Airplane 'database in the sky' could ease traffic concerns

Researchers are proposing a smart plane ‘database in the sky’ to help deal with the growing burden on airports.

With air traffic across Europe likely to double expected to double by the end of the decade, airports across the continent will struggle to provide for the increase. In the, accounts for 2.2 million flights carrying 200 million passengers were handled by the National Air Traffic Services in the past year .

For the UK in particular this has been a major problem. Debates have raged over proposals to build extra capacity at Heathrow airport, already bursting at the seams, with fierce opposition to even more runways being added to one of the busiest airports in the world.

However, Cambridge University engineers and academics believe that they have come up with a way to reduce the burden on flightpaths already heaving with planes.

They believe that by updating the systems used to control the in-air traffic, more aircraft can be managed with greater efficiency along flight paths. Currently airports use systems that in some cases involve air traffic management (ATM) equipment from the 50s, according to the researchers. 

The researchers contend that by fitting airplanes with onboard computers to predict future positions of other aircraft, and sharing information with other aircraft in-flight, a dynamic database of information could be established. This would allow fuel and time efficient flight paths to be quickly determined without needing to rely on the staff on the ground.

Such an automated system would allow for a more coordinated and intelligent management of flight paths, meaning that up to six times more planes could safely be flown on air traffic routes, or so the researchers hope.

Introducing such a system would require stringent security testing, but the Cambridge researchers are confident. According to one of the researchers, Professor Jan Maciejowski, the team has already approached airport staff, and has received positive reaction to the proposals.

“I’ve been delighted by how positively airport operators have reacted already,” Maciejowski said.  “It’s a sign of the times – airports are running at capacity and it’s becoming a matter of urgency to look at how systems can be improved.”