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Direct-To Wins 2014 NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award

The NASA General Counsel has selected the Direct-To controller tool, developed at Ames Research Center, as winner of the 2014 NASA “Commercial Invention of the Year” award. The award was made at the recommendation of the NASA Inventions and Contributions Board. Congratulations to the winning inventors, David McNally (NASA/ARC), Heinz Erzberger (University of California Santa Cruz, NASA/ARC), Phillipe Ari Stassart (Sensis Seagull Technology Center, Raytheon STX Corporation), and Danny Chiu (University of California Santa Cruz, Raytheon STX Corporation). Their outstanding work offers a significant game-changing contribution towards safely increasing fuel efficiency and reducing flight time and emissions for aircraft flying in the national airspace system.

Aircraft operators in today's air traffic control system are usually constrained to follow established airways that are often comprised of inefficient route segments to a destination. The Direct-To controller tool is a method of automation, and a system of computer hardware and software to implement the method, which helps en-route air traffic controllers and aircraft operators identify opportunities to safely fly directly to specified downstream waypoints or navigation fixes on their previously filed flight plans. It is designed to automatically identify conditions where doglegs within the current airways structure may be safely eliminated thereby saving flight time and fuel and increasing the productivity of air traffic controllers and the efficiency of aircraft trajectories within the constraints of the current air traffic control environment. The design and operational use of the invention represents a proactive approach to problem solving in that it allows actively searching for, and pointing out, opportunities for improving the efficiency of trajectories to airlines and controllers. The continuous, automatic, real-time search analyzes thousands of airborne flights and finds high-value time and fuel saving direct routes checked for traffic and operational constraints. It is the first-ever and only commercial application of air traffic trajectory automation for proactive automatic search for airline favorable route changes.

Commercial sales of this technology by The Boeing Company started in 2014 with their service known as Direct Routes. Seeking to help airlines save fuel and increase environmental efficiency, Boeing’s InFlight Optimization Services leverages NASA technology for advanced algorithms and software to provide up-to-the-minute information to airlines and their flight crews, enabling adjustments en route to account for weather and air traffic control status. Boeing estimates US savings at 1,000,000 flight minutes per year and about $75,000,000 per year airline operating cost savings.

Award Recipients: Danny Chiu, Heinz Erzberger, David McNally, Philippe A. Stassart

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Last Updated: October 13, 2016

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