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Patent: To Book A Flight Plan Quickly Despite Bad Weather, Fuel Problems, Heavy Traffic and International Borders
Patent: To Book A Flight Plan Quickly Despite Bad Weather, Fuel Problems, Heavy Traffic and International Borders | aust_txbz, hou_txbz, Daniel Baker, Karl Lehenbauer,Mark L. Duell, David McNett, patent, 8160759, flight plan, flight awareness, flightaware,

Daniel Baker, Karl Lehenbauer and Mark L. Duell Jr., all of Houston, and David McNett of Austin received U.S. Patent 8,160,759 for “System and Method for Optimized Flight Planning.”

Texas Business Patent of the Day:  Four Texans have devised a way to make your flight plan on the web.

Daniel Baker, Karl Lehenbauer and Mark L. Duell Jr., all of Houston, and David McNett of Austin received U.S. Patent 8,160,759 for “System and Method for Optimized Flight Planning.”

The four applied for the patent more than three years ago on January 23, 2009.

The patent assignee is FlightAware LLC of Houston.

A flight plan is a document filed by a pilot, dispatcher, or a controller with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or another civil aviation authority, prior to departure.

The four Texans’ invention generally relates to a system and method for electronically processing flight plans. More particularly, their invention pertains to a web-based flight planning service which provides various flight planning and refueling optimizations, according to the patent document.

A flight plan generally includes the basic information one would expect, such as departure date, time, and an origin and destination airport.

 In addition to these necessary details, a flight plan also includes the aircraft identification and aircraft type, an estimated time en route, a listing of alternate airports for use in the event of bad weather, the type of flight (either instrument flight rules (IFR) or visual flight rules (VFR)), pilot's name, and number of people on board.

In the United States, flight plans are required for flights under IFR so that air traffic control may initiate tracking and routing services. Under VFR, a flight plan is optional unless the flight's path will cross national borders. Despite this, flight plans are highly recommended in many VFR flights as they provide a way of alerting rescuers if the flight is overdue/missing, and they provide flight following that may warn of other nearby air traffic en route. 

The process of producing a flight plan to describe a proposed aircraft flight is well known in the art. Typically, when a flight plan is produced, the pilot (1) calculates the amount of fuel required to complete the trip and (2) checks for compliance with air traffic control requirements, checks for clearance from terrain and structures near takeoff and landing areas, considers potentials for mid-air collisions, avoids restricted or prohibited areas of flight, and the like.

In addition to these safety requirements, a pilot or individual making a flight plan may attempt to minimize overall flight costs by selecting the most efficient route, height, and speed for their particular aircraft type and sometimes seek to load the minimum necessary fuel, plus a safety reserve, on board, to maximize flight efficiencies. In flights having a longer duration, fixed base operators having disparate prices for aviation fuel are utilized at airports along the way. 

In order to accomplish these goals, flight planning benefits from accurate and up-to-date information. For example, accurate weather forecasts are desired so that fuel consumption calculations can account for the fuel consumption effects of head or tail winds and air temperature.

Furthermore, under the supervision of air traffic control, aircraft flying in controlled airspace may be required to follow predetermined routes known as airways, even if such routes are not as economical as a more direct flight. Within these airways, aircraft must maintain flight levels, specified altitudes usually separated vertically by 1000 or 2000 feet (305 or 610 m), depending on the route being flown, the altitude en route, and the direction of travel.

Additionally, the performance of each different aircraft types varies based on altitude, air pressure, temperature and weight. When attempting to formulate an efficient flight plan, one quickly discovers that a large number of calculations would be required in order to formulate a flight plan that is even close to optimized.

As a result, most flight plans follow one of several common routes at available altitudes which have the most favorable current or forecast weather conditions.

However, sometimes these are not the most efficient routes under varying circumstances. The present invention solves a number of these inefficiencies as well as other problems present in the process of flight planning, as are illustrated in the descriptions that follow. 

The four Texans devised various technologies and techniques for providing optimized flight planning services to a remote user. In one form, the user accesses a service through a series of web pages presented to the user. The user is able to specify an airport or area for arrival/departure for a future flight in a specified airplane type. The service then calculates an optimized route for the flight based upon aircraft performance data, available fuel costs, and up-to-date current or forecast aviation weather. In an alternate form, a flight route is formed from information within stored historical flight plans. By optimizing the path of a flight in this manner, many benefits can be realized.

In another embodiment, the service allows the user to arrange the purchase of aviation fuel at various locations. In a preferred form, the user is able to purchase the fuel at a discount provided by the service. In exchange, the service receives a fee from the affiliated fixed base operator for directing the transaction to them.