Exclusive: FAA's bid to reduce airplane emissions via continuous descent

·1 min read

The FAA is poised to expand its implementation of continuous approaches at more airports this year to save fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.

State of play: The regulatory agency has also quantified the emissions savings from its efforts in 2021.

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Why it matters: Aviation comprises 11% of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and about 3% of global emissions and growing.

How it works: The FAA has rolled out 42 of what it calls "optimized profile descents." These differ from traditional "stair-step" approaches to airports, which involve directing planes to level off every several thousand feet on the way to the runway.

  • Continuous approaches allow pilots to keep the engines near idle for the entire descent.

  • The FAA estimates that optimized descents at each airport save an average of 2 million gallons of aviation fuel and 40 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • "That is equivalent to eliminating the fuel and CO2 emissions of 1,300 Boeing 737 flights from Atlanta to Dallas," the agency said in a statement.

  • Airports, where these approaches were implemented last year, include Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and Tampa International Airport, among others.

What they're saying: “These new efficient descent procedures both save fuel and dramatically reduce emissions, moving us closer to our goal of net-zero aviation emissions by 2050,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

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