JetBlue Will Save Fuel Shorten Flight Times at JFK Thanks to NextGen


You always hear people talking about NextGen when it comes to air traffic control. Oooh, sounds fancy, but what the heck is it? It’s a lot of different things, actually. But instead of trying to explain it, I thought it would be good to highlight individual benefits when they happen from time to time. The first in this series is with JetBlue and it involves a new approach at JFK that will allow the airline to fly more direct routes. This will save fuel, reduce flight times, and eventually keep airplanes away from Newark’s airspace.

Instead of my trying to explain this, why don’t I just embed this fine little video courtesy of the FAA.

If the weather is good today and airplanes are landing on runways 13L or 13R, then air traffic control can have airplanes use a more direct approach similar to what you see in the green. But what about when weather gets bad? Today, if the cloud ceiling gets below 800 feet or forward visibility is less than 2.5 miles, this approach won’t work because the current technology isn’t accurate enough to safely guide airplanes to the runway with that turn at the end of the approach. Instead, air traffic control routes airplanes way out toward Manhattan so they can do an ILS (instrument landing system) approach, which requires airplanes to come straight in.

This is a pain for a couple of reasons. First, it gets in the way of Newark’s airspace so that reduces the flow of traffic. Second, it wastes time and fuel by sending airplanes out of the way.

This new RNP (required navigation performance) approach is basically technology that allows something very similar to the visual approach to be done with enough precision that it can work in poor weather. On runway 13L, the ceiling can be 530 feet with visibility only 1.25 miles. On runway 13R, it can get down to 426 feet and 1.375 miles. (There are higher obstacles on 13L but less lighting for guidance on 13R, so that explains the discrepancy between the two.)

A JetBlue Problem
I tried to get info on how often this actually happens but nobody could give it to me. That’s a shame, because you would think it would really help the case. But there is one big problem here. This won’t really matter for traffic flow yet.

JetBlue has gone through all the hoops to get this done. It has installed equipment, been certified, trained pilots, etc. So it can now use this approach, but only on its A320s for now. The Embraer 190s will follow soon. But does that mean if ceilings drop to 600 feet that the airport can keep operating this way? Um, no. Because none of the other airlines operating at the airport are capable of doing this.

So until this can be used by most other airlines, Newark’s airspace will still be disrupted. Does that mean there’s no benefit? Not at all.

The Benefit Today
JetBlue can still take advantage of the quicker approach when the weather gets bad. It won’t help Newark much, but it will help JetBlue’s JFK fliers. Also, this is a Continuous Descent Approach, which means that from 3,000 feet all the way down, the airplane gradually descends to the runway. That means no leveling off, no spooling up, and it will save JetBlue a bunch of money in fuel. Of course, the spin is that this is also a “green” thing because less fuel equals a happy environment.

So here’s a tangible benefit from NextGen. It’s not quite as good as it will be once every airline can operate this way, but it gives you a glimpse at what might be possible. More accurate navigation means fuel savings, faster approaches, and more capacity in the system. We need more of this to happen yesterday.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

23 comments on “JetBlue Will Save Fuel Shorten Flight Times at JFK Thanks to NextGen

    1. Interesting. It explains why other RNP equipped carriers can’t do this approach, since JetBlue got a special waiver since they’ll be in a slight turn at a decision point instead of straight flying.

  1. For the last decade (or two) anything involving Next-Gen has been a disappointment (over-budget by $4.2b, delayed 14 years, full implementation pushed to 2025).
    RNP at JFK sounds nice but the pessimist in me is skeptical in how often this is really going to be used. Southwest recently reported (due to reasons out of its control) that it was only doing 400 RNP approaches a month (less than half of 1% of landings). This was after WN spent $175m on upgrades. For that reason WN decided not to upgrade the classic fleet to perform RNP approaches.
    This on par with Boston’s “Big Dig” but no one seems to notice. I’m not trying to sounds like Mike Boyd, but thus far NextGen implimentation as been a failure with another decade still to go.

