"Satellite-Based Routes in Houston Improve On-Time Flights, Enhance Safety and Fuel Efficiency"
Michael Huerta, Houston , TX
April 4, 2012

Houston Metroplex Press Event

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Secretary and welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming out.

As Deputy Secretary Porcari said, in the aviation business, our highways are in the sky.

With NextGen, we are harnessing the precision of satellite technology to transform our national airspace system, making it more flexible and decreasing our carbon footprint on the environment.

We are creating new airways that will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce.  It’s happening here and all over the country.  

We’ve identified 21 hotspots around the country where we know airspace is congested and not as efficient as we would like.  These are busy metropolitan areas with many airports and heavy travel in complex airspace. 

To improve the airspace, we have brought industry, labor, and environmental specialists together to talk.

The old way of doing business might have been to focus on one airport, separate from the others.  And perhaps it would have been to decide ourselves on the best approach rather than involving our industry, labor, and government colleagues up front. But we’re taking a more holistic approach now. 

Here in Houston we are creating NextGen solutions at two major airports and the surrounding airspace. As the Deputy Secretary said, these are part of President Obama’s effort to fast-track permits and environmental reviews of needed infrastructure.

We are creating very precise satellite-based procedures which will reduce the number of miles aircraft must fly by allowing them to take more direct routes.

Here in Houston, we estimate aircraft will fly 648,000 fewer nautical miles each year. That number is based on flight plans that airlines file. These shorter routes and other NextGen procedures will add up to a savings of 3 million gallons of fuel. It means a reduction in carbon emissions of 31,000 metric tons.

That’s like taking more than 6,000 cars off the streets of Houston. 

We are also creating environmentally friendly Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs). This procedure allows aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power settings, thus saving fuel and reducing emissions.

The way we descend now requires leveling off at each stage, like walking down the stairs. It’s the aviation equivalent of stop-and-go driving along the highway. But with these new procedures, aircraft kind of glide down, like sliding down the bannister. They use less fuel as they do so and reduce emissions.

These efforts have resulted from collaboration among all parties.

I’d like to recognize our partners– Jay Ellzeywith United Airlines; Captain Chuck Magill, with Southwest Airlines; Dennis Roberts, director of the FAA’s Airspace Services and Metroplex program; Keith Brown, project co-lead for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and Mario Diaz, Director of Aviation for the Houston Airport System.  

Because of this collaboration, we expect to modernize the airspace here much more quickly than we would otherwise. It usually takes between five and 10 years to develop and implement the procedures we are talking about. But under the Metroplex initiative nationwide, we expect to finish the work in three years after we kick-off each location.

But, here in Houston it’s even faster. Here we expect to finish the work here in two years.  

This project is moving forward and is “shovel ready” because we are working to streamline the environmental process.

We have airspace procedure designers and environmental specialists now working shoulder to shoulder to develop these NextGen procedures.

We’re doing this work in a parallel fashion, rather than sequentially. In this way, we identify and mitigate environmental issues on the spot.

All of this work on the Houston Metroplex will improve on-time performance and provide greater efficiency here and across the country. Travelers will reach their destinations more quickly and safely.

I want to leave you with one thought. Houston has long acted a testing ground for aviation innovation.

NextGen is already at work here. Air Traffic controllers in Houston use a new technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) to track helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no radar coverage.

We’ve installed ADS-B radio stations on oil platforms and this surveillance system has brought us to new levels of safety and precision. Today equipped helicopters in the Gulf are saving about 100 pounds of fuel and shaving approximately five to 10 minutes off flight times, thanks to ADS-B.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport will be among the first in the nation to use a G-BAS system, which is going to further enhance the ability of the airport to use these NextGen approaches. GBAS stands for Ground Based Augmentation System.

This GPS-based landing system will help improve the smooth operation of Intercontinental during bad weather –including fog and thunderstorms –anything that produces low visibility. By improving the use of the runways during all kinds of weather, this NextGen system will enhance efficiency and reliability.

There’s a lot of innovation going on in Houston’s airports. The city is out front on the Next Generation of aviation systems.

I want to thank you again today for coming to join us.

I’d like to give our partners a chance to comment.