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Houston Selected as One of the Nation’s First to Receive Airspace Overhaul

July 2, 2014

  Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz discusses the importance of the project to the local region.

© Houston Airport System
Houston is one of the nation’s first areas to receive this airspace overhaul, and the project was completed ahead of schedule.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta today announced the successful implementation of the Houston Metroplex NextGen airspace redesign project, which will deliver more on-time flights for passengers while reducing pollution by thousands of metric tons each year.

“The City of Houston and the FAA already enjoy a solid tradition of establishing effective partnerships with one another and this initiative is the latest example of that fact,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “Houston is proud to once again stand at the forefront of the aviation industry because we recognize the importance of efficient global connectivity.”

The airspace improvements will reduce distances flown by as much as 648,000 nautical miles annually, based on flight plans. This will save up to three million gallons of fuel and reduce carbon emissions by as much as 31,000 metric tons each year.

“This is a collaborative effort to use NextGen satellite-based technology to turn some of the most complex airspace in the country into some of the most efficient,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The Houston Metroplex project was launched in January 2012. It was selected by the Obama Administration as one of 14 high-priority infrastructure projects that were ideal for expedited completion. Rather than taking three years to complete, this project was completed in 30 months through environmental streamlining and concurrent reviews.

The Houston Metroplex initiative includes a number of strategies that have streamlined the airspace and helped reduce complexity for air traffic controllers and flight crews. As part of the program, the FAA developed 61 new procedures to take advantage of the precision of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.

The strategies included:
• Creating Optimized Profile Descent (OPD) procedures into George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports. OPDs allow pilots to almost idle the engines while the aircraft descends at a constant rate, like sliding down a banister. Previous airspace procedures required planes to level off at certain points to allow for coordination between air traffic controllers. OPDs reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
• Creating more efficient routes between Houston and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex areas to shave miles off of each flight through this busy corridor.
• Developing similarly efficient alternative routes that can be used when bad weather affects normal arrival and departure paths.
• Establishing departure and arrival routes that align airplanes on preferred paths, reducing the number of miles flown. • Utilizing side-by-side arrival routes into George Bush Intercontinental Houston Airport to increase airspace efficiency and provide more direct routing.
• Developing satellite-based departure procedures that provide predictable, repeatable flight paths that enable planes to climb steadily without leveling off from time to time, allowing them to reach a cruising altitude sooner

The airspace improvements are part of the FAA’s overall NextGen program, which is transforming the radar-based air traffic control system into a modern satellite-based system. A key component of NextGen has been in use over the Gulf of Mexico since January 2010. Aircraft equipped with a technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) are able to constantly broadcast their location, altitude and speed, allowing the FAA to provide radar-like services to areas that previously had no radar coverage. their location, altitude and speed, allowing the FAA to provide radar-like services to areas that previously had no radar coverage.

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