Positive BWI message on NextGen may be drowned out by Southwest Quote

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It is hard to write a headline; especially when there’s both good news and bad news in the story. The below Baltimore Sun headline is based primarily on the press releases from the FAA, US DoT and the Maryland Aviation Administration. After considerable quotes about potential and expected benefits, the largest airline tenant of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) has some critical comments of the current reality.

First, the positive spin about the improvements which come from the implementation of some of the aspects of NextGen is described. The primary, immediate benefit is the Optimized Profile Descent. Instead of flying through a cascade of downward steps, which require power adjustments to maintain each of the flight levels prescribed, OPD defines a continuous descent rate which minimizes the fuel burn. The FAA issued an estimate that the BWI flights will consume at least 2.5 million fewer gallons of fuel and emit 25,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The Baltimore Sun writer also mentions the recent House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing at which several witnesses expressed frustration with NextGen. He even intimated that the BWI announcement was designed to respond to those Congressional concerns. About 10 paragraphs from his opening, the author adds to the bad news streak with a quote from Rick Dalton, Southwest’s director of airspace and flow management, said:

“The premise of NextGen procedures is to create greater efficiencies through fuel conserving descents and reductions in miles flown, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gases and noise…Early indicators at BWI, one of the busiest airports, suggest that the new procedures are not delivering those results and are adding complexities within our operation. We will continue to evaluate the procedures and collect data on perceived efficiencies moving forward.”

That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

However much such a caustic comment is warranted, the industry and the FAA need to get on the same page with the NextGen message. Congress will read the “yin and the yang” of this story as being predominantly negative.

After the extensive industry/government coordination which developed the new BWI NextGen procedures, the FAA must have known about the Southwest concerns. The rolling out of positive quotes from the US DoT Secretary, the FAA Administrator and the BWI CEO sound empty in the context of this story. The juxtaposition with the largest tenants’ operational opinion, that there is a failure to deliver and additional, unnecessary complexity creates a mixed message, at best. The governmental representatives might have acknowledged that the results will not be immediate; so the Southwest retort would not be as abrupt. On the other hand, Southwest might have been more balanced in its statement by acknowledging the positive OPD impact has at BWI and at other airports.

Better coordination must be effectuated among all of the parties, when NextGen is at risk.

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