FAA's next generation transportation system

September 12, 2008 10:59:14 PM PDT
Imagine commercial airliners guided by satellites to help them save jet fuel. It is new technology that aviation experts say will also improve capacity problems, emissions and prevent delays.

It was a perfect landing in San Francisco from Auckland, New Zealand for the Air New Zealand flight which performed the latest test in what is called required navigational performance. It is part of the FAA's next generation plan to make air travel more sustainable.

It is taking the flight plan away from ground control and relying on satellites and computers.

"That means the jets will get from the gate to the runway as quickly and as smoothly as possible. It's like a town that doesn't need traffic systems because all of the car movements are synchronized," said the FAA's Robert Sturgell.

They are looking for the most direct and fuel-efficient routing. At cruising altitude, the flight plan can be altered. It happened twice on the Air New Zealand flight, saving fuel.

"We slightly exceeded our expectations in saving around 4,600 liters, a little over 1,200 U.S. gallons," said Capt. Dave Morgan, the chief pilot of Air New Zealand.

He says that is like 12 tons of carbon dioxide. When planes descend, they come in smoothly, without revving up engines. If it works, it will be a significant change in the way we fly.

Airport director John Martin says it would cut fog delays. But what about passengers? Will this mean lower ticket prices?

"I'm confident if we can optimize this we can take the top off these fuel increases. But it's probably fair to say that we can do little about the impact of fuel on airline costs," said Ashley Smout, CEO of Airways New Zealand.

There is no estimate of what it will cost airports. It will require cooperation among airlines and countries.

This is a plan of stability and efficiency, while not compromising safety. Tests will continue, but the navigational technology won't be fully implemented until the year 2025.


Load Comments