The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Delta Air Lines, US Airways and other stakeholders have officially kicked off an airspace and flight procedures modernisation project for the high density Atlanta and Charlotte area metroplexes, regions where several airports service one main metropolitan area.
Part of the FAA's optimisation of airspace and procedures in the metroplex (OAPM) programme, Atlanta and Charlotte will follow the Washington DC metro area and Dallas/Fort Worth in becoming the beneficiaries of the government and industry effort to increase capacity while cutting flight time, delays, fuel burn and noise. Metroplex initiatives are underway or planned for 21 metropolitan areas, said the FAA.
Procedures in the Washington region, which include idling descents from as far out as 120nm from the landing destinations, will go live in stages starting in September. Along with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), partners in the Washington metroplex programme include the local airports as well as US Airways for Washington DC Reagan National airport procedures, United for Dulles and Southwest for Baltimore.
Once the performance-based navigation (PBN) procedures are in place, the FAA estimates that airlines will be able to cut 1.2 million nautical miles per year from their routes into and out of Atlanta, Delta's hub, equating to 2.9 million fewer gallons of fuel burned and 30,000t of carbon emissions not emitted. For Charlotte, US Airways' hub, the FAA estimates there will be 2.5 million fewer nautical miles flown annually, with 3.7 million gallons of fuel saved and carbon emissions reduced by 35,000t annually.
With more than 630 flights per day at Charlotte, US Airways chief operating officer Robert Isom said the carrier will save $17 million a year in fuel costs and emit 59,000t fewer carbon emissions.
Strategies the FAA will study with the airlines, air traffic controllers and local airports in Atlanta and Charlotte include creating separate high-altitude flight tracks for Atlanta departures and Charlotte arrivals to allow aircraft to climb and descend without levelling off; expanding optimised profile descent (OPD) procedures (idling approaches) into the Atlanta and Charlotte airports, and shortening flight tracks by making them more direct.
Reliever airports in the areas should also benefit from the work. The FAA said the team will design satellite-based flight paths that separate traffic destined for reliever airports from those flights heading for the main Atlanta and Charlotte airports.
"The end result for travellers will be fewer delays, quicker flights and an even safer, greener flying experience," said acting Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta.