GE looks to cloud computing to improve air traffic

Engineers at General Electric's Global Research facility in Niskayuna are working to land airplanes

Engineers at General Electric’s Global Research facility in Niskayuna are working to land airplanes on a more predictable schedule with the help of cloud technology.

Cloud computing, which is used in everyday life by people to remotely store their music, photos, videos and other files, would be used by air traffic controllers, airlines and pilots to allow for a smoother sharing of real-time information that will help improve aircraft operations and airspace efficiency.

Liling Ren, an electrical engineer working on the project, said air passengers would have the benefit of better communication between people flying the planes and people on the ground, with the result being estimated arrival times coming much closer to actual arrival times.

” Cloud computing has the potential to fundamentally change how air traffic management operates today,” Ren said in a statement.

The transition to the technology, he said, will lead to a greater ability to predict a plane’s future flight path. Additionally, it should improve traffic flow and allow airlines to plan more preferable routes that would result in less fuel used and less emissions.

The ultimate goal, he said, “[Is] more predictable and efficient travel that is on-time for passengers.”

That’s a problem that Ren, from Clifton Park, knows full well, after spending a night in Atlanta after missing a connecting flight.

“I was rerouted to Atlanta,” he said of a trip home from the West Coast. “They said it was a better route, but when I arrived there it was too late.”

Now Ren and three other engineers, plus a project manager, have begun an 18-month project with NASA to develop the next generation of air traffic management powered by cloud technology.

The project is a perfect fit at GE, according to Ren, who noted that the company has had its own private cloud in operation since 2009.

The hope is that after 18 months the air traffic management system will be ready for a trial program that could accelerate the implementation of the cloud technology. “Five years is not too optimistic,” Ren said of actual implementation of the system.

The challenge that lies ahead, though, involves incorporating all the different players and factors that are connected with airplane travel. GE’s engineers will try to determine what information should be shared in the cloud to allow all the different parts to move efficiently. Choosing what is shared, Ren said, is the important part.

The transition to cloud technology could also save airlines millions of dollars in capital and maintenance costs, he said.

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