Illustration of planes being directed around obstacles in their path

Airspace Intelligence Wants to Help Airlines Operate More Efficiently

A new AI platform creates better flight paths, reducing flight time and fuel use

Anyone who has ever flown from Point A to Point B is probably well aware of some of the aviation professionals who helped get you there, from the captain and first officer who flew your plane to the flight attendants who ensured a comfortable in-flight experience to ramp agents who loaded and unloaded your checked bag.

But behind the scenes, many more people are involved in your flight. Among them are flight dispatchers, responsible for deciding the flight path for every flight before takeoff and reacting to any changes along the route while the plane is in the air.

While it might not seem like there are many barriers in the sky, flight planning has to consider several ever-changing factors, from weather conditions to congestion at airports to airspace closures by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for anything from military operations to rocket launches. And those factors must be collected and monitored by dispatchers; once they've gathered up the information and analyzed it, they then plot the route of an upcoming flight or alter the course of a current one.

Illustrated facts about Flyways over a picture of computers

Photo: Courtesy of Flyways; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Naturally, that's a laborious, time-consuming process—but it doesn't have to be. Aviation company Airspace Intelligence has developed an AI platform called Flyways that surveys all the factors dispatchers need to consider, makes predictions about how the airspace might change during the flight, then suggests the most efficient flight path to dispatchers.

"The whole objective is to support dispatchers in their workflows to make their lives easy so that they can focus on the high-value tasks that are safety related," Bernard Asare, Airspace Intelligence's Vice President of Business Development, told TripSavvy. He noted that dispatchers' pre-flight planning process can take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes per flight and that they manage anywhere from 20 to 50 flights per shift. And then they're also monitoring flights that are already in progress.

Airspace Intelligence was founded in 2018 by Phillip Buckendorf, Kris Dorosz, and Lucas Kukielka, who had a background in autonomous driving. After visiting airline operating centers and route facilities, the trio recognized that they could apply their expertise to the aviation industry.

"On the consumer side, you and I can drive from my house to your house using Google Maps or Waze. We just put in both addresses, and we get a route that says, 'If you go this way, it's four hours. If you go this way, it's three hours and 50 minutes,'" said Asare. That's essentially what the Flyways platform does for dispatchers, but it's considering weather and FAA constraints instead of factoring in traffic and tolls.

Without Flyways, most flight dispatchers compile and analyze all that information independently. Using the driving analogy, that's akin to printing out directions from Mapquest (or even consulting a physical map), then listening to the radio or turning on the TV for traffic updates from a local news broadcaster.

But Flyways automatically surveys the airspace every three minutes, continually providing updates to flight dispatchers. Then the dispatchers have the power to accept or reject the suggestions or even modify them based on their own decision-making.

"What we have done is take all of that information about weather, the airspace, flight plans, the flights in the air, and we come up with the best picture that we can of what's going to happen in the airspace over the next eight to 12 hours," said Asare. "Using that understanding of the predictive future, we make recommendations to our users about which optimized routes to take."

The result is more efficient flights—that is, shorter flight times, less fuel consumption, and, in turn, fewer carbon emissions.

Illustration of planes flying through a digital world

TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Alaska Airlines was the first carrier to add Flyways to its operations in May 2021. From January 2022 through early October 2022, the airline saved an average of 2.7 minutes per flight, helping to keep operations on time. (Even minor delays can have a snowball effect, pushing back departure times for multiple flights in a given day.) Alaska also saved 6,866 metric tons of carbon dioxide using Flyways, or 17,042,823 miles driven by a typical gasoline-powered car.

Airspace Intelligence is already talking with other airlines about implementing Flyways into their operations, but the company is setting its eyes on even bigger goals.

"We quickly realized that the challenge is not only finding the best route, but it is finding the best route in the context of the entire network of the airlines," said Asare. "So on the day of operation, when you have your 700 to 1000 flights per day, and you're trying to optimize each one, how do you optimize each flight in the context of the macro-level business objectives?"

If you decrease flight times for each flight, that doesn't necessarily mean that passengers are getting off the plane early. "You still have to sit on the airplane until somebody makes the gate available," said Asare. So Airspace Intelligence has already advanced its software to look at the bigger picture to maximize an airline's operational efficiency, not just individual flights. Ultimately, that both improves the experience for travelers and benefits the airline from a cost perspective.

"We started off with the most efficient routes, then we built a platform that makes recommendations within the context of an airline's network," said Asare. "The key now is to build out the platform to support national-level traffic flow management challenges. Not only one airline but multiple airlines."

It's an ambitious plan, but after a year filled with overwhelming numbers of flight delays and cancellations, there's never been a more opportune moment for efficiency in the aviation industry.