NextGen’s Impact at DFW before and after pictures; FAA needs to publish hard numbers

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The macro news about NextGen implementation is not doing well according the DoT Inspector General and is moving far too slowly according to the Business Roundtable and is not demonstrating the cost/benefit according to A4A. In the context of that negativity, there is qualitative good news about the institution of NextGen at the DFW Metroplex.

Previous announcements by the FAA have included considerable quantitative benefits (i.e. “an annual fuel savings of $9.2 million for aircraft flying in the airspace, three million gallons of fuel saved per year and 31,000 metric tons of carbon savings annually.” ) The DFW FAA press release is heavy on verbal endorsements like:

“The successful rollout of new airspace procedures here in North Texas proves again that NextGen is happening now. It’s no longer just the future, it is also happening in the present, and that means good things for safe, efficient flights,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said. “NATCA is a proud stakeholder in NextGen implementation. Our members here in North Texas air traffic control facilities, like their colleagues nationwide, have shown great enthusiasm for new technology and have worked very hard to meet the challenge of safely implementing so many changes in their airspace and workload.”

But even those statements include some “wait and see” comments, like:

We certainly appreciate the efforts of the FAA to improve efficiency, lower fuel burn and emissions, and reduce delays,” said Chuck Magill, Vice President for Operational Coordination for Southwest Airlines. “Southwest is monitoring the impact of the Metroplex plan. While the results cannot be determined at this early juncture, we intend to continue partnering with the FAA to modernize and improve the air traffic control system so that the promise of NextGen is realized for the benefit of the traveling public.”

The most specific text in the FAA’s release is the following quote:

  • Creating Optimized Profile Descent (OPD) procedures into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (D/FW) and Dallas Love Field (DAL). OPDs allow pilots to almost idle the engines while the aircraft descends at a constant rate, like sliding down a banister. Previous airspace procedures required planes to level off at certain points to allow for coordination between air traffic controllers. OPDs reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions
  • Developing similarly efficient alternative routes that can be used when weather affects normal arrival and departure paths.
  • Establishing departure and arrival routes that align airplanes on preferred paths, reducing the number of miles flown.
  • Establishing a dedicated arrival route from the northwest into DAL, eliminating congestion in the airspace above D/FW.
  • Creating GPS-based arrival and departure paths for Love Field, resulting in more precise flight paths over neighborhoods near the airport.
  • Developing satellite-based departure procedures that provide predictable, repeatable flight paths that enable planes to climb steadily without leveling off from time to time, allowing them to reach a cruising altitude sooner.”

Such procedures and paths hold great potential, which the industry is monitoring, as Capt. Magill noted. It is critically important to determine exactly the dollars saved and efficiency added by these actions. Without such has numbers, the industry coalition and Congressional caucus will continue to be askance about all of the benefits of the NextGen programs.

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