NASA's Waze-for-planes software could save airlines millions

NASA has just announced an app its developed that aims to help the pilots here on earth, rather than those heading into space. Dubbed Traffic Aware Planner (TAP), the app runs on a standard tablet and can be added to a plane's cockpit without the need for changes. TAP works by trying to determine a route that will shorten travel times, in turn reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

The app connects to the plane's avionics dashboard and monitors the flight route, current position, and other information, all in real-time, to find adjustments in altitude or route that could save time and money.

NASA's app doesn't require pilots or ground crew members to change anything about the way they work. TAP basically works like the GPS/traffic advisory apps we use while driving each day. If the software finds a better route, it's displayed on the tablet for pilots to review.

If all this weren't advanced enough, TAP also connects with an aircraft's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver to scan nearby air traffic, making sure that suggested route changes won't interfere with other flights. And for planes with an internet connection in the cockpit, the app will also base its suggestions on wind forecast and other weather conditions.

As for the time and money savings, during test flights TAP was able to shave four minutes off the flight time, and researchers say just a few minutes like that on each leg of a trip could lead to substantial savings. For example, four minutes off a single Boeing 767 flight could save around $330 in fuel, so if just half the flights that Atlanta's airport sees each day saved four minutes, it would be worth roughly $165,000.