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Originally published October 28, 2010 at 7:13 PM | Page modified October 28, 2010 at 10:45 PM

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FAA awards grant to Sea-Tac Airport to air-condition jets, save fuel

The FAA has given formal support for the initial phase of a satellite-based airplane- navigation project at SeaTac Airport.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt announced at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Thursday that his agency will provide just over $18 million to the airport so that it can pump air conditioning to every airplane sitting at a gate. That way the jets won't have to burn fuel to keep passengers comfortable while parked.

The project aims to save 5 million gallons of jet fuel a year and to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 50,000 tons per year.

Babbitt also praised the plan to introduce satellite-based airplane navigation at the airport, the "Greener Skies" project that is being pioneered by Alaska Airlines, Boeing and the airport.

In an interview afterward he said the Federal Aviation Administration has given formal support for the initial phase of Greener Skies, dedicating staff and committing $1.5 million to $2 million to the project.

Babbitt said that implementation of Greener Skies on passenger flights at Sea-Tac could happen in 18 to 20 months.

The $18.3 million grant will be used to set up a central air-conditioning unit in a subbasement at the airport, with warm or cool air then piped to the jets standing at each of the 73 gates.

The first phase, to be completed by the end of next year, will connect airplanes at 50 of those gates to the central air-conditioning system. The remaining gates should be covered by the end of 2012.

For the Greener Skies project, Alaska Airlines began flying some test flights in summer 2009. But transitioning from the current ground-based air-traffic-control system to one where most airliners will use satellite navigation is hugely complex.

When fully implemented, planes with GPS capability will be able to fly very precise highways in the sky, allowing airplanes equipped with the technology to come in on shorter, smoother flight paths.

Planes coming in to land will be able to follow a smooth arc from cruise height to the runway, rather than coming down in steps from one altitude to the next as happens now.

"It's the difference between sliding down a banister and walking down the stairs," Babbitt said.

The payoff is that the jets can coast all the way down with their engines on idle, producing less noise and burning less fuel.

Keith Loveless, who leads environmental efforts at Alaska Airlines, said that Sea-Tac could "lead the nation into the next generation of flight technology."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963

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