The software known as Airborne Spacing for Terminal Arrival Routes (ASTAR), is designed to give pilots specific speed information and guidance so that planes can be more precisely spaced, enabling pilots to fly a "follow the leader" approach to their destination airport, the US space agency said in a statement.

This type of approach would minimise flight path deviations, allow more efficient use of existing airspace and possibly reduce noise over communities surrounding airports - all of which could lead to reductions in commercial flight delays.

The software is being tested on the Boeing ecoDemonstrator 787 Test Airplane as part of the Boeing Company's ecoDemonstrator programme.

"ASTAR represents the first of several inventive technologies NASA's aeronautical innovators are working on that will be tested with the help of the ecoDemonstrator test airplanes," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's aeronautics research mission directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC.

The NASA team will apply the lessons learned from the flight test programme to improve the software and then begin development of actual flight hardware for further testing and eventual certification for use.

The ASTAR experiment is the first of several NASA tests flying aboard the ecoDemonstrator Test Airplanes. During the spring and summer of 2015, the ecoDemonstrator 757 Test Airplane will host two NASA experiments.

The first involves using active flow control technologies on the aircraft's tail to determine if future tail designs can be altered to reduce drag. The second will test the effectiveness of coatings applied to the leading edge of a wing section to reduce turbulence-inducing buildup of insect residue.

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