Flight Paths Optimized

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An AI system is helping aircraft avoid bad weather, restricted airspace, and clogged runways.

What’s new: Alaska Airlines will route all its flights using a system from Airspace Intelligence called Flyways.

How it works: The system evaluates weather data, federal airspace closures, and the routes of all planned and active flights in the U.S. to find the most efficient paths for aircraft to reach their destinations.

  • In a six-month trial last year, Alaska dispatchers accepted one-third of the system’s recommendations, shaving off an average of 5.3 minutes from 63 percent of flights. That saved an estimated 480,000 gallons of fuel, reducing the airline’s carbon dioxide emissions by 4,600 tons.
  • The system constantly monitors each plane’s route while it’s in the air, sending color-coded alerts to human dispatchers. A red light suggests that a flight should be rerouted due to weather or safety issues. A green light flashes if the re-route is for fuel efficiency. A purple light means a flight needs to avoid restricted airspace.
  • Alaska Airlines signed a multi-year agreement with Airspace Intelligence. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Behind the news: AI is making inroads into several areas of air transport.

  • FedEx partnered with Reliable Robotics to build self-piloting Cessnas that carry cargo to remote areas.
  • California startup Merlin plans to build a fleet of autonomous small planes to deliver cargo and fight fires.
  • A number of drone delivery services are getting ready to take flight, pending permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Why it matters: Commercial air travel got walloped by the pandemic. Streamlining operations may be necessary to revive it, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

We’re thinking: Unlike cars and trucks, airplanes can’t easily go electric, so they’re stuck with fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Cutting their carbon emissions will benefit everyone.

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