UH Researcher Focuses on Airport Congestion

Busy holiday travel periods and adverse weather conditions can cause huge back-ups at airports. One University of Houston researcher is trying to ease that congestion by finding a way that allows planes to take-off and land closer together. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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UH Mechanical Engineering Professor Fazle Hussain wants to answer a question that on the surface seems simple enough.

"Can you space the air craft take-offs and air craft landings close enough so that it can pack in more take-offs and landings."

Being able to get planes to take off and land one right after another means understanding what is happening to the air around a plane. Hussain explains for both take off and landing a plane has to have lift.

"To produce lift you have to have flow around the wing. And that flow will be shed from the tip of the wing in the form of vortices, called trailing vortices."

The forces in the vortices can cause another plane to lose control. Planes can't land or take off until the swirling air from the vortices has dissipated. Hussain is looking for ways to speed up that process. The right equipment needs to be in place.

"And this can be introduced at the aircraft wing tip. And perhaps the inducing agent can be retracted after the plane has taken off until again it starts landing."

Hussain's research is at the computer-modeling stage and has not yet been tested in true flight conditions. The National Science Foundation has provided a grant. If the research becomes reality it can save time and money. Hussain says time between departures could be reduced from three to four minutes down to one. It would allow increased productivity without adding expensive runways. Hussain says it could also increase safety on the ground because it would reduce congestion.

"You'll not have so many airplanes even in Houston cueing up waiting to take-off. And sometimes you don't see them; they do the same thing going around the airport waiting to land. So they are not cueing in line in the same runway, but they are going around and around until the sequence of landing is programmed by the air controllers."

Airline passengers may still be stuck at airports waiting for adverse weather to pass, but once it does clear, the hope is this research will get the congestion on the runways cleared up faster. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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