NASA testing new technology to save passengers time in the air

SEATTLE - NASA is known for space exploration, but in February the agency spent the month flying airplanes over eastern Washington to test software that could someday reduce travel delays.

That new technology could also save airlines some fuel and cut down on pollution from jet engines.

Over the skies of eastern Washington, engineers fly three planes. Each plane cruises a certain distance from each other. All of it is part of a test program.

“The whole idea of this program is to manage the flow. Provide better flow management into an airport,” said Ian Bell, the senior Flight test engineer with Honeywell.

NASA came up with a computer program that determines that flow and helps eliminate excess space between the planes. Less space, means more planes can land at an airport in the same amount of time.

For passengers in those planes, it would mean less time in the sky.

“The integrated technology is supposed to allow passengers to get in and out of airports more quickly with less delay,” said Brian Baxley, principal investigator and technical lead for the program.

The technology would also help reduce the workload on air traffic controllers. Helping them stay focused on other important tasks.

“They won’t have to spend as much time talking to airplanes and maneuvering airplanes, instead they can spend a little more time making sure the airplanes are safely separated,” said Rick Berckefeldt, working on the test program.

Even though this system cuts down the time in the sky, it wouldn’t eliminate travel delays caused by weather or airport construction.

NASA scientists have been working on this technology for almost a decade. The software still needs work and it will be years before this type of technology can take off on any commercial flights.