Jan 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Exclusive: FAA's bid to reduce airplane emissions

Illustration of a pattern of airplanes.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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.

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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