Ground system aims to increase efficiency of aircraft taxiing manoeuvres

The University of Lincoln is leading a project to improve aircraft routing and scheduling at airports, an endeavour that could increase operations at some airports by 50 per cent.

Funded by EPSRC, the new TRANSIT (Towards a Robust Airport Decision Support System for Intelligent Taxiing) project will see researchers and industry experts working together for three years to develop a new on-the-ground system that will reduce aeroplane taxi times, operating costs and environmental impact at airports around the world.

Airport taxiing operations have been identified as a major contributor to unnecessary fuel burn and a substantial source of pollution. TRANSIT research will have the potential to increase airport capacity, while reducing the environmental impact of the growing aviation sector.

The project is in collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield, Stirling, and Cranfield University, plus industry partners that include Rolls Royce, Air France KLM, BAE Systems, Manchester Airport and Zurich Airport.

Dr Jun Chen, an expert in artificial intelligence and control systems from the University of Lincoln’s School of Engineering and principal investigator for TRANSIT, said: “There is an imminent need to make better use of existing aviation infrastructure as air traffic is predicted to increase 1.5 times by 2035.

“Ensuring efficient movement of aircraft on the ground is a key way to save time, reduce costs and improve carbon emissions, so the critical problem we need to address is the balancing of these conflicting objectives.

“By modelling aircraft and their movements more accurately, we believe that highly efficient taxi routes can be generated while still maintaining safety standards.”

Dr Michal Weiszer, research co-investigator for TRANSIT and Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln, and Dr Chen, have previously published research into ways of calculating the quickest and most fuel efficient routes for moving aircraft on the ground.

The TRANSIT project will build on this work and produce a new algorithm to quickly calculate the most suitable route for guiding aircraft from one location to another, using data from airports around the world. Once it has been built, the algorithm will then be tested by pilots using a simulator at Cranfield University. It is hoped that the TRANSIT system will eventually be adaptable for different sized airports worldwide, and could eventually pave the way for automated taxiing.

Dr Weiszer said: “Although ground movement represents only a small fraction of the overall flight, the inefficient operation of aircraft engines at taxiing speed can account for a significant fuel burn. This applies particularly at larger airports, where ground manoeuvres are more complex. It is estimated that fuel burnt during taxiing alone represents up to six per cent of fuel consumption for short-haul flights, resulting in 5m tonnes of fuel burnt per year globally.

“This obviously creates a large financial as well as environmental cost, so we hope to build a robust system that will have a significant impact on these figures.”

The TRANSIT research will take into account engine performance, airframe dynamics and uncertainty related to air traffic; all of which are limitations currently ignored when routing and scheduling aircraft.

The University of Lincoln has been awarded more than £394,000 from the total research grant for tasks including the generation of optimal speed instructions for different aircraft, the development of a decision making framework, real-time software implementation, experimental design and piloted trials. The research will commence in July 2016.