New Aviation Technology Brings Safer Travel Today, Looks To Future

aviation technology

Commercial aviation technology has come a long way since its first flight in 1914, a 23-minute flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. Along the way, a great amount of the technology in today’s aircraft, enabling travelers to fly around the world, was developed right here in the United States. That tradition continues with some recent advances, in use right now or on their way, that address current needs and future concerns.

In Alaska, landing a commercial aircraft has its unique challenges. Mountains surround the airport in Juneau; Sitka’s small runway or Kodiak’s strip that ends at the side of a mountain have first officers watching the captains-only landings.

“The weather around here can be unpredictable,” said Clarissa Conley, the F.A.A. manager for Juneau International Airport in a New York Times report. “You name it, we’ve got it. And the terrain can make flying here pretty challenging, particularly when visibility is low.”

Addressing that specific issue of today, Alaska Airlines developed satellite guidance, a navigation technique that made landing at Alaska’s airports far safer and is a big part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to modernize the nation’s air traffic system.Meanwhile, looking to the future, NASA is about to wrap up a three-week flight test of biofuels that began on February 28. Called the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research, NASA is flying a DC-8 “flying laboratory” out of its Dryden facility, doing tests on biofuel that promise to collect data on emissions, engine performance and contrails. NASA does that by flying one of their Falcon jets as close as 300 feet behind the DC-8, mostly over restricted airspace.

But an AVWeb post notes NASA saying that “if weather conditions permit, the Falcon jet will trail commercial aircraft flying in the Southern California region, in coordination with air traffic controllers.” NASA does say that if following a commercial airliner, the distance will be ten miles between aircraft.

The NASA study and similar investigations by the European community hope to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and, in turn, reduce emissions by the commercial airline industry.




[Photo credit – Flickr user Niels van Eck]


Airport, Airline Weather System Updates To Save Time, Fuel, Eventually

weather

When unavoidable bad weather causes turbulence in the air, passengers can expect a rocky ride. In the past, while pilots have aimed to avoid turbulence, they have been limited in the number of available tools. Now, a new turbulence avoidance system promises to change that.

A smoother ride
Called the Juneau Airport Wind System (JAWS), it was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and provides information pilots can use to route aircraft away from patches of potentially dangerous turbulence.

“By alerting pilots to areas of moderate and severe turbulence, this system enables them to fly more frequently and safely in and out of the Juneau airport in poor weather,” says Alan Yates, an NCAR program manager who helped oversee the system’s development in an R&D Magazine article. “It allows pilots to plan better routes, helping to reduce the bumpy rides that passengers have come to associate with airports in these mountainous settings.”

The system uses a network of wind measuring instruments and computational formulas to interpret rapidly changing atmospheric conditions. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted JAWS for operational use this year.

Just how bad can turbulence in the air be? Check this video:


Sliding in for a landing
In the works and delayed for several years, another system relies on satellites and GPS rather than the radar system developed in the 1950s to direct planes and jets from takeoff to landing.

Called the NextGen system, it will be initially used in Orlando, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, northern and southern California, Houston, Charlotte and northern Texas. The new system should allow planes to fly with less spacing between them on more direct routes, and allowing them to glide to a landing rather than following a step down pattern that is not fuel efficient.

The NextGen system has been compared to walking down a flight of stairs vs. sliding down the banister.

“In addition to improving safety and increasing capacity, this plan will allow for more direct routing for airplanes, less holding at the destination and better planning for constant descent arrivals mentioned above, resulting in less carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise.” said Gadling’s Kent Wien in Plane Answers: Airlines see green in appearing green back in 2009, just to show how long this one has been in the works.

This video tells the whole story:



Flickr photo by Ack Ook

Alaska’s ports of entry undergo major facelifts

Visitors returning to Alaska will notice some major changes at several airports across the state. Terminals in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks have undergone some dramatic changes recently that should make traveling through the major ports of entry go more smoothly.

The Juneau International Airport in the state capital has a newly renovated terminal with higher ceilings, more windows, better lights, a larger baggage terminal and more exit options. A light refracting awning was also installed to improve energy efficiency, and other weatherproofing measures such as new siding and the installation of heating coils in pedestrian walkways are now finished. The booth for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau was also relocated to be more accessible to travelers.

In Anchorage, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport finished up the final touches on more than a decade of work last month. Recent renovations include adding more space for dining options (including local restaurants) and some other aesthetic touches. The airport also just welcomed service between Long Beach and Anchorage on JetBlue, the first new domestic passenger carrier to Anchorage in six years.

The Fairbanks International Airport (pictured above) also recently opened a brand new terminal. Improvements include new boarding gates, higher ceilings, more windows, a larger baggage terminal and curbside improvements. The old terminal was demolished to make way for the new one, which follows modern security standards and has six jet-bridges (up from the former five).

If you could nominate any airport in the U.S. for an upgrade, which one would it be? My personal choice would be Newark Liberty International Aiport, but I’m sure there are some airports in need of attention that I haven’t touched down at yet.

[Photo courtesy the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau]