GE study of US mid-size airports shows substantial cost, time and environmental benefits of RNP landing approaches
(graphic: GE Aviation)
Thu 12 May 2011 – Implementing new satellite-based flight paths and landing approach procedures at just 46 mid-size US airports could save 12.9 million gallons of fuel and 274.6 million pounds (124,556 tonnes) of CO2 each year, finds a study carried out by GE Aviation. The ‘Highways in the Sky’ study identifies significant economic and environmental benefits of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) instrument arrivals and GE says its analysis supports accelerated deployment of the procedure at any airport. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has predicted RNP efficiencies could potentially cut global CO2 emissions by 13 million tonnes per year. RNP is a cornerstone of the US NextGen air traffic modernisation programme but requires aircraft to upgrade with expensive onboard technology. The question of who should pay for it, airlines or government, has been an ongoing dispute but a public-private initiative has been launched to help solve the problem.
“We are facing a serious global challenge as air traffic increases and our skies become more congested,” said Lorraine Bolsinger, President and CEO of GE Aviation Systems. “This is an opportunity to provide tangible benefits to every stakeholder; responsible growth of an essential industry, better asset utilization, lower fuel burn and cost for airlines, greater throughput for airports and ANSPs, fewer delays for passengers, lower emissions and noise for communities and reduced dependence on foreign oil.”
Through its Naverus subsidiary, GE has been active in Performance-based Navigation (PBN) for number of years and RNP is its most advanced form, using GPS and onboard technology to guide aircraft with more precision than allowed by traditional ground-based systems. PBN solutions are already being implemented throughout the world, including China, South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe, as well as the United States.
Government sponsored RNP trials at Brisbane demonstrated savings by aircraft operators of 882,000 pounds (400 tonnes) of jet fuel a year, even though only 18% of aircraft were capable of flying the procedures. Based on the results, Airservices Australia is implementing RNP at 28 airports nationwide, which it expects will save operators nearly 86 million pounds (39,000 tonnes) of jet fuel annually and reduce CO2 emissions by over 122,000 tonnes.
GE Aviation’s PBN Services’ ‘Highways in the Sky’ analysis projected the benefits of RNP deployment at 46 US airports that either have existing published RNP procedures or a significant number of arrivals of RNP-capable aircraft. A total of six models of aircraft for 12 national airlines were included in the study. GE estimates savings of over $65 million due to reductions in fuel – accounting for 41% of savings – and also maintenance and crew costs. The US National Center of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research estimates air transportation delays cost the nation an estimated $32.9 billion each year and the FAA forecasts domestic air travel will double in the next 20 years, passing the one billion passenger mark by 2021.
“There is no reason the US aviation industry should be tied to a ground-based beacon system that was developed in the 1940s,” said Captain Brian Will, Director - Airspace Modernization and Advanced Technologies for American Airlines. “GE Aviation’s study clearly demonstrates the tremendous benefits realised through satellite-based navigation. RNAV [Area Navigation] and RNP provide benefits to all airspace users. For controllers and pilots, we have safety benefits from reduced radio transmissions and reduced controller workload and increased pilot situational awareness. For the airport communities, RNAV and RNP can reduce both noise and emissions – this is a win-win-win scenario, everyone benefits.”
The NextGen programme is expected to reduce the environmental impact of the air transport industry by saving $1.4 billion gallons of aviation fuel and cutting CO2 emissions by 14 million tons (12.7m metric tonnes) by 2018. In cost terms, NextGen stands to benefit airlines, government and the US economy in general by as much as $40 billion a year once fully rolled out.
However, the cost of implementing NextGen is currently estimated at around $40 billion – and rising – with the outlay for commercial airliners for NextGen avionics, installation and service contracts ranging from $200,000 to $1 million each, depending on the type of aircraft. Airlines have been reluctant so far to commit to investing in and equipping their aircraft with the required technology – so-called ‘equipage’.
“Airlines are not in a position to shoulder all the financial risks of buying and installing avionics based solely on government promises that the capabilities needed to enable NextGen will appear sometime in the future,” James May, the former CEO of the Air Transport Association (ATA) said recently.
However, NextGen will not work without a substantial portion – at least 50 to 60 per cent – of the nation’s aircraft being suitably equipped so that air traffic can be tracked with the new system.
Help may now be at hand though following a bill passed in the House of Representatives early last month that authorises a public-private partnership that establishes the NextGen Equipage Fund, which aims to raise over $1.5 billion and enable the retrofit of up to 75% of the US commercial air transport fleet at competitive rates backed by loan guarantees. Those aircraft operators that do not move fast enough to use the funds to equip could therefore lose out.
The backbone of the NextGen system is ADS-B, which uses GPS satellite signals to provide air traffic controllers and pilots with much more accurate information on an aircraft’s position and to help keep them safely separated in the sky and on the runways. In 2007, ITT Corporation was appointed by the FAA to be the prime contractor for the ADS-B ground stations and has already completed more than 300 of the 794 planned. Deployment at key sites has allowed air traffic controllers at Houston and Philadelphia to use ADS-B to track and separate aircraft.
Following the passing of the bill, ITT announced in April that it would be partnering with the NextGen Equipage Fund, which was formed by NEXA Capital Partners.
“Aircraft equipage is just as much a part of our national airspace system infrastructure as airports, runways and satellites,” said Marion Blakey, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, representing manufacturers. “The NextGen Equipage Fund is an innovative way to incentivise the retrofitting of commercial aircraft with NextGen avionics equipment. The time is now to encourage the involvement of private sector investment capital.”