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Dublin: 6°C Wednesday 21 April 2021

Waiting on a runway to take off could be a thing of the past

No more waiting. Hooray!

file photo, planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
file photo, planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

AFTER THE QUEUES to check in, drop bags and get on a flight comes the waiting to take off.

That part, however, could soon end.

Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system that could see planes spending less time on the tarmac.

The model can predict how long a plane will wait before takeoff, given weather conditions, runway traffic, and incoming and outgoing flight schedules. The model may help air traffic controllers direct departures more efficiently, minimising runway congestion.

For example, if a controller knows that a plane is unlikely to take off for half an hour, he may choose to keep the plane at the gate to avoid contributing to runway backups.

Hamsa Balakrishnan, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, says that in tests at various U.S. airports, the model encouraged controllers to hold flights back during certain times of day, leading to significant fuel savings.

“Each gate-held aircraft saves 16 to 20 gallons of fuel, because it’s not idling. And that adds up.”

Balakrishnan and former graduate student Ioannis Simaiakis have published their results in the journal Transportation Science.

Balakrishnan says the queuing model gives air traffic controllers accurate predictions of what airport congestion would look like if they took certain actions, such as continuously pushing planes back from the gate.

Controllers can then use these predictions to adjust their pushback times to avoid runway backup.

“If you predict only 10 aircraft are likely to take off in the next 15 minutes, you probably don’t have to release 25 aircraft from the gate,” Balakrishnan says.

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