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NextGen Aviation Upgrades Implemented in Houston

Aviation managers say GPS technology can boost safety and efficiency.

By University Alliance on November 14, 2014
Houston Airspace Gets NextGen Overhaul

NextGen, the Federal Aviation Administration’s $42 billion redesign of flight patterns and procedures around major airports, has gone live in the airspace around Houston, Texas, the agency has announced.

Federal officials and aviation management professionals say NextGen will boost airlines’ on-time performance while reducing pollution. In Houston, for example, the FAA estimates the changes will cut flying distances by nearly 650,000 nautical miles, conserve as much as 3 million gallons of fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 metric tons each year. Annual fuel cost savings could exceed $9 million.

The changes also are expected to improve the safety of air travel and ease the complexity of air traffic control.

The Houston NextGen project, which includes George Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Sugar Land Regional (SGR), William P. Hobby (HOU) and David Wayne Hooks Memorial (DWH) airports, began in January 2012. The Houston Metroplex airspace handles almost 3,000 daily flights, including commercial air carriers, general aviation aircraft and military traffic, according to the FAA.

NextGen projects across the country aim to transform the nation’s radar-based aviation system into one that takes advantage of Global Positioning System satellites. Similar projects are planned for a dozen or so metropolitan areas nationwide, including in Georgia, North Carolina, California and Washington, D.C. These projects will be phased in through 2025, according to Bloomberg.

The FAA estimates that NextGen will yield total benefits of $38 billion through 2020. The agency projects NextGen will reduce fuel usage by 1.6 billion gallons and carbon emissions by 16 million metric tons during that same period.

In Houston, the FAA developed dozens of procedures using GPS satellites. These include:

  • Creating approach glide slopes that allow pilots to land airplanes using almost no engine power
  • Developing shorter routes between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston
  • Using GPS to create departure procedures that allow flights to reach their cruising altitudes sooner
  • Using side-by-side routes for landing at George Bush Intercontinental to provide for more direct routing and increased airspace efficiency

The new procedures have drawn support from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and airline executives.

“This redesigned airspace allows us to take full advantage of technology we already have on our aircraft, while simultaneously reducing fuel burn and emissions,” United Airlines Vice Chairman Jim Compton said in an FAA news release.

Category: 2014 Headlines