Airports referenced in this story
- Performance Based Navigation (PBN)
- Addresses ways to leverage emerging technologies, such as satellite-based Area Navigation and Required Navigation Performance, to improve access and flexibility for point-to-point operations.
The area around Houston claims some of the busiest airspace in the country. Not only does the region serve as a major hub for airlines on domestic and international flights, but it also operates hundreds of helicopter flights into and out of the Gulf of Mexico every day.
NextGen technologies are helping the agency rework the invisible highways in the sky to better coordinate arrivals and departures, and are giving controllers in the area alternatives to route aircraft when severe weather threatens.
Houston Area Navigation provides aircraft with the capability to fly point-to-point utilizing both ground- and space-based navigational aids with increased accuracy and flexibility.
The Houston Area Air Traffic System (HAATS) is a large-scale airspace redesign project that leverages Area Navigation (RNAV) procedures and capabilities. The Houston project was implemented in three separate phases to provide increased airspace efficiency, to support the extension of a runway 15R and accommodate a new runway 08L/26R.
The operational changes have been significant:
- With the new more precise procedures in place, flight paths into and out of the Houston airspace are more effective. Improved efficiency and capacity during severe weather is provided with a new arrival route in the southwest to be used when severe weather makes northwest routes unavailable.
- We have created greater flexibility by deconflicting existing routes. Adjustment to the system now accommodates the new departure route out of George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and Houston Hobby Airport, (HOU); and the shifting of southwest arrival routes that now creates the third new departure route.
- We are providing better service to users into and out of the Houston metropolitan area resulting from the expansion of the airspace. The more precise navigation allows separation standards of 3 nautical miles instead of the standard 5 nautical miles. By controlling satellite arrivals earlier we are able to manage low altitude general aviation aircraft more efficiently by reducing the length of the route they are flying. The expanded airspace provides lateral room to better accommodate the descents into Austin and San Antonio while allowing traffic to climb unimpeded.
The performance impacts of these operational changes are expected to be significant. The implementation of Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) in conjunction with an airspace redesign will improve traffic flow efficiency and increase airspace capacity in the Houston metropolitan area.
Analysis to date has shown decreases in flight distances and times, approximately nine miles and two minutes on average, respectively. Flights flew closer to the most direct path and with less variability in actual trajectories, while the conformance to underlying satellite procedures remained largely unchanged.
These improvements were primarily driven by arrivals into George Bush Intercontinental Airport which accounted for the majority of operations in the analysis and flew shorter distances in less time within the 215-mile circle around the airport.
The ability to efficiently manage low altitude piston aircraft and turbo-prop aircraft is improved by the longer lead time afforded by satellite arrivals. Removing low altitude flights from this west side of the airspace allowed en route controllers to focus on Houston jet departures, and Austin arrivals and departures.
The ability to use all the tools that NextGen provides creates a more efficient operation of the airspace.