FAA touts progress in NextGen airspace development

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Key development areas of the US next generation air transportation system are making progress as FAA presses forward with new navigation procedures improve efficiency and increase capacity.

Speaking to the committee on science and technology in the US House of Representatives yesterday, FAA SVP for NextGen and operations planning, Victoria Cox, said the agency has "moved to accelerate initiatives that yield benefits to stakeholders in the near- and mid-term."

Specifically, Cox said area navigation (RNAV) and required navigation performance (RNP) tools that increase capacity and operational efficiency are becoming more commonplace, as planned. Cox said 87% of commercial operators are equipped to fly RNAV routes and procedures, including new departure and arrival routes that were installed at 45 airports this year. Almost 40% of commercial aircraft are equipped to fly RNP special procedures, allowing them to take advantage of custom-designed optimal approaches now in use at eight major airports.

Regarding the increasing use of continuous descent arrivals, one element of a broader category the FAA refers to as optimized descent profiles (ODP), Cox said flight demonstrations at Louisville's Standiford Airport and testing at Atlanta Hartsfield have shown fuel savings averaging about 50-60 gallons for the arrival portion of flights and a reduction of as much as 1,200lb of carbon dioxide per arrival.

Cox said "significant" noise reduction is also achieved through the later deployment of flaps and landing gear that are part of a gradual speed reduction incorporated into a CDA.

Under the NextGen demonstration program, Cox said the FAA would continue with "targeted" implementations of optimized descent procedures at San Diego and Atlanta, and was working with the US Air Force's mobility command to use the procedures for its C17 fleet in Charleston, South Carolina. OPD procedures are already in place in Los Angeles on a permanent basis and are "delivering major benefits in terms of operational efficiency and the environment," said Cox.

As part of the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) program underway between the FAA and the European Union, Cox said the first demonstrations have revealed a 1% fuel savings in oceanic airspace.

US DOT inspector general Calvin Scovell, testifying at the same hearing, said the FAA is "at a crossroads" in its modernization program "and faces considerable challenges in keeping existing systems on track, maintaining aging facilities, and developing and implementing NextGen initiatives." Scovell said there are about 30 existing projects that make up the "platforms" for NextGen, and that the agency must make "more than 20 critical decisions over the next two years that will have significant budgetary implications."