LAX Implements Continuous Descent Approach

A nice side benefit of attending JetBlue’s press conference yesterday was that I had the opportunity to meet Ian Gregor, Communications Manager for the FAA’s Western-Pacific Region. We started talking shop, and soon enough I realized that there was something worth writing about here.

LAX has recently started using Continuous Descent Approaches (CDA) for some flights arriving from the East. What, that’s not exciting to you?

Ok, let me explain exactly what that means. Better yet, let’s go with an image here.

08_02_14 continuousdescent

Just about everyone is used to the stepped approach that has been the standard for some time (and I’ll guess nobody has experienced the drunken pilot approach). You know the feeling. The pilot reduces thrust, you start to descend, then he increases it and you start to flatten out. This goes on for quite some time until you end up on the ground. It’s like going down stairs, whereas the CDA is like going down a ramp. When the aircraft gets ready to descend, the pilot cuts power and the plane maintains a constant rate of descent all the way until touchdown.

That means no more powering up along the way and no more ear-busting changes in pitch of the aircraft. As you can imagine, that helps reduce noise (since the engines don’t spool up) and it helps reduce fuel usage. Good news for everyone, right? Why wouldn’t they have done this before?

Well, it’s not like there’s unlimited room to pull something like this off. You need to make sure that during your continuous descent, you don’t happen to get in the way of, oh, say, airplanes coming from Ontario or one of the other many airports in Southern California.

That’s why this can only be implemented for landings from the East. If you come from the North and West, you usually have to make that turn around downtown LA to come in. There just isn’t enough room to make this work out there. The good news, however, is that half of the arrivals at the airport come from the East. Although only half of those are using CDA right now, the other half will be soon enough.

This procedure was first tested in Louisville, and there was a “34 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions below 3,000 feet, and a 30 percent reduction in aircraft noise within 15 miles of the airport. UPS aircraft flying this approach also save between 250 and 465 pounds of fuel per flight.” Sounds good to me. Maybe this will get some of those testy airport neighbors to stop whining so much.

They’re also rolling this out in other airports, so next time you come in for landing, see if you notice any difference.

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