The NextGen Metroplex model has sprung up at major hubs across the United States. What changes can you expect?
FAA's goals to increase the safety and efficiency of our nation's busiest airspaces are being realized in the NextGen program. You are likely already aware of many aspects of NextGen, such as the ADS-B mandate. It is also likely that at some point, you have flown into an area that is a part of the NextGen Metroplex program.
Over the last few years, the FAA has been transforming the busiest air traffic hubs in the US through the Metroplex program, adjusting approach paths and adding new ways for aircraft to enter traffic patterns. Program benefits include improved fuel efficiency, decreased noise levels over communities, and increased navigation accuracy, allowing for safer and more efficient aircraft routing.
But if you're used to an airspace being one way, adjustments to the Metroplex format can be difficult to account for at first. And even if you've already grown accustomed to the routing of one Metroplex, the FAA intends to establish more. So, what can you expect? How will the airspace and associated procedures change, and what should you look out for during the changeover period?
Metroplexes do not merely involve a single airport. Rather, they exist as a geographic area containing several airports that serve major metropolitan areas and together experience heavy traffic on a daily basis. The FAA has completed upgrades to nine areas:
- North California
- Southern California
- North Texas
- Washington DC
Three more Metroplex areas are currently in development:
- South Central Florida
- Las Vegas
Approach with care
As a pilot, the most significant change to flight within these areas will be the new descent routes, adding new Performance Based Navigation procedures to enter the airspace, allowing increased traffic density without creating congestion or compromising safety. You'll utilize Optimized Profile Descents, reducing power to near idle at the top of your descent, and descending gradually. This is in contrast to the usual mix of a series of steeper descents with periods of level flight in between. The end result saves fuel, reduces noise, decreases emissions, and allows more flights to follow the same pathway at once.
Every Metroplex faces a different set of changes and challenges. As airports transition, an adjustment period will be necessary as controllers and pilots alike adapt to the differences in what they are used to. If you regularly fly into any of the airports listed above, it is recommended that you study the proposed changes and be aware of their implementation date.
The Metroplex model has already demonstrated benefits in places like Houston, where aircraft operators have been reaping the benefits of significant decreases in fuel burn and more efficient routing. As more areas are completed and implemented, we're sure to see further benefits to pilots, organizations, airports, and the surrounding communities.
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