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Rollin’ to Your Runway Gets Faster and Greener

A joint FAA-NASA program is seeking to mitigate issues caused by long post-taxi delays. (Photo: NASA)

Does this airline experience sound familiar? Pushing back from the gate on time, you excitedly text family or friends that your flight will soon depart as scheduled.

And then it happens. Long minutes pass as your jet sits idle on the ramp until receiving taxi clearance, or stuck awaiting takeoff at the end of a long conga line. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if departing airlines could be choreographed to travel in one continuous movement from pushback to takeoff through departure climb, all the way to cruise altitude?

Well, if a joint NASA and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) program works as tested, that smooth departure sequence will be a reality coming soon to an airport near you.

The FAA and NASA announced this week the completion of a multi-year partnership, along with airlines and airports, that tested software technologies to streamline aircraft departure scheduling. The goal was for airliners to roll seamlessly from gate pushback directly through take-off, and then into overhead flows via a continuous climb versus a traditional stair-step, all the way to cruise. Benefits reaped were reduced en route and crew duty times, fewer delays, fewer maintenance hours on aircraft and components, and a reduction in engine emissions and greenhouse gasses.

Where did the idea come from? NASA says they were inspired by the simple concept of space trajectories. Years ago, NASA successfully teamed with the FAA to evolve typical airline descent paths from their fuel-wasting stair-step profiles to today’s time and fuel-saving continuous descents. The new concept of streamlined taxi and departure climb profiles is basically that process reversed.

Evaluated over the last six years, NASA’s Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) project demonstrated the benefits of a suite of airport operations tools called Integrated Arrival, Departure, and Surface (IADS) technology. Test airports were Charlotte Douglas International, Dallas Fort Worth International and Dallas Love Field.

NASA’s ATD-2 IADS System improved the surface operation efficiencies at busy airports through time-based metering of departures and improved sharing of flight operations information. ATD-2 departure metering recommends holding some departing flights a few minutes longer at the gate instead of in long departure queues at the end of the runway. Shifting departure wait time from the taxiway to the gate saved fuel, gave airlines and passengers more flexibility in the period prior to pushback, and reduced carbon emissions. As FAA Administrator Steve Dickson emphasized, “The future of flight must be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

The ATD-2 IADS System also couples a trajectory-based surface decision support tool with the overhead stream insertion capabilities of the en route metering decision support system. The result is more precise scheduling of surface departures into constrained overhead airspace flows, better communication between en route and tower controllers, and improved percentages hitting target departure times.

Program test results for just one airport, KCLT, yielded:

• Eight tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions eliminated daily.

• 275,000 gallons of fuel saved annually from reduced taxi times, the equivalent fuel burn of 185 flights between New York and Chicago by a Boeing 737.

• 916 hours of reduced delays, equivalent to shaving 15 minutes of waiting time for more than 3,600 departing flights.

In 2022, The FAA will implement IADS capabilities through the Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM) program, which will deploy to 89 airports, with initial deployment at Phoenix Sky Harbor International (KPHX). More advanced IADS capabilities demonstrated under ATD-2 will go to 27 of the nation’s busiest airports under TFDM. When completed, the FAA anticipates savings of more than 7 million gallons of fuel per year and the elimination of more than 75,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

“This air traffic scheduling technology enhances aircraft efficiency and improves dependability for passengers every day,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I’m excited that the software NASA developed for air traffic controllers and airlines will be rolled out at airports across the country and the results will continue to be extraordinary.”

Cities and airports expected to be part of the TDFM 27-aiport rollout include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago Midway, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Bush, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Newark, New York JFK, New York La Guardia, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington Dulles, Washington Reagan National.

Kathleen Bangs


  • Kathleen Bangs

    Kathleen Bangs is an Aerospace Journalist of the Year overall winner who specializes in aviation safety. She is a former commercial airline pilot, airline instructor, and check airman. Kathleen can also be seen on-air covering breaking aviation news and airline events.

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