A straight and simple review

This is my attempt in trying to review things that seem to get a lot of attention - especially in the engineering world. Not necessarily bad reviews, more like constructive criticism. I provide reasons why I make the claims and make equivocal arguments. I typically pick topics that I have a background in, or have gathered a lot of information. 2 articles a week is my goal - will keep it that way .

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Traffic Congestion : Slow Down



At last, a topic I know something about. We all know air traffic is a tricky thing. There are a lot of statistics that show how much money is lost because of traffic congestion etc. The main area where air traffic congestion originates is the airport zone. Around the airport is where the congestion is maximum. This figure shows the area around Chicago O’Hare.


Where the congestion is high, the probability of collision is high (no rocket science). So, to avoid this, my friend had a research proposal. The main reason for this congestion is because planes tend to slow down near the airport – as they wait for gates to open in the airport, or until the run way clears up. Her study was trying to reduce the delay in the area immediately surrounding the airport.

This figure shows a conceptual idea. Zone 1 surrounds the airport – the delay here is maximum, and so is the congestion. From Zone 2 to 5, the congestion reduces. Zone 5 is the cruise zone – there is almost no delay here. The plane’s velocity (cruise speed) is about 0.75- 0.79 Mach. This is the best velocity as it consumes minimum fuel for commercial aircrafts. So, when these planes are made to slow down in Zone 1, the airlines don’t like that – it consumes more fuel - it costs a lot of money.


This research tried to reduce the delay in the red zone, by splitting the delay to all the other zones (?) Let me explain. Lets say for a journey from A to B, the delay expected near the airport is 10 minutes. Rather than spending 10 minutes in the Red zone (which is what happens now), it was suggested the 10 minutes be split up and distributed in all the 5 zones.

Lets say, you decide to slow down in Zone 5, then the cruise speed will reduce from 0.79 to say 0.75. As mentioned earlier - around 0.75 Mach is good cruise speed - the drag is minimum and hence fuel needed is also minimum. So now, the time spent in the red zone is reduced - which is the objective of the research study. Currently - the system works differently. In the red zone, when the planes circle as they await a spot to land, the speed is about 0.4 Mach. This is a lot slower and basically consumes a lot more fuel. Airlines don't like this - as they have to blow a lot of money doing nothing - just for waiting around. They would much rather slow down to 0.75 M in Zone 5.



The risk here is this – lets say it has been calculated that the delay is 10 minutes and 8 minutes of those have been split in to Zone 2,3,4, and 5. Only 2 minutes remains to be burnt in the red zone. But for some unexpected reason there is further delay of about 8 minutes in the red zone. Then what has happened is your total delay is 20 minutes – which might have been avoided if this new algorithm wasn’t implemented.

A lot of work remains to be done in this area – but I hope you get the picture. The idea is that by fully utilizing Zone 5 (which is very vast), congestion can be minimized in Zone 1. This is good for every one – the passengers reach destination on time; the airlines waste less time and spend less fuel; the air space is a bit safer due to reduced congestion. Well the challenge of course is implementing the system in a national scale. There are lot of studies being conducted, just to see if this system will really help. There have been many such ideas which have been rejected as they actually seem to make it more complex; but NOT THAT 1 - this system I think, will be implemented in the near future.

Pretty dry blog actually – sorry about that ! My interest in this area is mainly triggered by one of my professor Dr Eric Feron in Georgia Tech - Aerospace. His research is in this area and he is considered an "expert" in it. He is a prof from MIT and recently moved to GT. I don't think he will be my guide - definitely wouldn't mind though.

7 Comments:

Blogger BATMAN^V^EXILED said...

Infotaining blog cash. Never knew there were such zones for air traffic too.A little on the dry side for sure, hey but those pictures spiced it up a lot. I LIKE PICTURES!! I LIKE PICTURES (Mencia style). Nice pics actually

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now dats lotsa info for one read... good stuff though... learnt somethin (a lot, actually) about air traffic today. rookie question - once a plane slows down in the red zone does it mean it cant speed up again and go to the outer zones, in case of an unexpected delay once the red zone has been entered?

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Kaushik said...

Thank you. Good question - When you get in to the red zone, you are put in a queue which has many planes circling the airport and waiting to land. There is no point in going out of the red - then when you re enter, u will be put in the end of the queue again. As long as you are in the red zone, you have to follow the speed rules to avoid collision. So you cannot go faster within red.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Willie said...

a good problem, the blog, personally, needs a better structuring, smthing like current system to problem to proposed system to failure modes in proposed system to recommendations, i hope u get wat i am saying. As for the topic, I shud say tht assembly plants hav a similar problem, where operators need to work in a linear sequence and so evreyone needs to take a break at the same time else the chain breaks and bottlenecking occurs...

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