  2. Well you got to start somewhere, and it might as well be JetBlue at JFK.

    BTW, if a plane gets routed toward Manhattan when approaching JFK, they would need to pass over Jackson Heights, Rego Park & Forest Hills. instead of Arverne & the Rockaways. This could interrupt LGA’s airspace as well since Flushing & Astoria aren’t far from Rego Park & Forest Hills.

  3. With yesterdays incident (loss of two hydraulic systems) it would be interesting to hear who does the maintenance for Jetblue and are they in hot water with FAA Inspections?

  4. It is shocking that GPS/satellite-based technology isn’t being put into more widespread action in the airline industry…it seems like every car these days has a GPS, why not something similar for airplanes? Seems way more accurate than the dated radar technology being used now…but I’m sure there are details that complicate things that I’m not aware of!

    1. Andrew, “NextGen” is something the FAA has been promising for an insanely long time. I remember reading about it as an early teenager, I’m 31 now! The only product that has had more hype with a worse delivery schedule is Duke Nukem Forever. I’m actually amazed that the FAA is delivering some of this, but I’d really like to see the ability for airplanes to fly point to point, instead of the dog-legged routes they currently fly.

      1. I guess its a good sign that Duke Nukem Forever was eventually released in a complete form – hopefully nextgen makes it through to full implementation without too many more cuts to capability

  5. Alaska Airlines has started testing this procedure in SEA as well. Will be interesting to experience and definitely a step in the right direction!

  6. Southwest has this in place in several airports, but it is not effective when the controllers don’t approve the requested approach. If other airlines are not using it, then the overall flow of traffic is interrupted when the one plane that can use it asks for it.

  7. As several folks note, JB and Alaska are participating in TESTS. The do so and invest in hardware because the system looks viable and has some real potential to benefit he airlines. That said, it is still no more than a test, with very conservative limits imposed. We’re still a long way from adopting this as the normal/default standard for approaches into busy terminal areas. Just as with standards ILS approaches, every runway at every airport is different and there are literally hundreds of ‘what-if’ cases to consider for each one; this takes time. As I understand it, the early results at JFK are great. If the system proves its worth, it will still be years before it becomes universal, even in North Amerika. Hat’s off to JB for investing in the future.

  8. How often does JFK utilize 13R/L for landing? I can’t say I recall using them much and I think wind out of the SE isn’t terribly common in the NY area. Landing on 31 (or 4/22) is more common, I think.

  9. CF, I flew in and out of JFK for 30 years, and I can’t recall ever using the ILS to 13L! The wind would have to be at hurricane strength to require it or have multiple runway closures to require its use. I think this is more of PR thing, than some of real value. The reason other carriers are not doing it is probably the result of cost benefit analysis. The crews must be trained in the approach and kept current. The aircraft avionics must be approved and maintained for RNP. For an approach they may make once in five years?

  10. I do not understand the technical part of this whole thing, but does it basically mean that routes get shorter and less fuel will be used by planes? Or this is much more complex and I just don’t get it…

    1. They’ll get a wee bit shorter, and will take less fuel, but this is the similarity to finding a better way to pull into your driveway, it doesn’t shorten any of the rest of your flight.

  11. NextGen is the FAA’s version of Boston’s “Big Dig”. It is over a decade late, $4b over budget and we still have at least another decade (Currently 2024 i think) left to go until full implementation. Southwest spent $175m upgrading aircraft and training pilots and yet (“for reasons outside Southwest’s control”) only operate less than 400 RMP landings a month. That’s least than half of 1% of total landings. For that reason they decided to scrap plans to upgrade the -300 and -500 planes.

    Not meaning to sound like Boyd, but NextGen has been one big screwup. In all likelyhood this is just likely another attempt to get something positive in the news about NextGen although it will have no material impact on operations at JFK.

    1. The other thing that you don’t see is NavCanada is a self supporting non-profit that has board members composed of government officials, airline representatives, and general aviation representatives. The whole thing is regulated by the Canadian equivalent of the FAA.

      IMHO, its poor form for the FAA to both be the safety regulator, and the implementor of those regulations. Plus it has no accountability to the airlines, although it basically controls their primary production process flow. (e.g. They tell the planes where to fly, even if its an exceptionally inefficient route..)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier