FAA Looks to Help Improve Air Navigation, Safety in Caribbean Region

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | December 7, 2015
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[Avionics Today 12-7-2015] FAA Administrator Michael Huerta believes the Caribbean region is a major area of geographic growth for U.S. airlines. However, the top air transportation official wants regulators in the region to recommit to the improvement of aviation safety, oversight, air traffic modernization and the use of globally accepted industry standards under an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreement signed in Trinidad two years ago.

Air Jamaica Boeing 737. Photo: Flickr User Aero Icarus.
During a speech to the Directors of Civil Aviation of the Eastern Caribbean Meeting in New Orleans, La. last week, Huerta said more U.S. air travelers are now flying to the Caribbean region than Mexico and Canada. 
“Last year, more than 7 million passengers who began their trips in the U.S. flew to the Caribbean. That’s more than any other international destination from the U.S. except for Europe — more than to Mexico, and about twice as many as go to Canada,” Huerta said, noting that there are now more than 900,000 flights per year between the seven adjacent Flight Information Regions (FIRs) in the Central American and Caribbean airspace. 
Over the next 20 years, the FAA projects air traffic to the Caribbean to increase 5 to 6 percent, second only to the Middle East in terms of the rate of growth among various global regions. In November, Boeing released its projection that airlines serving the Caribbean and Latin America will require 3,050 new aircraft worth $350 billion. 
“Many of these aircraft will be replacement airplanes, but maybe two-thirds of those airplanes will be for growth,” said Huerta. “For the manufacturers, of course, it means that the region will need a lot more airplanes. For those in charge of handling all those flights, like you and me, it means that we have to stay ahead of the growth to make sure we can safely and efficiently manage the additional air traffic.”
The FAA is specifically concerned with managing airspace congestion and bottlenecks, as well as increasing safety oversight as more flights and more aircraft are continuously introduced in the region. 
Huerta also referenced a new working paper presented by the FAA to all of the members of ICAO’s North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACC) region at a meeting of NACC region directors in Jamaica in November. The paper encourages NACC states to look at how they can recommit to implementing the safety and modernization performance targets outlined in the Port of Spain Declaration signed in 2013 by all members of the NACC. Within the working paper, the FAA requests members of the NACC to prioritize goals for airport certification and air navigation improvements. The Port of Spain Declaration specifically targets reducing fatality risk for airliner accidents in the Caribbean region by 50 percent by the year 2020, a reduction in runway excursions by December 2016, and achieving certification for 48 percent of international airports in the region also by December 2016. 
Runway excursions are an area of concern at Central American airports as well. Enrique Beltranena, CEO of Mexican carrier Volaris, recently told Avionics Magazine that his airline had invested in equipping its incoming fleet of Airbus A320s with Runway Overrun Prevention System (ROPS) technology because of the way most of the airports in the region were originally established.
“Most of the cities that the Aztecas, the Mayas, [and] the Incas had were placed on the top of the mountains. And we are different because of that from the rest of the world. Our airports are by far much more challenging than the airports that you typically have in a valley or at the side of a river, which are more common in other parts of the world. When you think about Machu Picchu, Honduras, Ecuador, when you think about Costa Rica, Guatemala all those runways are very challenging and I think ROPS, for us, is one of the most important technologies on our incoming fleet,” said Beltranena.  
The Volaris CEO said the airline also ensured that the A320s are equipped to fly Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures, which is another major target of the Port of Spain agreement referenced by Huerta in his speech before ICAO. The Port of Spain agreement targets reducing CO2 emissions by 40,000 tons per year by 2016 through Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) implementation. The agreement also pushes for 80 percent of instrument approach runways in the region to have 80 percent of instrument approach runways featuring Approach Procedures with Vertical Guidance (APV) with Barometric Vertical Navigation (VNAV) by December 2016. 
Huerta says the key to improving air navigation procedures and safety in the region will be collaboration. 

“The more we can work together, the better we can handle all the challenges that are thrown our way. The FAA remains a strong advocate for the global implementation of collaborative decision-making within an integrated Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) system. The development of a regional network in collaboration with ICAO and industry partners would contribute to greater operational efficiency in the Caribbean region,” said Huerta. “We want to partner with governments, authorities, and industry in the region to achieve these twin goals of raising safety levels and efficiency performance to the next level.” 

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