FAA: NextGen Upgrade for Washington, D.C. metro area in place for holiday travel this week

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

FAA Seal

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Sunday that a NextGen airspace upgrade for the Washington, D.C. metro area would be in place in time for the holiday travel week. The FAA said this will improve the efficiency of air travel in this area.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said this upgrade highlights the difference the federal government is making in air travel. He also said this upgrade will improve on-time performance and reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta said with the busy holiday travel season approaching, it is important to get travelers to their destination safely and on time.

The D.C. metroplex now includes three Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs) that allow aircraft to descend smoothly to the airport, as opposed to a staircase-style decent. This reduces fuel burn during decent because every time an aircraft levels off, it needs to burn more fuel for each step in the descent. The FAA said it will benefit three major airports in the area: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore–Washington International Airport (BWI).

In a video describing the OPDs in D.C., Brian Townsend, a tech pilot and captain for American Airlines, said this gliding down approach will be more environmentally friendly than the traditional approach.

This initiative at the D.C. metroplex involves collaboration by United, Southwest, and American Airlines and some labor unions, and is also an effort to improve efficiency for aircraft arriving and taking off from surrounding airports such as Joint Base Andrews, Richmond International Airport, and other small airports in this region.

The agency announced yesterday it has finished the work for the NextGen system in D.C. NextGen is a replacement for the ground-radar-based system that has been in operation since World War Two. They also completed a NextGen metroplex project in North Texas last week. The NextGen system is expected to cost billions of dollars to implement and the FAA funding is expected to expire in late 2015. Lawmakers, however, are holding hearings to possibly extend the funding window next year.

NASA is also conducting studies of the NextGen System. Researchers are using a brand new laboratory to test NextGen's operations with simulated flights. They plan also to put unmanned aerial vehicles into the National Airspace System.

According to the National Weather Service, a storm system originating over the Gulf of Mexico flowing to the Northeast region of the U.S. may affect travel this week, bringing heavy snow, rain, and winds.