By ANDY PASZTOR
Honeywell International has developed new onboard
flight-management software that gives pilots more flexibility
to change altitude on long overwater routes, as well as to fly
more-precise airport approaches, technology that could save airlines
millions of dollars in fuel costs.
One air-traffic control change, which has been approved by
the Federal Aviation Administration and is being tested, allows
pilots more freedom to climb or descend during trips across the
Pacific Ocean based on wind, weather and aircraft weight.
The new procedure is designed to save time and fuel by
avoiding headwinds or allowing flight at higher altitudes,
where air is thinner and engines burn less fuel.
Some estimates place potential benefits at as much as 3% in
savings on reduced fuel use. Others project as much as $200,000 in
annual savings per plane while cruising long oceanic routes.
United Continental Holdings is running demonstration flights to
verify such estimates.
Honeywells moves come as other companies pursue
different approaches to provide fuel-efficiency benefits on
Earlier this year, satellite operator Iridium Communications
and NAV Canada, the air-traffic control organization handling
the bulk of Atlantic crossings, partnered to provide continuous
monitoring of jetliners and supply more complete information
about aircraft positions to controllers on the ground.
aim is to permit planes to fly closer to each other and
encourage controllers to allow adjustments of flight paths to
save fuel and avoid storms.
Airline pilots rely on automated flight-control systems that
keep planes on routes with predetermined speeds and altitudes.
Changing plans over water can be difficult under the current
system because there is no radar coverage and controllers can't
pinpoint aircraft locations.
Honeywell's software is designed to make onboard
flight-control systems more flexible, allowing pilots to make
adjustments as conditions change.
A United Continental spokeswoman said 12 of the airline's
Boeing 747 jumbo jets are equipped to use the more-flexible
flight paths and 16 test flights have been completed.
Capt. Joe Burns, the carrier's managing director of technology and flight testing, said
in a statement the procedures will allow for more
efficient routing and effective management of oceanic airspace
while reducing risk.
A separate software change, which Honeywell is still testing
under the auspices of European regulators, allows
jetliners to take more-precise paths when they descend toward
The change allows pilots to keep engines in idle during such
descents, saving fuel and squeezing more planes into busy
airways and airports because the planes are more evenly
The FAA hasn't approved the change yet.
The new fuel-efficient paths are building blocks for planned
satellite-based traffic control systems expected to be phased
in over the next decade. Regulators and industry officials in
the US and Europe are looking for ways to use
existing equipment to reduce airline costs years before the
Honeywells concept makes it easier for pilots to climb
or descend during long overwater legs, because cockpit crews
have better information about surrounding aircraft. Most big
jets on oceanic flights are expected to keep about 50 miles of
horizontal separation from jets flying in the same
Honeywell said the FAA and other air-traffic services have
agreed to reduce that spacing to as little as 20 miles for
certain jets using the new software and procedures.
Honeywell test pilot Markus Johnson, who helped develop the
software, said the aim is to keep wide-body jets from
burning extra fuel by being stuck for hours at lower than
optimum altitudes over the Pacific and elsewhere. He said
planes going up or down are allowed to pass in front of or
behind aircraft cruising at different altitudes.
Also, plans for more-precise airport approaches extend other
traffic control techniques widely used at high altitudes.
Commercial and business jets already file flight plans
spelling out their anticipated speed and altitude at specific
points along their routine cruise path. Now, Honeywell and
others working on changes want to add a third variable,
precision timing, at lower altitudes.
Honeywell test pilot Joe Duval said the new descent
procedures will ensure planes pass designated points within a
six-second window, which makes it possible to put more planes
into the same airspace and spread out landings more
The Wall Street Journal (via Dow Jones