U.S. aviation regulators are streamlining flight routes around Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of an effort to save fuel and reduce delays at major airports across the country.
The new routes will cut miles flown each year by 3.7 million, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement today. That equates to a savings of 6.6 million gallons of fuel, or $17.9 million, according to FAA estimates.
“We’re creating satellite-based procedures that will transform our national airspace system, making it more flexible and decreasing our carbon footprint on the environment,” Michael Huerta, the agency’s acting administrator, said at a press conference in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
“These new flight tracks will relieve bottlenecks, improve safety and efficiency and foster the flow of commerce,” Huerta said.
Known as the Metroplex initiative, the changes are an early step in the program to revamp the air-traffic system known as NextGen, Huerta said. NextGen will use satellite-based technology to more precisely guide and track aircraft. It may cost the government and industry as much as $42 billion through 2025, according to estimates.
The FAA is revamping flight routes in five other regions and expects to create similar savings, Huerta said. The agency estimates more than $60 million a year in fuel savings once all seven regions are complete.
The program will be expanded to North Texas, Houston, Northern California, Southern California and Washington, D.C., according to FAA documents.
Unlike previous FAA attempts to revamp flight routes, some of which have lasted more than a decade, the agency expects to complete each effort within three years, Huerta said.
At Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, a hub for US Airways Group Inc., the FAA will create separate high-altitude pathways for arrivals. That will let jets descend toward the airport in a gradual glide without having to level off, according to the statement.
Huerta likened the smooth descents to sliding down a banister instead of walking down stairs.
The Atlanta area will have similar routes for departures that will let jets climb steadily without leveling off, according to the statement. Hartsfield, the world’s busiest airport, is a hub for Delta Air Lines Inc.
As part of the initiative in each region, the FAA will redesign routes in and out of nearby smaller airports. Controllers guiding aircraft into most commercial hubs now must coordinate with flights into other airports, creating additional work and longer routes.
By using precise routes made possible by global positioning satellites, planes will be able to take shorter routes and fly independently of aircraft at other airports, Huerta said. It should become simpler for private pilots to fly in those regions, he said.
The FAA didn’t address how it expects to deal with potential environmental challenges to the new routes.
An effort to redesign flights in the New York and Philadelphia areas faced a lawsuit by local residents who objected to noise from flights. The FAA won the suit and is proceeding with changes in that region.
While the redesigned flight tracks and continuous descents should reduce total noise, according to the FAA, the higher precision of new routes tends to focus flights over some areas and increase noise for residents under the new tracks.