Updated on October 10, 2013
Recent studies have discovered a way for large shipping companies to increase their productivity and efficiency. The airport in Memphis, Tennessee has decided to change their flight policy regarding minimum distance between wide-bodied aircrafts. They have deduced that the distance can be reduced from 4 nautical miles to 2.5 nautical miles. By reducing the distance, they’ve been able to fit in 18 more FedEx shipping aircraft carriers. This new policy has helped FedEx increase hourly arrivals by 20% and reduce taxi times before takeoff by more than three minutes. Now instead of struggling to takeoff, FedEx shipping is struggling to move quick enough to get their planes on the airstrip. This increased efficiency is equivalent to adding another runway to the airport.
One of the Federal Aviation Administration administrators – Michael Huerta – stated:
“That single, elegant solution allowed us to increase the number of flights per hour, without a single piece of new technology or foot of pavement.”
Wake vortexes are the reason behind the old policy regarding airplane distance. These tornado-like air movements that form from the tips of large planes’ wingtips can reach wind speeds of up to 200mph, powerful enough to knock down smaller planes. According to an FAA training guide, encounters with wakes were linked to at least 51 accidents with 27 deaths from 1983 to 1993.
For over a decade, Lockheed’s WindTracer technology has allowed researchers to track the wind speed and direction in clear air. They’ve been able to use this technology to create a database of aircraft wakes which has allowed them to deduce a closer flight distance between airplanes.
Known as the Wake Turbulence Recategorization or Recat program, the FAA also plans to implement the new policy for UPS’ hub in Louisville, Kentucky and delay-prone passenger airlines. They also plan to expand the program to San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and Philadelphia as well. This mostly affects wide-body aircrafts or single aisle planes treated as such, for example Boeing 757s. But this may mean that we’ll be seeing more competition between passenger carriers which means better deals for consumers.