Volpe’s RECAT is adding capacity and reducing fuel consumption; NextGen soon, too?

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Aircraft separation is an essential element of aviation safety. The calculation is a function of wind turbulence (see above picture and the below link) and the accuracy of the navigational equipment to define the airplanes’ precise position. Volpe, the National Transportation Systems Center, has reassessed the relative wind turbulence impact. How soon will the more exact tracking of NextGen be translated into greater airport/airspace capacity?

Volpe did a detailed analysis of the turbulence generated and the capacity of the trailing aircraft to handle that disturbance. The results were that specific combinations permit closer separation than the historic 4 nautical miles in trail which was the standard for all heavy aircraft. The recalculation or RECAT, Order 7110.659A, now allows for different distances for different aircraft combinations; for example, a B-767 following a B-747 will continue to require 4 nm, while with the reverse order of flight, the B-747 can be 1.115 nm behind.

The FedEx hub at Memphis was the first to test the RECAT parameters in 2012 and it was found that the new standards resulted in a 20% increase of that airspace’s capacity and fuel savings of $2.16 million in annual fuel savings. That’s impressive.

One of the touted reasons for the investment in NextGen is its environmental benefits. Some of the improvements due to Performance Based Navigation have been chronicled, but the greater accuracy of this new system should be converted to lesser separation and lower fuel consumption as soon as the procedures are proven.


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