Environmental Stewardship: A NextGen Priority

As the FAA pursues the NextGen technology, policies and procedures that are transforming the National Airspace System (NAS), it must strive to reduce environmental and related energy impacts to levels that promote sustainability without constraining growth. The primary environmental issues that influence the capacity and flexibility of the NAS are aircraft noise, air quality, climate, energy and water quality. The FAA must manage and mitigate these environmental and energy challenges for NextGen to realize its full potential. And NextGen must make its own contributions to the FAA's environmental mission.

In July 2012, the FAA published an Aviation Environmental and Energy Policy Statement for U.S. civil aviation. The policy was developed in collaboration with other federal agencies, industry, environmental interests and other stakeholders. It identifies broad goals for noise, air quality, climate, energy and water quality. The strategies for achieving these goals include improving scientific knowledge and integrated modeling, modernizing air traffic management, and developing aircraft technologies, sustainable alternative aviation fuels and appropriate policies, standards and market-based measures.

The FAA is using an Environmental Management System (EMS) framework to integrate environmental and energy performance objectives into NextGen. For example, environmental management techniques and best practices are integrating environmental considerations into Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex projects at early stages to identify and avoid potentially significant environmental impacts and expedite environmental reviews. The FAA's NextGen National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Plan, issued in December 2011, guides NEPA improvements to achieve a goal of timely, effective and efficient environmental reviews within the time frames for Performance Based Navigation (PBN) implementations.

The FAA continued in 2012 to develop and refine its Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT), which models the performance of specific aircraft types and estimates their fuel burn, aircraft exhaust emissions and noise. In March 2012, the FAA released AEDT version 2a for public use in regional environmental analysis. AEDT version 2a is used for airspace and procedural actions where the study area in larger than the immediate vicinity of the airport, incorporates more than one airport, and/or includes actions more than 3,000 feet above ground level. The agency will release AEDT version 2b for airport-level analysis in 2014. AEDT version 2b will be able to model aviation environmental performance from single track, single aircraft and single airport to the entire NAS and worldwide.

In technology development and alternative fuels work conducted through the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, the FAA and industry achieved several milestones during 2012. Among them:

  • Core engine tests showing that a new-design combustor reduces landing and takeoff nitrogen oxide emissions 60 percent below standards set in 2004 by the International Civil Aviation Organization's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection. A turbofan engine using this combustor is expected to be available commercially in 2016.
  • Wind tunnel tests of subscale blades for an open-rotor engine. Results indicate that aircraft fuel burn on a single-aisle aircraft might be reduced 26 percent.
  • Ground and flight tests of an adaptive trailing edge, a technology that developers expect to reduce aircraft fuel burn up to 2 percent and noise on approach as well, by increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of the wing.
  • Endurance tests of a turbofan engine using an already-approved 50 percent blend of Jet A and Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids fuel, formerly known as Hydroprocessed Renewable Jet fuel. As expected, the test showed that this blend does not affect long-term engine wear or operational performance.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 provided additional direction to the FAA to expedite environmental review procedures and processes for timely approval of Area Navigation and Required Navigation Performance procedures, two building blocks of PBN. The act included two legislative categorical exclusions, by which environmental assessments and environmental impact statements are made unnecessary for specified categories of activity. The FAA has asked the NextGen Advisory Committee, our principal industry advisory group, for advice on technical questions arising from the second of the legislative categorical exclusions.