The V Flight Formationhas been found to be helpful in achieving greater fuel efficiency and range. Though it is currently used mostly for military purposes, what restricts it from being used for commercial purposes?

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    $\begingroup$ Quite a lot of time and effort ( and money ) has been spent, and is being spent now, on keeping large commercial aircraft away from each other.... $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell May 29 '15 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ This would have been my solution to the quest for lowering flight cost: Use two A330s, one commanded by a human pilot and occupied by the passengers, and the second one flown by the computer in close formation, loaded with the baggage and freight. This could achieve the seat mile cost reduction of the A380 without the development expense. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf May 29 '15 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ I think another interesting, and related questions might be "Why do airlines operate one big airplane on a scheduled flight rather than several smaller ones." Because really that's where formation flying would come into play, if that scenario were to exist. I mean, if you have a few planes that could fly in formation to another place...why not just put them all in one much bigger airplane? $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Aug 14 '15 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ lol, I guess @PeterKämpf is saying basically the same thing. Though rather than split the passengers from their baggage, I'm suggesting just having two flights to begin with. Which might be nice, actually, in terms of flexibility... $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Aug 14 '15 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ It may not be efficient for commercial purposes but it's a great way to win a hockey game. $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Aug 14 '15 at 17:27

This possibility has actually been studied and discussed (e.g. here, here, here) as a way to save fuel costs, but there are several issues with implementing it today:

  • You need to schedule a number of aircraft all flying the same route at the same time for a significant amount of time
  • If different, competing airlines should participate in one formation then they have to cooperate and be satisfied that no one is at a commercial (dis)advantage
  • A lot of work would need to be done on procedures and training (how does the formation form up, who takes the lead, how/when does the formation leader change, how are emergencies handled, what flight levels are used, what separation is required between formation and non-formation flights etc.)
  • Autopilots, software and other equipment would need major updates, which in turn requires re-certification
  • All relevant regulations on separation, formation flying and so on would need to be reviewed and changed which in most countries means changing the aviation laws, and changing any law is usually a long, slow process

Having said all that, you'll notice that most of those issues are procedural, not technical. In theory it's a viable approach, but turning that theory into reality would require a lot of work.

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    $\begingroup$ Bullet three is important. The lead goose in a V changes very often. If you don't swap out the lead, then there is bullet two to consider. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell May 29 '15 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like geese are far superior to humans in cooperative organization. :-) $\endgroup$ – Dronz May 29 '15 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Knowing very little about flights and the like, I think it would probably involve lots of logistics for landing at an airport, too - don't think they could land at the same time. And maybe that logistics don't cover the savings of the V formation. $\endgroup$ – mgarciaisaia May 30 '15 at 4:49

Formation flight is not allowed by the FAA when carrying paying passengers:

from 14 CFR 91:

§91.111 Operating near other aircraft.

(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.

(c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.

The core reason would be safety. If any craft has a problem it needs to be able to get out of formation safely and pilots need to be trained for it. Also flying at cruise requires the autopilot; however no current civilian autopilot can make adjustments to account for maintaining separation in formation flight.

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    $\begingroup$ This is quite specific to passenger aircraft. Are there any similar regulations or logistical reasons against allowing this for cargo carriers? (I suppose the autopilot limitation could be one.) $\endgroup$ – Iszi May 29 '15 at 14:08

As a passenger I wish:

  • To have a good choice of flight times
  • Not to have to wait a long time while other aircraft are unloading
  • Not to have long queues
  • Not to have my flight be delayed due to issues with another flight

The above does not sit well with 'You need to schedule a number of aircraft all flying the same route at the same time for a significant amount of time'.


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