[Avionics Today 01-30-2015] Airlines and charter operators flying thousands of fans, NFL personnel and media to the Super Bowl in Phoenix, Ariz., this weekend will be taking more direct routes and reducing aircraft fuel burn as a result of the FAA's modernization of the National Airspace System (NAS). The NextGen-fueled Super Bowl flights into Phoenix airports also highlight a problem, however, that the city's officials are working with the FAA to combat: the noise impact on neighborhoods located near the airport as a result of new flight paths.
An aerial view of the University of Phoenix stadium, site of the 2015 Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Photo: Flickr User Ken Lund.
Noise Impact in Phoenix
Last week, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona met with FAA officials in Washington, D.C. to discuss recent changes made to the flight paths of aircraft flying in and out of Sky Harbor International Airport. According to statements released from both Stanton and Gallego, these new NextGen flight paths are helping airlines save fuel and reduce emissions, but also have increased the impact of aircraft noise on nearby neighborhoods.
“I appreciate [FAA] Administrator Michael Huerta taking the time to meet with us to discuss the serious noise problems caused by the flight path rerouting at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport,” Gallego said, after meeting with the FAA's Performance Based Navigation (PBN) group. “With the help of this working group we will continue looking for ways to address the problem and restore much needed and deserved peace and quiet to the citizens of Phoenix."
The noise is an unintended consequence of the NextGen program, which is focused on modernizing the nation's aging Air Traffic Control system from traditional radar-based management to more current satellite-based surveillance and navigation procedures to accommodate the upcoming increase in air traffic. The new procedures allow airspace users to access the more advanced capabilities of their modern navigation systems to save fuel and reduce carbon emissions. According to the FAA, an airline using the new Optimized Profile Descent (OPDs) at Sky Harbor can reduce their routes by 945 miles a day, save 70 gallons of fuel per flight and reduce operating costs by $15 million per year.
While Super Bowl flights will benefit from NextGen modernization, the FAA is not forgetting about the unintended consequences these new and more efficient flight paths are having on neighborhoods in Phoenix, the site of the big game. The FAA's PBN group plans to meet in February to address the noise impact of the new flight paths in Phoenix on local neighborhoods, and will include Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton at that meeting.
“I am encouraged that the FAA will begin the process to change the path that is disruptive to Phoenix neighborhoods,” Stanton said. “I’ll continue to push this issue and pressure the FAA to do what’s right until we have a solution that works for our residents.”
Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs)
OPDs allows aircraft, such as those flying into the Phoenix airport system for the Super Bowl, to descend from cruising altitude to the runway in a continuous glide with engines set at idle. These descents are more efficient than the legacy staircase approach traditionally used to guide aircraft into airports, which also require multiple verbal exchanges between pilots and air traffic controllers at each step.
"The advantage of these more complex descents is that they’re more precisely designed so that almost all airliners will be able to fly it with the throttles at close to idle," Rex Hygate, business development manager at Esterline CMC Electronics, told Avionics Magazine.
Hygate, who has extensive experience developing the Flight Management System (FMS) technology that allows aircraft to fly new NextGen procedures, said the previous stair-step approach to landing an airliner used more fuel and was more expensive for airline operations.
"OPD is a steady descent which did not happen previously," said Hygate. "If you level off, the throttles come forward and they’re burning gas and they have to go back. With OPDs the throttles just stay back all the time and they use all the energy of the aircraft high up at the top of the descent, and you use just that energy and no extra gas. That’s where the fuel savings are."
According to a statement from the FAA regarding NextGen and the Super Bowl, prior to entering the descent phase of flight, aircraft will fly on "Q Routes" during the cruise phase. These new Q Routes are being deployed throughout the NAS to provide more direct routes between airports.
"The legion clad in college navy, wolf grey and – most distinctively – action green will ascend in aircraft using a smooth, satellite-based Area Navigation (RNAV) departure route before settling at high altitude into what’s called a Q Route, a heavily traveled highway in the sky," the agency said, referring to fans traveling to the Super Bowl from Seattle. "Using NextGen technologies, the FAA has safely expanded that highway from one lane to as many as four."
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Photo: Sky Harbor International Airport.
In addition to the modernization in Phoenix, the FAA has also highlighted NextGen upgrades for Super Bowl fans flying to the game from the New England Patriots’ and Seattle Seahawks’ hometowns. Seattle's government-industry project known as the Greener Skies initiative is projected to save airlines 2.1 million gallons of fuel per year while also reducing carbon emissions by 22,000 metric tons. This was achieved for operators flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by adding 27 new PBN procedures and expanding the use of Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approaches.
"Greener Skies is a good example of how customer collaboration can deliver productive results and help move NextGen forward. There is always benefit from more and closer collaboration," a spokesperson for Airlines for America (A4A) told Avionics Magazine in an emailed statement. "However just as important is the ability to transfer lessons learned and those collaborative processes to other airports around the national airspace system. We would like to start to see successes in more locations in a more timely manner. "
Patriot fans traveling to the game from the Boston Metroplex airports will be on aircraft using PBN procedures as well as Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM), which is replacing the legacy Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) system. TBFM uses time-based scheduling to give controllers better airspace use predictability, helping optimize the traffic stream of aircraft into capacity-constrained areas. Lockheed Martin produced the system as part of a 10-year, $202 million contract awarded in 2010 under the NextGen program.
The three airport systems most impacted by Super Bowl flights in Boston, Phoenix and Seattle are also examples of how the FAA's NextGen Metroplex projects are using integrated solutions to take the complex traffic flows around the nation's busiest airports and improve the way aircraft navigate these complex areas to make flight routes and airport access more efficient.
"The Metroplex program office usually estimates the specific local benefits of these new procedures," Jim Davis, national airspace lead for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) told Avionics Magazine. "Metrics such as distance and fuel tend to be more local, compared to delay benefits that can ripple through the NAS. As the Metroplex project matures we understand more about the effect of connectivity between major cities."