FAA Finally Delivers NextGen Fuel-Efficient OPD Approaches

By Scott Spangler on January 24th, 2022

To reduce aircraft fuel consumption and reduce the aviation’s contribution to the CO2 saturated atmosphere, the FAA implemented 42 new Optimized Profile Descents that allow planes to make a low-power continuous descent from cruising altitude at the nation’s largest airports.

Compared to the traditional and typical stair-step or step-down descent from cruising altitude, the benefits are easily conveyed and understood. Coasting at idle uses less gas than adding power to level off at each lower altitude on the way to the airport.

In its announcement, the FAA estimates that for each group of descents used at an airport, aircraft will save an average of 2 million gallons of Jet-A and eliminate 40 million pounds of emissions by 2050. “That is equivalent to eliminating the fuel and emissions of 1,300 Boeing 737 flights from Atlanta to Dallas.”

Dallas-Fort Worth got its OPD in 2021, along with Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Orlando International, Reid International and North Las Vegas, Port Columbus International, New Jersey’s Lakehurst Maxfield, Portland International, and other mid-sized airports. And the FAA will more OPD procedures in 2022.

These efficient procedures are, without argument, a good thing for everyone on the planet, but despite contrary to the announcement’s inference, Optimized Profile Descents are nothing new. As the agency noted in its announcement, the FAA has been developing OPD procedures since 2014, establishing them “in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Northern California, and Washington, D.C.”

And old timers might remember that OPDs, originally called continuous descent approaches, were one of the primary selling points when the FAA introduced its Next Generation Transportation System (NextGen) effort in, what was it, 2008?

All things considered, looking at all the necessary building blocks, all the operational aircraft and ATC equipment and procedures, including Performance Based Navigation, ADS-B, and the unseen infrastructure (like WAAS, for example) that make NextGen work, the introduction of OPDs could still be on the FAA’s to-do list.

Where OPDs stood on the FAA’s initial NextGen timeline really isn’t important now. What matters is that the FAA is carrying through on its NextGen promises for the benefit of all who travel through the air as well as all of us who breathe it.

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