In 2002, Singapore Airlines (SIA) replaced its own mainframe-based flight-planning system with the Lido/Flight solution from Lufthansa Systems, offering numerous advantages which have yielded substantial cost savings for the carrier.
Selecting the best route for a flight has a significant cost impact. Factors such as variations in performance between individual aircraft, variations in wind speeds and directions at different altitudes and overflight fees all have a significant impact on the cost of operating a flight and must be carefully managed.
SIA’s satisfaction with the Lufthansa Systems solution is demonstrated by the fact that the carrier last year extended its contract for an additional three years.
“Lufthansa Systems provides an excellent product that meets our requirements,” said Captain Goh Kah Keng, SIA’s vice-president of flight operations (technical).
The Singapore-based airline – traditionally one of the world’s most profitable carriers – runs a fleet of more than 100 widebody aircraft, including Boeing 777s, ultra-long range Airbus A340-500s and the Airbus A380, the world’s largest jetliner. Regular operations include ultra-long haul polar flights and extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS) across the North Pacific.
To make sure every flight operates safely, dispatchers have to analyse a broad range of parameters including: air traffic, air space, airports, weather and performance data for the aircraft operating the flight. For every flight, an individual route is calculated and optimised.
Most often, airlines use a selection of standard, pre-defined ‘company routes’ for their network of services. These company routes form the basis for the operational flight plan (OFP) on the day of departure.
Typically, dispatchers calculate fuel requirements from standard performance data provided by the manufacturer, which can be significantly different from the performance of individual aircraft in the fleet. SIA keeps careful track of the performance of each aircraft in its fleet, factoring this into its OFP calculations.
Lufthansa Systems’ Lido/Flight system then gives dispatchers a broad range of optimisation options, taking into account the effect on fuel-burn and flight time of, for instance, wind-speed and altitude variations.
“The computer can do in minutes what would take a human being several days – calculating hundreds of possible routings in order to find the optimum solution, be it shortest flying time, lowest cost or lowest fuel consumption,” Lufthansa Systems said. “When compiling the most efficient routing, Lido/Flight automatically considers regulations as well as all valid flight restrictions that are NOTAMs [‘Notices to Airmen’ issued by government agencies].”
Route planning is then based on Lufthansa Systems’ own navigation database, which contains aeronautical data from around the world and meets the toughest requirements for precision and data integrity. The database contains departure, approach and arrival procedures for nearly 10,000 airports plus 11,000 airway segments and 129,000 waypoints.
“Because of the automatic interpretation of weather data and NOTAM’s by Lido/Flight, our dispatchers have fewer items to check,” SIA’s Goh said. “For this reason, they are able to dispatch more flights per shift, improving their productivity.”
Goh added that Lido/Flight connects directly to SIA’s central scheduling, load-planning and crew-management systems, further simplifying operations. “The level of integration reduces the workload and potential transposition errors as required data are automatically picked up by Lido/Flight,” he said.
Lido/Flight’s FreeFlight module is especially useful to SIA, as it can optimise routes in free-flight airspaces such as over the North Pacific, where airlines are not restricted to airways.
Operating in free-flight airspace “opens up almost unlimited options to calculate the most efficient routing, but it also increases the demand on flight-planning systems significantly,” Lufthansa Systems said. “The highly complex procedure of calculating the most efficient trajectory in terms of distance, flight altitude, wind direction and speed in free flight airspaces requires highly intelligent optimisation algorithms as well as high-performance software procedures.”
Lido/Flight’s FreeFlight module can optimise flight paths using geographical co-ordinates instead of waypoints and radio beacons – “an industry first”, Lufthansa Systems claimed. “The method of trajectory-based flight plan optimisation improves the fuel-efficiency of every flight,” the IT specialist said.
On 31 January last year, SIA used Lido/Flight and FreeFlight to calculate a flight as part of the Asian and Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (ASPIRE) programme. An SIA Boeing 747-400 flew from Los Angeles to Singapore via Tokyo using ‘user-preferred route’ and ‘dynamic airborne reroute procedures’.
The trial yielded a reduction in flight time of about 30 minutes and fuel savings in excess of 10 tonnes, of which about 4 tonnes can be attributed to the use of Lido/Flight, Goh said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that flight-path optimisation and other air-traffic management improvements could yield a reduction of as much as 12 percent in aviation-related emissions. Solutions such as Lido/Flight could help realise this potential saving.
SIA carries out regular checks of actual fuel-burn compared with that calculated by Lido/Flight.
“We are pretty happy with the results,” said Goh. “It gives our crews confidence that the calculated amount of fuel is accurate. Our crews do not uplift extra fuel unnecessarily and as a consequence, additional fuel-burn is kept to a minimum."