By challenging aircraft separation standards that were based on dated technology, FedEx and its partners have introduced new aircraft separation standards which have improved arrivals and departure efficiency by up to 20%.

Aircraft create ‘wake vortices’ when they fly, disrupting the air behind them. Generally, larger aircraft create larger such vortices and turbulence which can cause issues for any other aircraft lining up to land or take-off behind. Separation standards set the minimum distance to avoid flying in unstable air upon arrival and departure.

Together, FedEx and the United States Federal Aviation Administration redefined the protocol in order to decrease separation, reduce taxi and flying time, save fuel and increase airport capacity – all without compromising safety which remains the number one priority for the industry.

At Memphis International Airport in November 2012, a cross-disciplinary FedEx team used the latest scientific techniques to calculate the minimum safe distance between aircraft. This included new software that displayed wake turbulence separation in real time, helping air traffic controllers to better judge spacing. The team found that, on average, separation standards between trailing and leading aircraft could be reduced by approximately 1.61 kilometres.

Now more than 4,200 FedEx pilots use the new standards, saving an average of 1,400,196 litres of jet fuel a month. Capacity was increased at Memphis International Airport resulting in 99 arrivals per hour compared to 84 arrivals per hour.

The successful implementation at Memphis International Airport led to expanded adoption at other US airports with a similar fleet mix.  The FAA rolled out the new standards in Louisville, Atlanta and Cincinnati. Charlotte, John F Kennedy, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston airports are soon to follow.