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Modernizing Our Airports

While many investments in NextGen technologies are the responsibility of the FAA or aircraft operators, airports also have opportunities to advance and benefit from this modernization effort. These technologies help airports reduce the impact of poor weather conditions on capacity, decrease separation standards for more-efficient arrivals, lower aircraft exhaust emissions, and contribute toward the goal of Trajectory Based Operations.

Most flight delays occur at a handful of airports and result in further delays that ripple across the system. The FAA's third iteration of the Future Airport Capacity Task report on long-term airport capacity needs concluded that NextGen technologies and procedures, as well as runway improvements, are needed to deal with future airport capacity constraints. New or reconfigured runways can increase capacity at airports with significant limitations. NextGen technologies and procedures can improve airport capacity and help optimize the efficient movement of flights to and from a new runway.

Frequently Asked Questions

Overview of Aircraft Operator Enablers: Airports
Avionics Enablers Aircraft and Operator Capability Overview Target Users Target Area Maturity
Guidance Schedule
Geographic Information System AC 150/5300-16A, AC 150/5300-17C, AC 150/5300-18B Ongoing Provides detailed geospatial data on airports and obstructions
  • Air Carriers
  • Business Aviation
  • General Aviation
  • Rotorcraft
  • Nationwide
  • Available
ADS-B for Surface Vehicles AC 150/5220-26 Change 1 Complete Provides ADS-B squitter equipage for surface vehicles operating in the movement area Airport rescue and firefighting equipment, snowplows, and inspection trucks
  • Airports with FAA surface surveillance systems
  • Available


The Airports Geographic Information System (GIS) program provides data to manage aeronautical information and NextGen implementation. GIS identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features or boundaries on the earth's surface. The airport data is used to develop and implement obstruction analyses, more accurate Notices to Airmen and flight deck airport moving map functionality, and Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures, including Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV) approaches.

Airports GIS is the authoritative source of survey data about obstacles and navigational aids for all FAA lines of business. The central database for Airports GIS information enhances sharing of safety-critical data such as runway endpoints and navigational aid locations, and non-safety-critical data such as building locations on an airfield. Airports GIS provides users with current airport data, facilitating improved airport planning with more efficient reviews of airport plan updates. It allows the FAA and airports to collaborate more effectively and efficiently on airport planning, design, operations, and maintenance decisions.

The FAA's Office of Airports continues to guide Airports GIS users, including explaining the program's history, defining the various roles and responsibilities of FAA personnel and airport operators, and identifying available online training and help resources.

Performance Based Navigation

Performance Based Navigation (PBN) routes and procedures use GPS or ground-based navigation aids, onboard equipment or both to navigate aircraft with greater precision and accuracy. The FAA established a network of thousands of precisely defined PBN routes and procedures to improve air traffic flow efficiency to and from airports for all phases of flight.

Airport users will continue to see improvements through more direct flight paths, standard terminal arrival procedures with an optimized profile descent, and procedures that de conflict arrivals and departures at nearby airports. These improvements increase efficiency that shorten flight distances, save fuel, reduce aircraft exhaust emissions, and improve capacity. Stemming from recommendations in the 2014 NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) report, Blueprint for Success to Implementing Performance Based Navigation, the FAA continues to emphasize early collaboration with airports and community outreach for successful implementation of PBN across the NAS.

General aviation airports are experiencing improved access during low-visibility conditions with new approach procedures using WAAS, which raises horizontal and vertical accuracy of GPS to about 7 feet. Pilots have new and improved access to more than 1,800 airports thanks to nearly 3,800 published WAAS-enabled approach procedures that feature LPV minimums.

WAAS enables the FAA to design area navigation (RNAV) procedures with LPV minimums, offering capabilities similar to instrument landing systems (ILS) with vertical guidance and decision altitudes as low as 200 feet. Because nearly half of these RNAV approaches with LPV minimums are to airports without ILS, pilots can fly to these destinations when visibility is reduced. About 83,000 general aviation aircraft are equipped with receivers needed to fly WAAS-enabled procedures.

Closely Spaced Parallel Runways

The FAA continues to evaluate procedures at airports with closely spaced parallel runways, which are part of the implementation commitments under Multiple Runway Operations, a NAC priority focus area. The FAA's goal is to improve capacity by reducing separation between aircraft with no loss of safety as they approach closely spaced parallel runways, especially during poor visibility conditions.

