IMPLEMENTATION OF NEXTGEN WILL BE A TEST OF APPLYING MACRO AIR TRAFFIC BENEFITS ON A MICRO SCALE WITH MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES CONTESTING THE REAL RESULTS

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ARTICLE: FAA Announces Effort To Enhance Safety, Increase Efficiency And Reduce Aircraft Emissions In Florida Airspace

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The macro benefits of NextGen have been touted in many forums over the last few years and there has been considerable debate over the costs to be incurred to attain those advantages. At the 50,000’ level it is easy to argue whether $X of expenses will result in $Y of improvements because so many of the numbers are estimates based on assumptions.

Now comes the Florida Metroplex (Miami-Tampa-Orlando and a host of other airports) region where the FAA, Jet Blue Airways, American Airlines, US Airways, NATCA, Net Jets and others will attempt to lay out the concepts of NextGen at specific airports and over the sectors of the en route environment. An example of a specific NextGen concept that will be implemented here is Performance-Based Navigation (PBN); this Air Traffic Control realignment results in shorter, more direct routes that reduce flight time and fuel consumption with fewer carbon emissions.

In designing these more optimal routes, new tracks may create different problems by putting “noisy” operations over heretofore otherwise not impacted neighborhoods. The community reaction to a proposal, although the total benefit from reduced pollution, may delay or even defeat the proposed change (see the wars over the implementation of the East Coast Plan). This is a perfect measurement of how a macro concept being transitioned to a micro implementation may not capture all of the benefits forecast.

The FAA pre-Metroplex implementation predicts that more direct routings and more efficient aircraft descents will save eight million gallons of fuel annually, or a reduction of approximately 80,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. The theoretically more efficient flight routes should reduce roughly $23.0 million saved in fuel costs. Finally the macro estimates predict that 5.4 million fewer nautical miles will be flown.

Airspace design, even with the enhancements of NextGen, is more an art than a science. The actual design involves complex, iterative assessments of safety, efficiency, manageability and environmental concerns; each analyses require analysis of trade-offs—reduced power = less noise = less full consumption, but also may reduce the margin of safety.

The assessment of these complex considerations vary dramatically based on the perspective of the participant—pilots hate to bleed power, management is in favor of reduced fuel consumption, controllers love simplicity and neighbors’ views vary based on location. An optimally designed set of arrival and departure patterns for one airport may negatively impact the operations of another airport. One set of design parameters may benefit the schedule of a carrier which hubs at an airport, but may sacrifice schedule reliability for maximization of total flight volume.

The point is that the implementation of NextGen is not a ministerial application of preordained equations. A lot of subjective judgment is inherent in this convoluted, controversial process. Whether an operator, an airport or a community, it would be worthwhile to assure that your perspective is adequately considered by including in your team experts those who know these variables and who have been involved in such airspace design.

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