HOUSTON -- Airplanes coming into Houston are using procedures that are a global first which the FAA says will not only be safer, they will be cheaper, quieter, and better for the environment.
Inside the Federal Aviation Administration’s Houston Center Regional Air Traffic Control, it is a complex dance of air traffic controllers, huge flying metal tubes, and pilots, all with the passengers none the wiser.
Travelers might not think of Houston first on the list of global leaders, unless you are an aviation professional, like Paul Rinaldi, the President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
"To fly in," said Rinaldi. "It would be Houston definitely. Houston Intercontinental, the best procedures in the world right now.”
FAA calls it NextGen, a massive upgrade of what was essentially World War Two era radar-based systems into satellite-based GPS.
A combination of cutting edge technology, training, and procedures that is aimed at getting planes on the ground faster, and safer. All built in Houston first.
“Not only fuel savings, not only safety, not only reduced costs to carriers, perhaps even to passengers, but it is the tip of the iceberg for what is going to happen around the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who visited the center to see the progress for himself.
Houston was chosen to implement and develop the system with industry and government working together to completely change the way planes in the air are managed.
Michael Huerta is the FAA Administrator, he said the entire process centered on one key question, “How can we make this operate more efficiently for everyone?”
Think of it this way, the old style landing involved descending gradually using varying speeds and altitudes, like going down stairs.
NextGen is more like sliding down the banister because planes land essentially with their engines on idle, gliding in.
Rinaldi said he could feel the difference flying into Houston Wednesday morning from Washington, D.C.
“It is like the difference from driving on a highway in stop-and-go traffic and setting a cruise control at 55 and heading straight in," said Rinaldi.
One impact of the new air traffic control system is savings on fuel. The airlines say that they will save enough fuel to make three trips to the moon and back every year.
“Whether it is safety, whether it is efficiency, whether it is fuel savings, whether it is environmental impacts, we think that these benefits are going to be significant across the country,” said Foxx.
The future here in Houston is now. The government hopes the airlines will pass those fuel savings on to you with lower ticket prices.