Greener planes thanks to artificial intelligence?

In order to make aviation greener, many manufacturers are looking for solutions for the nature of engines and fuel in particular. Nevertheless, an airline is currently working on a way to achieve better air traffic management through artificial intelligence. This would save a significant amount of fuel and thus reduce the impact on the environment.

Optimize flight routes

To ensure that the ecological transition of the aviation sector, the promises are not lacking. In France, the government wants sustainable aviation biofuels to account for half of the fuels that aircraft will use by 2050. Some manufacturers are betting on future hydrogen aircraft or hybrid airships. At the European level, the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) is interested in the optimization of flight routes. The target? Ensure traffic capacity has tripled by 2024 and get 10% reduction in environmental impact before every flight. There is also enhanced security.

You should know that the shortest route is not necessarily the most interesting. However, the flight plan integrates a large number of parameters such as temperature, altitude, weather conditions, aircraft performance, weight, etc. These same parameters are so numerous that it is not easy to integrate them into the dispatchers, whose mission is to prepare the flight plans. These often have use of standard routes. In other words, developing a personalized itinerary for each flight takes too much time. For this reason, the American company Alaska Airlines called on the company Airspace Intelligence.

A promising system

You should know that Airspace Intelligence designs airways using artificial intelligence. For the time being, the algorithms calculate routes on average five minutes faster than the routes that people work out. In a statement dated May 25, 2021, Alaska Airlines said it had completed a six-month testing period. The company says it has saved fuel on 64% of its flights, for a total of 1.8 million litres. For example, AI made it possible to emissions of approximately 4,600 tons of CO2. While these results are still a bit timid, the promises are concrete. Alaska Airlines also claims to be the first airline to use this method to calculate its routes.

Similar to the driver assistance application Waze, the AI-powered software has more than one trick up its sleeve. In addition to calculating the best flight route, it includes: airspace ecosystem data. For example, it could be the congestion of that same space or even the occupancy of the runway. While all of this data is technically accessible, human operators can’t take it into account in their itineraries. During its training, the AI ​​was shown millions of previous flight plans. The latter can even anticipate possible problems for up to six hours after takeoff.

AI airplane flight route software 2
Credit: Alaska Airlines

Obviously, the most skeptical people will have a vague view of this innovation. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that currently the software in question only helps human decision making. This suggests a route to a coordinator who is completely free to apply it or not. However, it is not so far-fetched to believe that air traffic will ever be so complex that its regulation will be fully automated.