NASA recently completed a few tests of its new Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) application aboard a Piaggio P.180 Avanti pusher prop, clearing the software for a more formal three-year test program in partnership with Virgin America and Alaska Airlines. TAP connects to the aircraft’s avionics to make “traffic-aware strategic aircraft requests,” (TASAR), according to David Wing, TASAR project lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
The application reads aircraft position, altitude, flight route and other real-time information to define the airplane's situation and flight plan, Wing said. "Then it automatically looks for a variety of route and/or altitude changes that could save fuel or flight time and displays those solutions directly to the flight crew." The application also connects with the airplane's ADS-B receiver to scan signals of nearby air traffic for potential conflicts. It further can access weather and airspace status.
The TASAR software was tested twice aboard a Piaggio P180 Avanti operated by Advanced Aerospace Solutions of Raleigh, N.C. Test pilot William Cotton said the system worked well on the aircraft’s flight from Virginia to Kentucky. "We used it to make a route change request from air traffic control, which they granted," said Cotton. "We got a shortcut that shaved four minutes off the flight time." A second round of flight tests was completed to ensure the system was ready to move into fuller-scale testing with airline partners.