Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

Airlines, Desperate to Lower Fuel Costs, Turn to GPS

DiscoblogBy Nina BaiOctober 15, 2008 2:09 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

airline.jpg

The shortest route between two points is a straight line.But if you manage to get on a flight these days, you’ll probably end up zigzagging across the skies.That’s because the radar-based navigation system used by airlines, developed more than 50 years ago, limits air traffic to a grid of narrow highways—meaning that planes have to wait in a single-file queue for their turn to take off.So it’s a good thing the FAA is proposing a new satellite-based GPS navigation system, called NextGen, that would let pilots fly shorter routes—and use less fuel.

NextGen would let pilots determine their own position and the position of other flights, potentially shifting flight patterns.The current radar system takes 10 seconds to scan an area, so planes have to be kept extra far apart. Supporters of NextGen say it would allow more planes in the air while reducing accidents and delays—while also saving 3.3 billion gallons or $10 billion per year in fuel costs.

Of course, there’s the matter of up front costs.

Switching to the new system is projected to cost $35 billion, with $15 billion to be paid for by the airlines.The airlines would have to pay an additional $200,000 per plane to install GPS devices, and the government says the system won’t be operational until the 2020s.Airlines, already beset by financial woes, are no doubt reluctant to shell out for technology that may not be of any use for many years.In the meantime, passengers will have to keep shelling out for water ($2), a pillow-and-blanket kit ($7), or a view of the sky ($15).

Related Content:

DISCOVER: The Physics of... Airplanes 80beats: DARPA Wants a Biofuel Jet, While Germany Works on a Hydrogen Plane 80beats: Wi-Fi in the Sky: Delta Adding Internet to All U.S. Flights

Image: flickr/ eschipul

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In