For independent runways, aircraft can approach without having to maintain the diagonal separation of 1.5 nautical miles required by dependent operations.

After determining that lateral runway separation can be reduced safely, the FAA in August 2013 revised the separation standard from 4,300 feet to 3,600 feet for independent arrivals. Further revisions to closely spaced parallel operations were included in the November 2015 update to FAA Order 7110.65, Air Traffic Control.

The new procedures reduce lateral separation requirements to as close as 3,900 feet for triple independent approaches, and 3,000 feet for offset dual independent approaches without requiring high-update-rate radar. For dual dependent approaches, the runway spacing requirement remains 2,500 feet, but the diagonal spacing is reduced from 1.5 nautical miles to 1 nautical mile.

FAA Order 7110.308C identifies specific airports — Boston, Cleveland, Memphis, Newark, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis — with runways spaced less than 2,500 feet apart that can reduce staggered spacing between aircraft on parallel approaches from 1.5 nm to 1 nm.

Surface Surveillance and Data Sharing

Surface operations and data sharing are another NAC focus area. They are essential for commercial airports, airlines, and the FAA for safe and efficient airport operations. Data sharing enables better use of existing airport capacity and a more coordinated recovery when weather or other factors disrupt operations. Several tools are being deployed that will enable airports, airlines, and other operators improved access to surface surveillance data.

Airport Surface Detection Equipment–Model X (ASDE-X) is installed at 35 major airports. ASDE-X is a surveillance system using radar, multilateration, and Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) that enables air traffic controllers to track aircraft and vehicle movements for safe airport ground operations. Multilateration is a surveillance technology that calculates an aircraft's position from the small differences in timing of when ground antennas receive the transponder signal. Any transponder-equipped aircraft can be tracked with multilateration.

Similar to ASDE-X, Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC), is operational at San Francisco and Cleveland and will be implemented at Anchorage, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Kansas City, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Portland, OR, during the next few years.

The 43 civil airports with FAA surface surveillance can install ADS-B Out transponders, also known as squitters, on vehicles that drive in the airport movement area. Vehicles transmit their GPS-derived position so controllers can see their location on an ASDE-X display of the airport surface. Airport operations centers can view the same real-time operational picture. Pilots of aircraft equipped with ADS-B In cockpit displays also will be able to see vehicle locations.

System Wide Information Management (SWIM) is the infrastructure that enables the aviation community to access the information needed to facilitate an innovative and efficiently run airspace system. The SWIM infrastructure enables more productive data sharing among aviation partners than previously was possible. Users can access multiple systems through one connection and translate data from different systems into standard data formats.

The SWIM program is being implemented in segments and already has significantly advanced aviation management. By providing current aeronautical, flight and traffic flow, and weather information to NAS users, SWIM enables airline dispatchers and traffic managers to collaborate on aircraft routing and rerouting based on near-real-time information, such as current traffic management initiatives, runway configurations, and aircraft deicing operations.

The SWIM Terminal Data Distribution System converts raw surface data from ASDE-X and ASSC into easily accessible information for airlines and airports, to streamline surface operations and increase efficiency. In addition, terminal airspace data includes the live flight plan, tracking, status, and alerting. User forums and information are available on how to connect to SWIM.

The FAA and aviation community developed the airport Surface Collaborative Decision Making Concept of Operations (SCDM ConOps). The SCDM ConOps describes a vision for data exchange, as well as a process to meter the flow of departures entering the movement area, to reduce the need for physical departure queues. SCDM leverages real-time data sharing among all surface stakeholders, coupled with operational data from flight and airport operators, to better understand and manage demand on the surface. The FAA and industry SCDM team is working on surface efficiency with CDM tools that are part of the Terminal Flight Data Manager.

SCDM shifts delays from the runway to the ramp or gate area, where aircraft can wait with their engines off. Using a departure metering capability known as Departure Reservoir Management (DRM), aircraft operators provide and maintain an updated list of when each flight can be ready to push back from the gate. The DRM assigns each flight a target movement area entry time when departure metering is in effect. Aircraft burn less fuel, the airport surface is less congested, and passengers are able to wait more comfortably in the terminal.

In September 2017, NASA and the FAA started operating the Airspace Technology Demonstration-2 departure metering capability at Charlotte. This will increase aircraft surface movement, departure, and arrival predictability and efficiency through CDM capabilities with air traffic management scheduling technologies.

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