FAA introduces fuel-saving descent procedures at 11 airports

An American Airlines Boeing 787 landing.
Jakkrit Prasertwit (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – Aircraft heading to Orlando, Kansas City, Omaha, Reno and six airports in South Florida can now slide down from cruising altitude to final approach saving millions of gallons of fuel and reducing greenhouse gases.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now introduced a system of profile descents which will replace the traditional “stepped descent” procedures.

“We are investing across the entire system to provide passengers with the best travel experience.  The era of choppy descents is coming to an end, providing a smoother landing and saving fuel in the process,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen.

Optimised profile descent procedures

The new Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs) safely eliminate the need for the fuel-consuming stair-step procedure. Under traditional procedures, aircraft repeatedly level off and power up the engines.

This burns more fuel and requires air traffic controllers to issue instructions at each step. With optimized descents, aircraft descend from cruising altitude to the runway in a smooth, continuous path with the engines at near idle. 

During 2022, the FAA implemented new OPDs for the following 11 airports: Boca Raton Airport, Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Kansas City International Airport, North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport, Eppley Air Field, Neb.,

Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., Orlando International Airport, Palm Beach County Park Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Pompano Beach Airpark and Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

With these new descents in place, the FAA estimates that the industry will save more than 90,000 gallons of fuel on average and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 27,000 tons annually.

This change is equivalent to fuel used by 62 Boeing 737 flights between New York and Cleveland. The 11 airports brings the total number of airports with the procedures to 64.

Since 2014, the FAA also has developed OPD procedures at airports in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Portland, Northern California, Southern California, Seattle, Tampa, Washington, D.C., and others. 

In its Aviation Climate Action Plan, the United States set a goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. aviation sector by 2050. To achieve it, the FAA: 

You can find more information about the FAA and its environmental efforts at its Sustainability Gateway Page and its list of accomplishments for 2022. 

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 3 Min Read
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