RNP display instrumentation onboard an Alaska Airlines aircraft
Fri 10 July 2009 – Alaska Airlines has begun testing of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approach procedures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The carrier estimates the satellite-based descent procedures will cut fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons annually, reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 tonnes and reduce overflight noise exposure for an estimated 750,000 people living within the affected Puget Sound flight corridor. Planning and testing will continue through the remainder of the year and the airline is hopeful of FAA approval for the procedures in 2010, which could then be used by all properly equipped carriers serving the airport.
Dubbed ‘Greener Skies’, the project is a partnership consisting of Boeing, the FAA and the Port of Seattle, as well as Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier Horizon Air. Testing began June 16 on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 aircraft during a non-commercial flight. The airline is the only major US carrier with a completely RNP-equipped fleet and fully-trained crews. Alaska is also the first airline approved by the FAA to conduct its own RNP flight validation. Horizon Air’s fleet is expected to be fully RNP-equipped shortly.
“These improved flight procedures at Sea-Tac will help Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air minimize the environmental impact of our flying on the communities we serve,” said Gary Beck, Alaska’s Vice President of Flight Operations. “With FAA approval, we hope the procedures will be available to all carriers and gradually integrated into the Seattle air traffic system. The project could also become a blueprint for expanded use of next-generation technology at more US airports.”
Typically, commercial aircraft follow a lengthy approach pattern and series of stair-step descents before landing. Using RNP technology and a continuous descent, also called an optimized profile descent (OPD), aircraft can descend from cruise altitude to an airport runway along a shorter, more direct flight path at low power.
“This effort aligns with the Port of Seattle’s commitment to operate the greenest airport in the nation,” said Mark Reis, Managing Director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “With Alaska and Horizon representing nearly half of the daily operations at Sea-Tac, this programme not only benefits our regional environment but also helps the airlines to operate more efficiently at Sea-Tac. We are working closely with Alaska, Boeing and the FAA to ensure these benefits are realized by our community as quickly as possible.”
Alaska Airlines pioneered RNP precision flight-guidance technology during the mid-1990s to help its planes land at the remote and geographically challenging airports in the state of Alaska.
RNP and OPD are part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the FAA’s plan to modernize the National Airspace System through 2025. The initiative will increase airspace capacity and reduce environmental impacts through the replacement of legacy ground-based equipment with new satellite-based technology and aircraft navigation capabilities.
As part of the initial Alaska Airlines RNP operational approval team, Boeing began installing RNP guidance technology on its aircraft in 1994. Currently all Boeing production airplanes are RNP-capable, and solutions are available to upgrade the in-service fleet.
“Boeing is committed to working with Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle to increase efficiency in the way their airplanes approach and depart from Sea-Tac and other airports across the country,” said Per Norén, Director of Airport Infrastructure for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Using these advanced technology solutions, airlines around the world can save hundreds of pounds of fuel per flight, which is a significant step towards further reducing emissions from aviation.”
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