New Aircraft Arrival Procedure Provides Huge Environmental Benefits at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Apr 17, 2017

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has measured environmental impacts of adopting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) NextGen aircraft arrival procedures at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and has determined the new procedures have resulted in the biggest known air quality benefit of any single action in MSP history.
The new arrival procedures implemented at MSP in March 2015 are called optimized profile descents, or OPD.  Traditionally, when aircraft were approaching the airport, pilots descended in stages through a series of procedures involving reducing altitude, then leveling off, reducing altitude more and leveling off again, and so on until they finally land. Using OPD, pilots continue flying at cruise altitude longer, and once they start their descent, they continue it until they land. Keeping the plane throttled back reduces fuel burn and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Using data supplied by airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the MAC has become the first airport operator in the nation to measure the impacts of OPD, and the results are impressive. The MAC estimates that airlines burn 2.9 million fewer gallons of fuel per year using OPD procedures than they would using traditional staged descents on approach to MSP. As a result of the reduced fuel burn, arriving aircraft emit 28,465 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually than they otherwise would.

“The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions around MSP is the result of a cooperative effort by community leaders, airlines, the FAA and the Airports Commission to reduce environmental impacts while also improving the safety and efficiency of air traffic,” said Brian Ryks, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “This achievement demonstrates that the cooperative approach that has made MSP an industry leader at noise mitigation can also produce huge benefits in other areas, such as in reduced aircraft emissions.”
The Noise Oversight Committee (NOC), an advisory panel to the MAC consisting of community and airline representatives, endorsed adoption of NextGen OPD arrivals at MSP in 2014. At that time, the MAC committed to measuring use and air quality impacts of the procedures at MSP. The MAC’s Environment Department created an analysis capability that uses data from the FAA, Delta, Sun Country and Endeavor airlines. The FAA then validated fuel and emissions savings results associated with OPD arrivals. While created to measure impacts around MSP, this methodology can be adapted to address local conditions at airports across the nation to quantify OPD’s benefits to their communities.

Since airlines began using OPD arrivals at MSP in March 2015, they have conserved more than 5.8 million gallons of fuel, saving an estimated $9.5 million in fuel costs and preventing more than 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of removing more than 12,000 cars from the road, eliminating the energy used at 6,000 homes or planting 54,000 acres of forest.

“Delta has a longstanding and ongoing commitment to working with the Noise Oversight Committee, the MAC, the FAA and community leaders to reduce environmental impacts around MSP while also improving safety and efficiency,” said Bill Lentsch, senior vice president – Delta Connection and Global Services. “We are proud to have played a role in developing a tool to measure the effects of these new arrival procedures, and we congratulate all of our local partners for their environmental stewardship.”

Last month, Airports Council International-North America presented the MAC with a 2017 Environmental Achievement Award for developing a way to measure use and environmental benefits of OPD. The award recognized the MAC in the Innovative and Special Projects award category.

The award-winning OPD effort is part of a longstanding history of environmental stewardship at MSP. For more information about the MAC’s sustainability efforts, visit