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Pilots need a better understanding of the stakes of the current mission

AUTHOR: Luis Delgado

Pilot3 is a new Clean Sky 2 research project, which started on November 2019, led by the University of Westminster (UoW) in collaboration with PACE Aerospace Engineering & Information Technology, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and Fundacion Insituto de Investigacion Innaxis. The Topic Manager is Thales AVS France SAS.

This Innovative Action aims at providing a software engine model for supporting crew decisions in the context of operations for civil aircraft, with a better understanding of the stakes of the current mission, from the perspective of the business objectives of the airline. Pilots should have on board a better understanding of the stakes of the current mission – from the perspective of the business objectives of the airline.

Flight crew should ensure adherence to performance criteria, in line with the airline’s objectives. This requirement to ensure this adherence is expected to increase in the future creating the need of new tools to support the crew in:

  • assessing the situation of flight against the objectives set by the airline
  • taking decision to reach the required performance.

Current operations and issues

In the current concept of operations, strategically, airlines consider their business objectives in order to identify the key performance areas (KPAs) that are of their interest and how these will be monitored with individual key performance indicators (KPIs). Then, targets for these areas and indicators are defined considering the airlines’ business priorities. This information is shared with the crew and translated into flight policies that can be used when disruption appears during the operations.

During the operations, when a disruption arises, the pilot considers the airline’s set targets and policies, and using a trajectory optimisation or prediction system, estimates the different trajectory options. These alternatives will have an impact on the expected duration of the flight (time) and/or on the amount of fuel consumed (kg), which are typically the main outcomes of these trajectory optimisation/prediction systems. The pilot has then to estimate the existing trade-offs to decide if it is worth it to recover a given amount of time using a set amount of extra fuel. In some case this decision is performed in a centralised manner by the Airline Operating Centre.

However, there is a need to better understand the implications of the different alternatives available to crew, not only for this specific flight but for the whole fleet along the rest of the operations for the day.

Pilot3 proposal

Pilot3 will provide the capability to explicitly estimate the impact of each alternative with respect to the airline’s performance targets. When an action is required by the pilot, Pilot3 will compute the different alternatives available and then, the pilot will be able to do this analysis of alternatives by interacting with the tool.

Pilot3 will develop a software engine model to provide this required extra support by performing multi-criteria optimisation considering:

  • The types of performance sought by the airline
  • Translating these performance targets into high level objectives
  • Providing a rank of alternatives to the crew considering these objectives

Now the pilot has an explicit view of the impact of each alternative and is able to make a better-informed decision!

Pilot3 comprises four sub-systems:

  • Indicators Estimator, which provides the Alternatives Generator with information on how to estimate the impact of each solution for the different KPIs using airborne or ground information, with heuristics or with advanced machine learning techniques;
  • Alternatives Generator, which will compute the different alternatives trajectories considering the airlines’ flight policies and performance goals;
  • Performance Assessment Module, which considering the expected results for each trajectory on the different KPIs (and KPAs), is able to rank these alternatives and show them to the pilot; and
  • Human Machine Interface, which will present these alternatives to the pilot and allow them to interact with the system.

Pilot3 will contribute to the capture and definition of flight policies and allow airlines to define enriched policies.

How are we going to do this?

A close coordination with stakeholders and with the Topic Manager is key to ensure that Pilot3 delivers a suitable solution. The project starts with ‘WP1 – Technical resources and problem definition’ providing a strong coordination with the Topic Manager to formalise the requirements and case studies that will be tested. The coordination with stakeholders will be carried out in ‘WP3 – Data collection and management’, which will include the definition of an Advisory Board formed by airlines and experts.

Pilot3 will consider state-of-the-art multi-criteria decision-making optimisation techniques. These will be reviewed from the literature in WP2, and the most suitable selected to be implemented.

The different modules of Pilot3 software engine will be developed in WP4.  Two prototype versions will be generated. These will be tested in WP5 as part of the verification and validation activities working with stakeholders (in a dedicated workshop) and on fast-time simulation tools.

Finally, Pilot3 is part of Clean Sky 2 initiative and therefore dedicated activities will be carried out to ensure the further maturity of the solution even beyond the project duration in ‘WP6 – Model evolution and uptake’.

See for more info on the project.