NextGen components come to D.C., Texas

2014_11_NextGen-DC-GIF The air traffic routes coming in and going out of Washington, D.C.-area airports. (Credit: FAA)

Parts of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Next Generation Air Transportation System are coming to the Washington, D.C., metro area and airports in northern Texas, according to two recent announcements from the agency.

NextGen, a decadelong effort to improve U.S. air transportation, is composed of several different elements — however, the two new additions to the NextGen network use Optimized Profile Descent technology, which allows aircraft to descend from their cruising altitude to the runway in a continuous arc.


The OPD systems opened this week and use satellite-drawn departure paths to create specific departure lanes for each airport.

2014_11_OPD-Descent-GIF Through OPD, aircraft will descend at a more steady pace, instead of the previous system. (Credit: FAA)


Airports in the D.C. Metroplex around the D.C. metropolitan area are now officially equipped with the technology, centered around Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The system also accommodates and integrates with flights from Andrews Joint Base Airport, Richmond International Airport and other small airports in the region.


“The national capital region is reaping the benefits of NextGen and this announcement further highlights how the federal government is making a difference,” Transportation Department Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “These new and improved highways in the sky mean increased safety, more on time arrivals and departures, reduced fuel consumption and reduced pollution-causing emissions.”

The FAA also established OPD systems at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field. In addition, the airports have also developed alternative routes to help planes navigate around inclement weather to maintain normal arrival times.

The Dallas Love Field airspace now contains a dedicated arrival route from the northwest, in addition to global positioning system-based arrival and departure paths.

“Using NextGen satellite-based technology, the FAA and its workforce have collaborated with the industry to convert the busy and complex airspace around North Texas into some of the most efficient in the nation,” Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said in a statement. “The result is a solution that not only benefits the National Airspace System, it benefits the aviation industry, the environment and the traveling public.”

With the OPD procedures in place in D.C. and northern Texas, airliners will be able to reduce flightsn by as many as 1.1 million miles annually in Texas and burn at least 2.5 million fewer gallons of fuel in the skies above D.C.


The announcement of NextGen’s arrival in the D.C. Metroplex comes just a week after the House of Representatives held its first hearing to start the 2015 FAA reauthorization process. During the hearing, the FAA’s inspector general said it would be difficult for the agency to put the full extent of NextGen in place across the country by 2020.

“FAA is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar effort to improve the efficiency of the nation’s air traffic control system through NextGen,” FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovel said at the hearing. “FAA’s acquisition reforms have fallen short in improving the delivery of new technologies and new capabilities.”

OPD technology is not the first NextGen related technology to be put in place, either. According to a late October release from the FAA, the ground-based portion of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology had been installed at airports across the nation. In addition, in late October, FAA and the aviation industry partnered to form Equip 2020, a group led by the nonprofit NextGen Institute, to help the parties get the process on track to “revolutionize the national airspace system,” according to Michael Whitaker, the FAA’s deputy administrator.

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