Alaska Airlines reduced flight time and carbon emissions after using dispatch software from a small Silicon Valley startup.
Airspace Intelligence helped the Seattle-based airline reduce an average of 2.7 minutes per flight so far this year, saving 6,866 metric tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of 17 million miles traveled by a passenger vehicle at average gasoline, according to new data provided by Alaska.
The software helps Alaskan flight dispatchers plot better routes for their pilots to fly and avoid other planes and bad weather that would otherwise have delayed flight arrivals, said Pasha Salehhead of corporate development for Alaska Airlines.
Using the software is one of the ways the airline is trying to reduce its carbon output, Saleh said.
“Alaska has this bold – let’s say aggressive – climate goal,” he said. “One of the ways (to achieve this) is through operational efficiency, doing a little better today what we were doing yesterday.”
A recent report by the UN-backed International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said that until recently the dispatch software used by airlines around the world was “less advanced than car navigation apps general public like Google Maps or Waze”.
The report notes that Airspace, founded in 2018, has optimized more than 38,000 flights and delivered estimated fuel savings of 21 million pounds, or around 34,000 tonnes of carbon emissions reductions.
Aviation industry software is not state-of-the-art, and for good reason, Saleh said: The industry relies on proven hardware and software because “you can’t control-alt-delete” at 30,000 feet.
But while legacy routing platforms are reliable and secure, they are not efficient in terms of operational efficiency, according to the ICAO report.
Currently, dispatchers from each airline direct pilots to what they think is the best route to their destination. These flight plans are filed and the planes take off. Once airborne, air traffic controllers monitor planes from all airlines, and if they get too close to each other, they order them to change course to maintain safe distances.
The problem with course corrections is that they cause pilots to fly a little farther than they intended, Saleh said. Each means that the plane is in the air a few more minutes before arriving at its destination, which means that it consumes just a little more fuel.
Airspace Intelligence’s software analyzes all recorded flight plans to look for any traffic jams a flight crew might encounter during a flight – and any metaphorical potholes potentially caused by adverse weather conditions.
After analyzing all this data using machine learning, the computer plots a recommended route that avoids traffic and obstacles. The dispatcher then reviews the computer-generated course and either approves or rejects it. If the dispatcher rejects it, the platform asks why, so they know what not to recommend in the future, Saleh said.
So far, Alaska is the only airline in the world to use Airspace Intelligence software, he said.
However, if the world’s airlines adopted this type of software as a standard, the ICAO report estimated that they would reduce fuel consumption by a billion pounds, which would reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of the aircraft. industry of about 1.8 million tons per year.
This represents a saving of less than 1% of total estimated global airline carbon emissions. But it is a saving that is achieved without having to make any modifications to existing aircraft or engines, the report notes.
Saleh said he thinks this type of software will lead to more savings in the future. He said the airline is working with Airspace on an upcoming iteration of its platform that will help pilots optimize the altitudes at which they fly to avoid headwinds or other issues that reduce fuel efficiency.
After that, he said, the goal is to start looking at departure and arrival times, with the aim of better spacing out air traffic to reduce the time planes spend idling on the ground in waiting for clearance to take off, and to reduce the time aircraft spend circling an airport, waiting for clearance to land.
“There are always ways to reduce (fuel consumption),” Saleh said. “It’s really getting all you can out of it.”
Airspace is led by CEO and Co-Founder Philip Buckendorf, a former researcher at Uni Robotics who previously co-founded GoodTime Labs. The company’s founders previously aimed to build simulators for self-driving cars, Fortune reported last year, but they turned to air routing. Its backers include Spark Capital, Gradient Ventures (Google’s artificial intelligence fund), Bloomberg Beta, Franklin Templeton Investments, and people including former executives from Palantir, OpenAI, Twitter, and Waze.