Southwest Airlines begins flying advanced navigation procedures at 11 airports to reduce costs and emissions
(photo: Southwest Airlines)
Thu 13 Jan 2011 – Southwest Airlines this week begins flying Required Navigation Performance (RNP) efficient procedures at 11 US airports that will provide the ability to fly shorter flight paths and idle-thrust descents, thereby reducing fuel consumption and lowering emissions and community noise levels. The airline describes it as a major milestone in reducing environmental impact and a significant step in the future of the US NextGen air traffic management system. RNP is satellite-based navigation that brings together the accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System), the capabilities of advanced aircraft avionics and new flight procedures. Southwest has modified 345 Boeing 737-700 aircraft with new flight display software and trained more than 5,900 pilots in the procedures. GE Aviation is providing the onboard technology through its TrueCourse flight management system.
Annual savings of $16 million are projected from using the procedures at the 11 airports, with an anticipated saving of over $60 million once all airports served by Southwest have efficient RNP procedures in place.
The airline calculates that for a single minute of time saved on each of its flight, the annual savings add up to 156,000 metric tons in emissions and $25 million in fuel savings per year.
“RNP sets the stage for Southwest to continue doing its part to conserve fuel, improve safety, and reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, while simultaneously taking advantage of the high-performance characteristics that exist in an airline’s fleet,” said the airline’s Vice President of the Operations Coordination Center. “The efficiencies RNP introduces help Southwest be a good neighbour while also maintaining our low fares.”
The initiative is the culmination of a four-year project with partners Boeing, GE and Honeywell. Southwest is estimated to have invested $175 million in equipping its fleet with the technology.
The GE Aviation TrueCourse flight management system controls the aircraft track to an accuracy of 10 metres and the time of arrival to within 10 seconds to any point in the flight plan.
In June 2010, GE Aviation was awarded funding as part of the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) programme to help further develop Flight Management System - Air Traffic Management (FMS-ATM) technologies. The programme is focused on meeting NextGen environmental goals and to enable greater mobility. The aim is to enable the technologies to enter the fleet beginning in 2015.
As part of CLEEN, GE is working with industry partners Lockheed Martin, AirDat and Alaska Airlines. GE will develop advanced FMS functionality that will be installed on Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 aircraft to demonstrate the environmental benefits. Work with Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system, will demonstrate integration between the airborne FMS and the ground-based air traffic system.
Alaska Airlines, which pioneered RNP precision flight-guidance technology during the mid-1990s to help its planes land at remote and geographically challenging airports, has been conducting advanced RNP procedures as part of its Greener Skies project, including trialling continuous descent approaches at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Compared to a conventional landing, Alaska found that fuel consumption and emissions could be reduced by 35%. The airline estimates the new procedures at Sea-Tac will lead to cuts in fuel consumption of 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 tonnes.
The FAA’s latest estimates show that by 2018, NextGen (Next Generation Air Transportation System) will reduce total flight delays by about 21% while providing $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the travelling public, aircraft operators and the FAA. In the process, more than 1.4 billion gallons of fuel are expected to be saved during this period, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 14 million tons.