Washington, DC, T-route plan sets back NextGen goals

June 18, 2013

The FAA’s satellite-based navigation program known as NextGen was intended to improve access and efficiency in the nation’s busiest airspace. But two new RNAV terminal routes proposed west of Washington, D.C.’s, Class B airspace do just the opposite, and should be withdrawn, AOPA said.

The FAA’s proposal to establish T-287 and T-299 would create a “significant degradation” of general aviation access to terminal airspace—an alarming trend as the FAA moves toward satellite-based navigation, decommissions ground-based navaids, and eliminates the associated airways.

Based on “the lack of quantifiable benefit, AOPA does not support the establishment of these T-routes and urges the FAA to withdraw the proposal,” AOPA said in formal comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking for the two routes that AOPA has described as needlessly “circuitous.”

The T-routes were proposed under the FAA’s Optimization of Airspace Procedures in a Metroplex (OAPM) effort. But any opportunity for pilots to optimize use of metroplex airspace is lacking in the plan, AOPA said.

The association said nothing in the proposal provides GA aircraft with routes through the Class B airspace, which was one of the “core needs” that T-routes were intended to address. As for circumnavigation, the two routes “mimic” existing airway and vectored routes for transitions of the Class B airspace, but require pilots to fly additional track miles.

“AOPA questions under what scenario a pilot would voluntarily request a route that takes more time, burns more fuel, and deviates further from the desired ground track,” the association said.

The association disputed the notion that “there exists no opportunity for the development of RNAV T-routes through the Washington, D.C., Class B airspace,” listing several areas of Class B airspace with T-routes running through them. AOPA also pointed out that all Class B areas, including Washington, D.C.’s, are currently crossed by Victor airways.

The transition to satellite-based navigation was intended to preserve or enhance efficiency, especially in metroplex airspace, and the Washington, D.C., OAPM process identified a possible location east of Washington Dulles International Airport and west of the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone for a T route to improve north-south flight operations in the airspace, AOPA said.

AOPA urged the FAA to withdraw the proposed T-routes and work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop routes that improve “access, efficiency and safety as intended with the original development of T-routes” rather than use airspace proposals to segregate Part 91 air traffic by limiting its terminal-airspace access.