FAA announces NextGen plan for North Texas

By Marice Richter


A new air-traffic management system has landed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is expected reduce flight delays, fuel costs and air pollution, Federal Aviation Administration officials announced Wednesday.

The new North Texas Metroplex NextGen project is one of the FAA’s largest. Similar air-traffic management changes were implemented in Houston in May. More than a dozen similar projects are planned or under development across the nation, including the Washington D.C., Northern California and Atlanta.

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The projects target major metropolitan areas where multiple airports and a lot of air traffic cripple the efficiency of the air traffic system.

“Using NextGen satellite-based technology, the FAA and its workface have collaborated with the industry to convert the busy and complex airspace around North Texas into some of the most efficient in the nation,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

The result is a solution that not only benefits the national airspace systems, it benefits the aviation industry, the environment and traveling public,” he said.

NexGen transforms air-traffic control from a radar-based to a satellite-based system that allows air-traffic controllers to track aircraft with more accuracy and provide pilots with more information in the cockpit.

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Fort the North Texas Metroplex project, the FAA developed 80 new procedures using the precision of the new technology, including a constant descent strategy that will reduce fuel consumption and pollution. Another new strategies allow planes to climb steadily and reach their cruising altitudes quicker.

Other strategies will establish new pathways for inbound and outbound planes, better alternate routes for bad weather and a dedicated northwest arrival route for Dallas Love Field to eliminate airspace congestion above Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The airspace improvements will reduce miles flown by as much as 1 million miles annually, up to 4.1 million gallons of fuel and reduce air polluting emissions by as much as 41,00 metric tons per year, FAA officials said. The fuel costs savings could result in lower ticket prices for travelers.

The announcement of the new North Texas Metroplex NextGen project at the FAA air traffic control facility in Fort Worth near DFW airport comes one day after three members Congress called the $40 billion program “stalled” and “broken.”

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“It’s apparent that the process is broken,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., House Transportation Committee chairman. “The FAA is moving at a snail’s pace.”

But Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said that NextGen was “on the verge of becoming a success story.” –

The FAA has implemented elements of the NextGen system at several airports, including Reagan National Airport, while working on technology and procedures that may not come on line for a decade.

One of the fuel- and time-saving NextGen procedures now in use at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field allows planes to glide smoothly toward the runway. With the radar-based system, planes use a step-down process as they descend.

“It will allow aircraft to descend from cruise altitudes almost at idle,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “That saves a lot of fuel because that glide-line profile is a lot like sliding down a banister rather than going down the stairs.”

He said the use of GPS-based arrival and departure paths meant that airliners would fly 1 million fewer miles in North Texas.

“Using satellite-based NextGen technology, we’ve changed some of the most complicated airspace in the country into some of the most efficient,” he said. “Flights taking off and landing at both airports are flying in much more precise paths.”

Huerta was joined by Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who was among those who testified before Shuster’s committee Tuesday.

“We’re often asked when is NextGen going to happen,” Rinaldi said. “It’s actually happening today.”

The NextGen system is designed to allow planes to safely travel packed skies closer to other planes. They would be able to fly direct routes, unlike in the current system, which relies on flying to waypoints before turning to a final destination.

NextGen is expected to cut flight delays, eliminate time spent on the runway waiting to take off and shorten flight times once planes are airborne.The Washington Post contributed to this story.