Modern air travel would be impossible without computers. Ticket sales, pilot training, flight operations and aircraft design all depend heavily on computers and software.
According to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, about 30,000 commercial flights take place every day in the U.S. Yearly, millions of passengers book flights, often through smartphone apps and Web pages. Some of the most powerful commercial computer software, including large-scale systems such as Sabre, Amadeus and Galileo, has been developed to handle the demand for air travel. The software automatically determines what flights are heading to a given destination on a particular day and manages seat availability, pricing, meals and other information.
Both beginning and experienced pilots undergo extensive testing and training, much of it on computerized simulators that re-create challenging real-world flight situations. The simulations take place in a full-sized reproduction of a cockpit, complete with displays and controls, which rests on a mechanized platform controlled by a computer. The platform rises, falls and tilts, so the pilot experiences many of the physical sensations of a plane in flight. In the simulator, pilots learn to handle potentially dangerous situations without the risks of flying a real aircraft.
The airplane itself has many computer-based systems that provide information to the crew, manage the engines and control other equipment. The same Global Positioning System that helps you find your way on city streets also provides navigation data for airplanes. On large commercial aircraft, many aspects of takeoff, flight and landing work under the guidance of a computer. In addition, a system called fly-by-wire has replaced the hydraulic steering mechanisms found on older generations of aircraft with computerized electronic controls.
Aeronautical engineers design aircraft with the help of computer-aided design programs. The software performs a wide variety of tasks such as testing the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft, calculating the power and fuel consumption of jet engines, and keeping track of thousands of parts that go into a modern airplane. Computers save many hours of engineering time and make aircraft more reliable, quiet and fuel-efficient.