Alaska Airlines' Greener Skies project continues with new emissions and noise reduction demonstration flight
RNP display (photo: Alaska Airlines)
Fri 23 July 2010 – Alaska Airlines this week conducted an Optimized Profile Descent (OPD) test flight into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) that it claims reduced emissions by 35 percent compared to a conventional landing. Satellite-based Required Navigation Performance (RNP) guidance technology enabled the aircraft to fly more efficient landing procedures that not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions but also noise impacts for residents in the Puget Sound region. The flight was conducted as part of the Alaska Air Group’s ‘Greener Skies’ project along with Boeing, the FAA and the Port of Seattle. The airline is seeking approval for the procedures that could in the future be used by all RNP-equipped aircraft using the airport.
Alaska has already flown two other demonstration flights since the project began last summer. This week’s test involved observation of flight path precision and fuel consumption on eight landing approaches of a Boeing 737-700 with a landing weight similar to a typical passenger flight. The airline reports that the shorter and more efficient approaches saved 400 pounds (180kg) of fuel per approach. It estimates that full implementation of the procedures at Sea-Tac could cut fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 tonnes, in addition to reducing aircraft noise for an estimated 750,000 people living below the affected flight corridor.
“Sea-Tac is the ideal location to pursue this cutting-edge project,” said Alaska COO Ben Minicuccir. “Seattle has the highest percentage of advanced RNP-equipped planes in the nation, and – working with the FAA – Alaska Airlines, Boeing and the Port of Seattle are committed to making ‘Greener Skies’ a reality as soon as possible. Ultimately this project could serve as a blueprint for next-generation aviation technology throughout the country.”
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.
Planning and testing of the procedures will continue through the remainder of the year and will be integrated into Alaska Airlines and sister carrier Horizon Air’s commercial operations at Sea-Tac pending FAA approval.
Alaska Airlines pioneered RNP precision flight-guidance technology during the mid-1990s to help its planes land at some of the world’s most remote and geographically challenging airports in the state of Alaska. It improves safety and reliability in all weather, and reduces reliance on ground-based navigation aids. The airline currently uses FAA-approved RNP procedures at 23 US airports.
Alaska Airlines is the only major US air carrier with a completely RNP-equipped fleet and fully trained crews, and is also the first airline approved by the FAA to conduct its own RNP flight validation. Horizon Air’s fleet will be fully RNP-equipped by the end of 2011.
RNP and OPD are part of the Next Generation (NextGen) Air Transportation System, the FAA’s plan to modernize the National Airspace System through 2025. This initiative will increase airspace capacity and efficiency while improving safety and reducing environmental impacts through the replacement of legacy ground-based equipment with new satellite-based technology and aircraft navigation capabilities.