Writing / Irene Vega
ETSIT professors Almudena Buelta, Alberto Olivares and Ernesto Staffetti have received the "Luis Azcárraga" Aeronautical Innovation Award, granted by the ENAIRE Foundation, for their article Iterative Learning Control for Precise Aircraft Trajectory Tracking in Continuous Climb and Descent Operations. This work, published in the magazine IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, proposes an intelligent control model to offer solutions for the global management of air navigation.
One of the main challenges of the current management system is to achieve the predictability of aircraft trajectories, that is, the correspondence between the planned trajectory and the one flown by the aircraft, since it would mean better synchronization of air traffic. However, due to multiple random factors, such as errors in the prediction of wind, temperature or other atmospheric factors, there will always be a level of uncertainty that makes it difficult or even impossible to follow trajectories with the required precision, which causes deviations with respect to the planned trajectory that cannot be compensated by the usual controllers installed in the aircraft.
The award-winning work addresses this problem using an intelligent control model that provides precise tracking of trajectories in spaces with a high density of air traffic. “Iterative learning control (ILC) is capable of improving the precision of the trajectory flown by an aircraft based on the deviations experienced by other aircraft that have previously flown a similar trajectory”, explains Almudena Buelta, co-author of the work. "This method is especially appropriate for trajectory tracking in congested airport departure and arrival procedures, as disturbances, mainly due to weather, can be assumed to be similar between consecutive flights," she adds.
The effectiveness of the proposed methods has been demonstrated through several numerical experiments that simulate the behavior of the aircraft over several iterations applying the ILC. The experiments have been carried out with an Airbus A320 flight simulator performing continuous ascent and descent operations. The results of the numerical simulations show the effectiveness of the proposed techniques and the feasibility of their application in commercial aircraft, since they do not replace, but rather complement, the controllers already installed in said aircraft.
Solutions like this may contribute to improving the safety, efficiency and capacity of the air traffic management system. In addition, they will imply lower costs for the airlines, fewer emissions and, therefore, a lower environmental impact.