How MSP Airport changed plane landings to save gas, help the environment

They say it's resulted in 57,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

Turns out, the way a plane lands can make a huge financial and environmental difference. So Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport made some major adjustments two years ago.

According to recently published findings, planes arriving at MSP burned 5.8 million fewer gallons of fuel using the "optimized profile descents" over the past two years. That's a lot of fuel.

The results of the study were revealed Monday, with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) announcing that in the past two years, 57,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere by MSP arrivals.

How did landings change?

Planes touching down at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport used to descend in levels, like steps. Pilots would reduce altitude a bit, then level off and stay there; then reduce altitude again, stay there; and do that all the way to the runway.

Starting in March of 2015, MSP Airport mandated that planes stay at cruise height for longer, start their descent later, and keep it going down rather than leveling off. The new arrival process was laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

More benefits and savings

Burning 5.8 million fewer gallons of fuel is the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off the road, eliminating the energy used at 6,000 homes or planting 54,000 acres of forest, the commission says.

This reduction in fuel consumption has helped airlines save around $9.5 million, according to the study.

Brian Ryks, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, called it 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."

The steeper descents have another benefit – they reduce noise for some people living in the flightpath.

The most noticeable noise reduction is in areas further away from MSP that are in the flightpath, since planes now stay at cruising altitude above them, or haven't descended as much as they would have previously, according to the City of Minneapolis.

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