Some of the first people to benefit from the multi-billion dollar NextGen air traffic management research programme in the USA are the citizens of Houston, Texas.

The redesign of arrival and departure routes into and out of the airport, along with the deployment of a new generation of extremely precise navigation systems, will cut the noise impact of aircraft flying over airport communities, reduce distances flown by as much as 648,000 nautical miles annually and save up to three million gallons of fuel and reduce carbon emissions by as much as 31,000 tonnes each year, according to US government estimates.

The new Houston “Metroplex” ATM system became operational in June 2014, six months ahead of schedule. It was selected by the Obama Administration in January 2012 as one of 14 high-priority infrastructure renovation projects. A Metroplex is a major metropolitan area with multiple airports where heavy traffic and environmental constraints can combine to hinder efficient movement. Metroplex initiatives are under way or planned in more than a dozen metropolitan areas across the USA including north Texas, Washington DC, northern California, Atlanta and Charlotte.

The idea is to use new technologies, such as satellite-based navigation systems and digital communications between the ground and the air, to reduce pilot and controller workload while increasing the precision with which aircraft stick to the optimum routes into and out of the airports. For example, by using optimised profile descent procedures into George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby airports, pilots can now almost idle the engines, reducing fuel consumption, noise and carbon emissions, while the aircraft descends at a constant rate. Previous airspace procedures required planes to level off at certain points to allow for coordination between air traffic controllers.

This is just one 61 new procedures introduced into the Houston Metroplex.