"More Direct Routes with NextGen"
Michael Huerta, Oakland International Airport, Oakland, CA
March 19, 2012

Oakland Metroplex Press Availability


Today we are kicking off the design and implementation phase of the Metroplex initiative here in Northern California.

In the aviation business, our highways are in the sky. So this is our version of a groundbreaking.  

Much of our Next Generation infrastructure is invisible to the public. Yet, the work we are embarking on is every bit as vital to our transportation network as a new highway or bridge might be.

I’d like to recognize our partners in this collaborative effort–Captain David Newton, who has been with Southwest Airlines for 24 years; Dennis Roberts, director of the FAA’s Airspace Services and Metroplex program; Steve Hefley, the representative of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association who is working on Metroplex here, and Deborah Ale Flint, who as you know, is Director of Aviation for the Port of Oakland. I’d also like to acknowledge Julian Potter, chief of staff and director of governmental affairs for San Francisco International, and Bill Sherry, Director of Aviation for the City of San Jose.

This has been a collaborative effort among all parties. And 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, we expect to finish this work in three years.

Here in Northern California we are creating NextGen procedures at four of the major airports in the area:  Oakland; San Francisco; San Jose and Sacramento.

These procedures will be more efficient and direct. We estimate that airlines flying into these Northern California airports will shave 1.5 million nautical miles from their routes each year. We also estimate a savings of 2.3 million gallons of fuel and a reduction in carbon emissions equal to 23,000 metric tons. That decrease in emissions would have roughly the same effect as planting nearly 600,000 trees and letting them grow for 10 years.

With NextGen, we are creating satellite-based procedures that will transform our national airspace system, making it more flexible and decreasing our carbon footprint on the environment. These new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency, and foster the flow of commerce.  It’s happening here and all over the country.

In all four cities in Northern California, we anticipate savings due to very precise Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures, which will reduce the number of miles aircraft must fly by allowing them to take more direct routes. This translates into greater capacity for airports and ultimately fewer delays for passengers. Although these cities seem far apart when you are driving – the airspace around them is part of a very busy and complex system that is intertwined.

We will separate the arrival flights paths into all four airports to reduce congestion. With NextGen, there will be shorter routes to San Jose International. They will be precise satellite-based arrival routes that are more direct and decrease delays.   

We are also creating environmentally friendly Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs), which allow aircraft to make managed descents at reduced engine power, thus saving fuel.  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 and noise.

We are not only looking at the airspace right around these airports. We are also designing a new high altitude route that skirts the northern boundary of military airspace around the Edwards Range Complex, which is located northeast of Los Angeles. When military exercises prohibit the use of that airspace by commercial jets, we will have a shorter, more predictable way for commercial jets to fly around the area and on to their destinations.  

Across the country, there are 21 different areas surrounding big cities or combinations of cities, where we know that we need to get better use of our airspace. We need to improve the flow of traffic, increase efficiency, decrease fuel burn and make aviation greener.

We are also working on ways to decrease congestion on the ground for airplanes waiting to take off and to develop better ways to monitor the movement of airplanes and baggage carts on taxiways. It’s all part of NextGen.

The particular way in which we are accomplishing the improvements here in Northern California is by studying the problem and then designing and implementing new procedures that take into account the entire airspace in the metro area. We are also fast-tracking the work and taking about three years.

We’ll follow this template in Southern California as well. The Southern California Metroplex initiative includes Los Angeles and San Diego. A group of airspace experts, air traffic controllers, NATCA and industry stakeholders have been studying the airspace there to advise how best to improve operations in that area. Stay tuned for more to come.

To conclude, I’m happy you could come out today to learn more about what we’re doing in Northern California.  We are moving the whole country – all of our airspace – into the Next Generation of air traffic control. And as one of the busiest airspaces in the country, northern California will see less congestion and fewer delays thanks to NextGen.

Thank you for coming out.

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