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Fact Sheet – NextGen

For Immediate Release

August 19, 2015
Contact: Paul Takemoto or Tammy Jones
Phone: (202) 267-3883


NextGen is a modernization effort that is moving the national airspace system from ground-based radar to satellite-based navigation, from voice to digital communication, and from point-to-point data to a fully integrated information management system. These initiatives change how we see, navigate, and communicate in our nation’s skies.

Our aviation system is a valuable asset that contributes 12 million jobs and $1.5 trillion annually to our economy.

To that end, we’ve measured $1.6 billion in benefits to airlines and the traveling public from NextGen capabilities already in place. Over the next 15 years we estimate NextGen will produce an additional $11.4 billion in benefits.

NextGen Accomplishments

Major NextGen milestones were reached during the past year. These include:  

En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM)

We completed one of the biggest technological projects in agency history with the deployment of ERAM at our 20 control centers. ERAM covers the majority of the nation’s more than 3.2 million square miles and it enables air traffic controllers to handle more than 30 million flights annually.

ERAM processes more air traffic data more efficiently and from more sensors than its predecessor. Controllers using ERAM can now track 1,900 aircraft at a time, instead of the previous 1,100.  ERAM provides all 20 control centers with access to all flight plans filed in the system. Airspace transitions are automatic, even when flights divert from their planned course. This improves efficiency during bad weather and congestion. Controllers share and coordinate seamlessly between centers, reducing separation when it’s safe and efficient to do so. All of this means increased capacity and improved efficiency in the nation’s airspace system.

ERAM also gives us the technological horsepower to operate new technologies, such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which is the core technology that moves us from a radar-based air traffic system to a satellite-based system. 

ADS-B

ADS-B provides controllers with updated aircraft position information every second instead of radar updates every seven to 12 seconds. We completed installation of the network of ADS-B sensors in April 2014. 

ADS-B has made it possible for controllers to provide satellite-based separation to aircraft that previously operated in areas where no radar is available, such as the Gulf of Mexico and large parts of Alaska.

ADS-B data is sent to 123 air traffic control facilities, and across the country for air traffic control services. One hundred more facilities are on target receive ADS-B services. We are requiring the aviation industry to fully equip with ADS-B technology by 2020.

DataComm

We are connecting pilots sitting in the aircraft cockpit directly to air traffic controllers in the tower through a text messaging, digital communication system called DataComm. DataComm sends text messages directly from the tower into the on-board flight computer. We have tested DataComm at Newark and Memphis, and we’ll be commissioning DataComm at new sites in Houston and Salt Lake City in the near future.

Data Comm gives air traffic controllers and pilots the ability to transmit flight plans and other essential messages with the touch of a button instead of through multiple verbal communications. This switch from voice to text doesn’t just speed things up. It also enhances safety – reducing the chance of a read-back error while relaying information. It allows controllers to send text instructions to several aircraft at once – a much more accurate and efficient process than having numerous conversations.

Data Comm also cuts down on travel delays.  For example:

Two flights are in line for takeoff when an incoming storm requires air traffic controllers to re-route them. The plane using voice communications has to get out of line so the pilot can manually input the new instructions – a process that can take up to 15 minutes.  The pilot then has to get in the back of the takeoff line again – ultimately putting the flight 30 minutes behind schedule.

By comparison, the aircraft using Data Comm receives its new flight plan sent via text directly to the cockpit. The pilot accepts the updated instructions with the push of a button. That plane keeps its spot in the takeoff line and departs on time.

Data Comm helps airlines stay on schedule, helps deliver packages on time, and helps passengers get off the tarmac, into the air, and to their destinations more quickly.

In 2016, we’re aiming to have Data Comm in more than 50 air traffic control towers – three years ahead of schedule.

Performance Based Navigation

We’ve established thousands of more routes and procedures that are based on satellite technology to make the flow of air traffic more efficient. We call this Performance Based Navigation (PBN), and these new routes are in all phases of flight and they outnumber procedures that are based on radar. We’ve implemented satellite-based procedures for 463 airports, from the largest, busiest hubs to general aviation airfields.   

  • ATL reports that flights are 48 percent faster from the gate to departure and into enroute airspace.
  • PBN procedures at ATL airport are saving Delta Air Lines $10-$12 million per year.
  • Controllers can now manage traffic more efficiently nationwide to ensure that traffic is arriving at a rate that can keep flowing smoothly.
  • De-conflicted pathways into busy airspace allow for smooth, fuel-efficient descents.

Performance-based navigation will:

  • Increase safety through continuous descent procedures.
  • Improve airport and airspace access in all weather conditions.
  • Reduce delays at airports and in certain dense airspace through the application of new parallel routes; newly enabled ingress/egress points around busy terminal areas; and improved flight re-routing capabilities that make better use of closely-spaced procedures and airspace.
  • Increase efficiency through more direct routes, especially at lower flight altitudes

RNAV and RNP provide environmental benefits because aircraft are able to reduce emissions and fuel consumption.  RNAV procedures can provide benefits in all phases of flight, including departure, en route, arrival, approach, and transitioning airspace. Aircraft will be taking more direct routes, saving time and fuel, and reducing carbon emissions.

The Greener Skies initiative is expected to cut fuel consumption for airlines serving Seattle by 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 metric tons – the equivalent of taking 4,100 cars off the road every year.

