Efficient and safe arrival operations under challenging traffic conditions are a key objective for air transportation modernization efforts taking place throughout the world. However, trajectory predictability issues often prevent Air Traffic Control (ATC) from allowing continuous descent approaches in congested airspace. An arrival procedure with a specific descent profile, such as a fixed-flight-path angle, provides high trajectory predictability for air-traffic management. Accordingly, it can enable ATC to increase the use of continuous descent approaches, thereby increasing the throughput of arrival operations and reducing fuel burn and other direct operating costs in the process. Moreover, such a procedure is already supported by current avionics in almost all small (regional, business, and light) jets and a fraction of large jets, including Boeing and Airbus.

The vertical profile of descent flight-path angles.

This technology computes adaptable, fuel/cost-efficient, and flyable descent profiles for one or more aircraft for a particular airport, an arrival route, and a specific period of time. When used by ATC, it can aid the design of arrival procedures and assist the Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA) to realize its full benefits in guiding arrival flights through the transition airspace. When used by airlines, it can potentially reduce the direct operating costs of their arrival flights, particularly for those flying to outstation airports.

The algorithms select a descent profile, characterized by a flight-path angle or a descent rate, for one or a group of arrival flights. The minimum-fuel strategy achieves the most fuel benefit, but requires communication of the profile in real time (e.g., via data link or voice communication). The other two strategies are less efficient but simpler to implement, and can be used to define more efficient arrival procedures. The technology compares fuel and flyability of each trajectory and selects a profile based on aggregated fuel benefits.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact the Technology Partnerships Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/TOP2-255 .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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