adaptable across all airspace, and it can be adopted by various users, including cargo operators and commercial airlines.

Field evaluation at Charlotte Douglas Airport has already saved over 1 million gallons of aircraft fuel, reduced 23.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, and saved over 6,000 engine runtime hours between 2017 and 2021. The Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 project is currently ongoing at Charlotte Douglas with support from the FAA.

However, the CDDR tool goes beyond the approach used in Airspace Technology Demonstration 2, incorporating predictive services based on machine learning, cloud-based infrastructure, and other innovations.

By collaborating with airlines and leveraging cutting-edge technology, NASA aims to revolutionize air traffic operations, making them more sustainable and efficient for the benefit of both the aviation industry and the environment.

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