How our multidisciplinary research teams are taking flying to the next level
Our partnership with airline Qantas looks beyond disciplinary boundaries, helping to solve challenges from fuel efficiency to jet lag
As a global brand with almost a century of experience, Qantas knows that staying ahead in business means constantly looking forward. One way to maintain a competitive edge is to use expert research to innovate.
Our breadth and depth of research experience is helping to keep Qantas at the cutting edge, with projects as diverse as efficiency in flight planning to staying healthy in the air.
We use a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving, which means looking at challenges from different angles to find solutions which aren’t always obvious.
Rising to the challenge
The Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight between Perth and London is one of the longest direct commercial flights available, at 15–17 hours. Qantas wanted to understand the impact of the flight on its customers, and what evidence-based interventions could mitigate negative outcomes like jet lag. With its multidisciplinary approach to health challenges, the Charles Perkins Centre was the ideal partner, collecting data, developing jet lag strategies and providing analysis across a range of disciplinary areas.
Our partnership has led to the world-first deployment of the circadian-smart environment on long-haul flights with QF9 and QF10 flights. The Charles Perkins Centre uses a unified approach to determine the best levels of in-flight light, nutrition, exercise and temperature to help align passenger’s body clocks, facilitate sleep and reduce jet lag. Our research is optimising the times when airplane lights are on, as well as when meals are served, to facilitate adaptation to the destination’s time zone. Passenger menus incorporate the latest scientific knowledge to optimise hydration and gastrointestinal comfort, and aid sleep.
Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson, says the most recent step in the research involves trials with a group of Frequent Flyers using wearable technology, collecting data on everything from sleep, activity patterns, mental state, eating patterns, and hydration, before, during and after their long-haul flight.
The partnership is a true collaboration, with the structure of decision-making, priorities and implementation based on the advice of both parties. The partnership has enabled Qantas staff and management to see the benefits in working collaboratively with researchers, while Charles Perkins Centre academics have been exposed to the priorities and timelines in industry innovation projects. A commitment to the overarching goal has opened up a new field of research, with the potential for much wider reaching impact.
Revolutionising flight planning
In 2012, Professor Salah Sukkarieh from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) began a collaboration with Qantas aimed to develop innovative software that would allow more efficient flight planning. Our expertise in intelligence systems and mathematical optimisation to create unique algorithms and software, coupled with Qantas’s ability to provide expert advice and information regarding their flight operations, created a computing system that has pioneered a new age of flight planning.
Constellation, the new flight planning system, is the most advanced system used by any airline in the world. With an annual fuel bill of around $4 billion, and more than 14 million litres of fuel used daily, Qantas has been able to use Constellation to make major improvements to its environmental impact, flight times, as well as costs.
With almost limitless ways to get between any two points on the Qantas flight network across the globe, data such as traffic flow and weather patterns are fed into the flight planning system. This produces flight plans for the dispatch team, who feed updates to the aircraft to optimise the path, aircraft speed and altitude.
The partnership is unique in its innovation and departure from the usual systems used for flight planning. In building on ACFR’s work with unmanned drones, the resulting system was able to move ahead of the traditional systems used by airlines, and plan routes to uniquely benefit aircraft and their impact on the environment.
Our partnership with Qantas spans disciplines, demonstrating the value to both parties of deep and sustained collaboration to soar to success.