U.S. Airspace Optimization Effort Advances
A nationwide effort to “de-conflict” airspace in major metropolitan areas using existing technology and procedures is progressing, with studies completed at the first two of several designated sites.
The FAA has concluded studies at the Washington, D.C., and North Texas “metroplex” sites–metropolitan areas with multiple airports and municipalities–designated by the agency through the Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM) project. The first two metroplex sites, considered prototypes, now transition to a design and implementation phase that could see airspace changes implemented by 2013.
Metroplex study teams focused on Charlotte, N.C., and Northern California had nearly finished their work in April. Plans call for study projects in Houston, Atlanta and Southern California to begin this summer.
The OAPM effort stems from recommendations of the RTCA NextGen Mid-Term Implementation Task Force, issued in September 2009 and later incorporated by the FAA in its NextGen Implementation Plan. A major theme of the recommendations centered on achieving early NextGen operational benefits through the use of currently available avionics and airspace procedures, taking advantage of “low-hanging fruit.”
The multidisciplinary OAPM study teams consist of FAA subject matter experts, Mitre Corp. specialists, contract support personnel and representatives of airlines and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Their primary task involves analyzing operational challenges in their regions, assessing planned and potential new solutions and making recommendations for advancement by the design and implementation teams.
The study teams are evaluating performance-based airspace procedures, including area navigation (RNAV) and more stringent required navigation performance (RNP), achievable with current navigation equipment. “It’s very important to understand that we are looking at technology that exists today on the airplane, finally bringing that to bear to the system,” said OAPM participant Grady Boyce, a Delta Air Lines technical pilot. “There is an eye to future technologies [like] data comm and ADS-B, but it is not germane to the immediate task.”
RNAV allows aircraft to fly a desired course within coverage of existing ground or GPS navaids. In the case of the Washington metroplex, the FAA would modify several existing RNAV standard instrument departures (SIDs) and standard terminal arrival routes (STARs) and create others. The study concentrated on Washington Dulles, Reagan National, Baltimore-Washington and outlying smaller airports, as well as Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The North Texas study team, which concentrated on Dallas-Fort Worth, Dallas Love, Addison and outlying airports, has recommended RNP authorization required (RNP AR) procedures for arrivals at Dallas Love Field, taking into account Southwest Airlines’ fleetwide RNP equipage. The more demanding, GPS-specific RNP AR procedures require onboard course monitoring and alerting.