On approach to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, aircraft will fly an Optimized Profile Descent (OPD). Just one of these descents called Eagle – saves 70 gallons per flight and a total of 945 minutes for all flights that use that particular approach during the course of a day. OPDs enable aircraft to descend from cruising altitude to the runway in a smooth, continuous glide, with engines set at idle, rather than the traditional staircase approach, which burns fuel and requires a verbal exchange between pilots and controllers at each step. Eagle and the other RNAV procedures automatically separate traffic serving the Phoenix area airports, enhancing safety and improving efficiency over the entire metropolitan region.

Latest Figures PBN Procedures

Total RNAV STARS367
Total RNAV SIDS556
Total RNP388
Total Q-ROUTES136
Number of Airports With RNAV Procedures463

Metroplex

At 21 major aviation hubs – Metroplexes – around the country we’re studying how we can safely improve efficiency. Our goal is to improve the way that aircraft navigate complex airspace around these metroplexes to make flight routes and airport access more efficient, reducing fuel burn and emissions and improving on-time performance.  

Metroplex has allowed us to implement scores of new satellite-based air traffic procedures in the Houston, North Texas, Washington DC metro and Northern California areas. We’re working on additional initiatives in Southern California, Central and South Florida, Atlanta and Charlotte. We’re proposing to weave dozens of new satellite procedures into some of the most complex airspace in the nation.

In Houston, the 60 new procedures we implemented save air carriers $6 million annually from reduced fuel consumption. And that of course means fewer CO2 emissions as well.

In DC, estimates predict airlines will burn at least 2.5 million fewer gallons of fuel each year in the skies above Washington, while emitting at least 25,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide. Using the Environmental Protection Agency’s energy calculator, this is the equivalent of annual greenhouse gas emissions from 5,263 passenger vehicles or 8,961 tons of waste taken to landfills.

We’ve safely reduced separation between aircraft flying at our major cargo hubs and several busy passenger hubs, and reaped capacity and fuel savings benefits. FedEx reports an average of 2.5 minutes reduction in taxi times and 2 minutes of en route time savings, which adds up when you’re operating hundreds of flight a day. UPS reports saving more than 250,000 gallons of fuel, and operating five more arrivals and six more departures per hour. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Intl. Airport has increased the number of flights that can land by up to 5 percent, which translates into about five more planes per hour. Delta Air Lines reports saving up to two minutes of outbound taxi time per flight, and saving between $13 million to $18 million dollars in operating costs annually.

After controllers in Memphis started using Wake RECAT in November 2012, the airline reported it burns 4.17 million gallons less fuel each year and emits 39,992 fewer metric tons of CO2. This is the equivalent of taking 8,421 cars off the road or the energy used by 3,650 homes per year.

Challenges

Our number one priority is safety. We are modernizing a system that is already up and running, handling approximately 68,000 flights daily. We run the safest and busiest airspace in the world, and we need to balance the needs of all the users of the airspace as we build a healthy and sustainable national airspace system.

Funding

Stable funding is necessary to move NextGen forward and implement the initiatives that are underway as well as future improvements as we develop new capabilities and the system evolves. The aviation industry also must equip its fleets to take full advantage of NextGen capabilities.

Congestion

We need to work on creating more direct and efficient paths – and make sure that traffic flows in a measured and predictable way to avoid congestion. The tools that we have now allow us to work collaboratively with the airlines, corporate and business aviation and private flyers to flow traffic more efficiently. Controllers can manage traffic nationwide more effectively to ensure that it is moving smoothly and that airports can handle the number of arriving and departing flights that we allow into the system.

Expanding Capacity

The FAA continues to work with airports to expand their infrastructure to meet traffic growth and reduce congestion. Within the last two years, new or expanded runways have opened at Fort Lauderdale and Chicago O’Hare. O’Hare has another new runway opening later this year, too.  At Philadelphia International Airport, the Capacity Expansion Program involves two runways extensions and an additional parallel runway, as well as associated airfield reconfiguration and related improvements. 

In late January, FAA published the third edition of its report on long-term airport capacity needs.  The report, known as FACT3, identifies airports that are at risk for significant delays and congestion through 2020 and 2030.

The report focuses on runway capacity, since runways can be the most challenging projects to build at an airport.  We also look at constraints with gates and the efficiency of aircraft moving around the airport. Expanded gates and ramp areas at airports can usually be expanded, but new runways are often a long-term solution. 

For the rest of this decade, much of the U.S. hub airport system has sufficient capacity – except for several high-demand airports that have had consistent delays such as the New York City-area airports, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

NextGen is creating a more flexible and adaptable system. We can build and grow to meet our changing needs. The collaborative way we have developed our programs and systems – creating procedures, developing programs and setting priorities with the input of stakeholders and our employees, ensures that we will continue to have a thriving aviation industry.

Cost of NextGen

Our most recent estimate is just over $32 billion, covering 2007 to 2030. Of this amount:

  • Approximately $17 billion is the direct FAA cost, including:
    -$12 billion in Facilities & Equipment investment
    -$1 billion in Research and Development
    -$4 billion in Operations costs
  • Approximately $15 billion is the private sector cost for aircraft equipage.

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This page was originally published at: https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=19375