Increasing Efficiencies in the Nation's Busiest Aviation Hubs

August 2013
Topics: Improving National Airspace System Performance
CAASD is working to address inefficiencies in the nation’s busiest metropolitan areas to improve air traffic flow across the country.
Map of U.S. displaying major airports and metroplexes

In 2010, MITRE began working with the Federal Aviation Administration and aviation stakeholders on the Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM) effort. This initiative is addressing airspace issues in today's busiest metropolitan areas—including flow congestion, inefficient routings, and environmental constraints. The air traffic in these major aviation hubs has significant impact on the entire National Airspace System, so resolving these issues is crucial to the success of the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

The creation of OAPM was spurred by a recommendation from RTCA, Inc., an organization serving in an advisory capacity to the FAA. RTCA recommended that the FAA identify near-term changes the agency could make at airports in major metropolitan areas to reduce delays, increase throughput, and save fuel.

CAASD and the FAA first identified the airports with the greatest need and opportunities for improvement. Rather than focusing on one airport at a time, however, they assessed the air traffic in an entire metroplex—a geographic area served by multiple major airports.

In all, new arrival and departure procedures for 13 metroplexes will be redesigned and implemented by the end of 2017. These include the metroplexes of the District of Columbia, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Northern California, Southern California, Florida, Phoenix, Cleveland/Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Memphis.

Teams comprising representatives from MITRE, FAA, and industry stakeholders from the airline and business/general aviation community are already working on detailed airspace and procedure designs at many of these sites, with additional work planned for the near future.

Better Routes Reduce Fuel Use

A key goal of the redesign effort is to reduce fuel burn. One way the design teams have done this is by taking advantage of the navigational capabilities of the aircraft using the airspace today, a concept known as Performance-Based Navigation (PBN).

Most of the aircraft flying into these major metropolitan areas are equipped with area navigation, or RNAV, which allows them to fly between any two points in space. This enables OAPM teams to design shorter and more direct routes for aircraft with these capabilities, thus reducing their use of fuel.

A major focus of the teams' work has been to reduce level-offs during arrival procedures through the design of optimized profile descents. These procedures burn considerably less fuel by allowing pilots to throttle back and perform a near-idle descent all the way to the runway.

CAASD is helping test some of the OAPM designs in MITRE's Aviation Integration, Demonstration, and Experimentation for Aeronautics (IDEA) Lab. The OAPM teams bring in air traffic controllers familiar with the procedures and airspace to test the designs. The lab gives them the ability to interact in an operational environment with the designs and resolve any issues that arise. This process has proven effective for validating designs and identifying necessary modifications prior to implementation.

MITRE benefits assessments estimate benefits by location of $6 to $53 million dollars a year in savings for airspace users. The first OAPM implementation included three initial procedures for the Washington, D.C. metroplex. MITRE's post-implementation analyses have demonstrated benefits of $2.3 million per year for these three procedures alone, with many more procedures planned for the complete implementation by the end of 2014.

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