Focus: NextGen - The Case for Airport Operator Involvement
The basis for the next generation air transportation system (NextGen) is a set of evolving air traffic control and aircraft navigation technologies designed to transform the U.S. air traffic control system from a ground-based system to a satellite-based system. When fully implemented, NextGen will allow aircraft to safely fly closer together on more direct routes, thus reducing aircraft operating times and delays, and providing benefits for the environment through reductions in carbon emissions, fuel consumption, and noise exposure. While NextGen is often referenced in terms of its enabling technologies and capabilities, its achievements will depend to a large degree on the local solutions proposed by airport and airline management and approved by the airport community.
What NextGen Means for Airports
NextGen’s impacts will vary by airport, depending on the number and complexity of aircraft operations and local constraints on airport capacity. NextGen’s meaning for airports can best be explained by the potential realization of procedural and physical benefits:
- The procedural benefits would include shorter, more fuel-efficient, conflict-free, all-weather flight paths leading to and from the runways at the nation’s airports. These benefits would result from the greatly improved navigation accuracy using cockpit-based global positioning system (GPS) receivers and flight management system computers. Neighborhoods surrounding airports would receive the air quality and noise benefits of optimal profile descents where landing aircraft descend at idle thrust from cruise altitude to the runway without having to level off. Departing aircraft could use unrestricted climb profiles. One downside to these more precise flight paths is that noise levels could increase under the more concentrated flight paths, which could be a problem if those paths could not be shifted to overfly areas that are less noise sensitive.
- The physical benefits would include reduced centerline-tocenterline spacing between parallel runways for independent operations, reduced dependence between and among airports that share limited airspace, and reduced congestion on the ground at airports as a result of departure queue management and optimal taxiing procedures.