ATM Modernization, Embedded Avionics

5 Ways NextGen is Reducing Flight Times

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | July 10, 2015
Send Feedback

[Avionics Today 07-10-2015] One of the biggest discussion topics regarding the FAA’s ongoing deployment of NextGen that came out of the recent 2015 Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) annual symposium was the need for metrics associated with the flight procedures, technologies and various initiatives being implemented throughout the National Airspace System (NAS). The FAA has repeatedly stated how NextGen can lead to a reduction in flight times, fuel burn, aircraft emissions and more. As the program is now directly in the midst of the deployment phase, more data continues to come available about the actual impact of NextGen.

FedEx is one of several airlines flying with DataComm-equipped aircraft at Newark and Memphis, reducing flight times by using text messages between pilots with their aircraft’s Flight Management Systems (FMS) and Air Traffic Controller tower-based screens. Photo: FedEx

Over the last week, FAA Administrator for Aviation Safety Peggy Gilligan and Assistant Administrator for NextGen Ed Bolton released new information on how different segments of the program are shaving minutes off of flight times for U.S. airlines. Here is an overview of those different areas, which also features data on NextGen flight time reduction from Airlines for America Vice President of Operations and Safety Paul McGraw. 

Wake Turbulence Recategorization

Wake Turbulence Recategorization is a NextGen initiative that allows a higher volume of aircraft to fly within a section of airspace based on wake turbulence characteristics rather than weight class. Aircraft produce wake, or vortices of air that emanate from the wings and trail behind the aircraft, which create turbulence and the need to provide a certain distance between two aircraft, especially when approaching or taking off from airports. Weight-based categories for separation were first implemented in the early 1990s, but the agency recently used research to re-categorize those separation standards based on characteristics other than weight, including speed and wingspan that also affect the strength of the weak turbulence an aircraft generates and its reaction to the wake generated by the aircraft in front of it. 

During her speech at the Aero Club of Washington, Gilligan reported a reduction in taxi-out times for FedEx and Delta Airlines. 

“The wake recategorization effort took turbulence numbers that had been in place for years and put better science in place. That effort has Delta showing reductions in taxi-out time from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. FedEx is saving 3 minutes in taxi-out time,” she said. 

Equivalent Lateral Spacing Operation 

Equivalent Lateral Spacing Operation (ELSO) is a NextGen-enabled technology that allows more aircraft to take off on different flight paths from the same runway during the same time period. Air Traffic Controllers are able to space these routes more closely together because of aircraft equipped with Performance Based Navigation (PBN) avionics. The FAA has reported that this has allowed controllers to reduce the current 15-degree minimum angle between departure routes required by current air traffic rules down to 10 degrees between departure headings at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport — one of the busiest airports in the world. 

According to Bolton’s update on NextGen progress reported by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) latest NextGen Now quarterly report, the use of ELSO in Atlanta is “saving $26 million per year in airline fuel costs by enabling additional 8 to 12 departures per hour.”

Q Routes

While the FAA has been implementing Q Routes (more direct waypoint-enabled airways between city pairs) for over a decade, Bolton recently reported some new information about the reduction in flight times these routes are providing for airlines. These routes are available for use by Area Navigation (RNAV) equipped aircraft operating between 18,000 feet and FL450, according to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). 

RNAV-equipped aircraft traveling Q Routes right now are traveling on average “14 fewer nautical miles and arrive two minutes sooner than other flights between the same airports,” Bolton said in NATCA’s quarterly report.

Traffic Flow Management System 

The U.S. air traffic control network uses the Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) to monitor aircraft demand and capacity information to manage constraints and make appropriate airspace adjustments throughout the NAS. Last year, the FAA added the Collaborative Trajectory Options Program (CTOP) tool to TFMS to analyze weather and automatically assign delays or reroutes when constraints appear within the system. Under a two-way data sharing agreement brokered by the NextGen Advisory Committee, airlines have committed to providing the FAA with additional operational information to further enhance TFMS. 

One of the capabilities recently enabled by TFMS s airborne metering capability, which allows controllers to use high altitude vectoring to provide better sequencing of flights for airport arrivals, Bolton says. Newark and Atlanta are the two airports making the most use of this capability, and the use of airborne metering at both has “resulted in arrival delay reductions of over two minutes per flight” at both, he said. 

Data Comm

Data Communications (Data Comm) is a NextGen technology that provides a direct, digital text-based communication link between air traffic controllers and aircraft Flight Management Systems (FMS) to provide safety of flight clearances, instructions, traffic flow management, flight crew requests, and reports. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently announced the FAA’s plan to expand the deployment of Data Comm to more than 50 ATC towers throughout the NAS by the end of 2016. 

According to a report by McGraw in NATCA’s quarterly NextGen update, the new system in place at Newark and Memphis airports for the use of flight plan re-routing clearances has resulted in “time savings averaging six to 12 minutes” according to pilot users from “United Airlines, UPS and FedEx,” McGraw said. 

Over the next three years, the FAA has ambitious plans to continue deploying and enhancing the use of these and other NextGen technologies and flight procedures to continue reducing flight times and delays and to more accurately predict departure and arrival times, according to the NAC’s 2014 NextGen Implementation Plan.

To learn more about NextGen programs and gain in-depth insight on the return on investment in aircraft equipage that airlines such as FedEx, United, American, Southwest and more are seeing, check out our Avionics for NextGen conference website: 

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox