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Research-industry partnerships

Olivier Lapirot - 25/03/2014

Towards more fuel-efficient aeroplanes

Thanks to the support of the Commands team, the start-up Safety Line is offering the aeronautical industry a solution for fine-tuning take-off phases. The objective is to reduce fuel consumption.

By the end of 2014, aeroplanes may consume less fuel during their take-off phases. Behind this announcement, with major financial stakes, is the work carried out by Inria Saclay's Commands team, within the framework of a partnership with the start-up Safety Line, which specialises in software solutions for managing operational and technical risks in the air transport industry. This six-month collaboration, which ended last February, originated in a discussion during the iMatch themed meetings organised by Inria to encourage debates between its teams and businesses. "Our challenge was to reduce aircraft fuel consumption during flights," explained Karim Tekkal, Technical Director of Safety Line. "The method proposed by the Commands team was able to meet this objective." The Commands team, which works on the fine-tuning of dynamic systems, began by carrying out a mathematical analysis of the problem. Described in the form of a criterion to be fine-tuned and constraints to be respected, the analysis led towards a software solution which, over time, calculates the best decisions to be taken in order to reach the set objectives.

Forces at play in modelling

In this situation, it was necessary to focus on the aircraft's take-off phase, which uses a large amount of fuel, and to determine the aircraft's speed and inclination, so that it can consume the least possible amount of fuel. To control all the parameters, they had to digitise the forces acting on the aircraft during its climb.

Trajectory simulation on Bocop - Flight parameters

" There is no simple formula for conveying these forces" , recalled Pierre Martinon, Research Manager in the Commands team. "Three other forces are at work in addition to the earth's gravity, namely drag, lift and thrust. To find the formula for each one of these, we first had to analyse Safety Line’s flight data, the information recorded on board every second, such as altitude, speed, the fuel consumption of each reactor and the craft's bank angle. Once the formulae had been chosen for each force, we were able to start identifying parameters so that the gap between the theoretical model and the real measures was as small as possible." This task was entrusted to Bocop, the open source software toolbox the team has been working on since 2011 for industries as diverse as transport, energy and biology. "The usual uses of Bocop are more academic in nature" , stated Pierre Martignon. "This industrial example allowed us to validate and improve the tool."

Expected fuel savings of up to 2%

Safety Line must now test the software solution in real-life conditions. A pilot will regulate the flight depending on the indications provided by the optimisation software. The industrialisation phase will start immediately and be rolled-out to airlines in six months. The expected fuel saving for a medium-haul flight is 1 to 2%. This will have the added benefit of creating substantial savings for airlines and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Safety Line wants to take this work further. "Our aim now is to commit to further work with Inria" , stated Karim Tekkal. A new contract between the two partners is currently being finalised.

Keywords: Collaboration Technology transfer Optimisation Commands Industry Safety Line