American Airlines 'Highways in the Sky' flight marks acceleration in US modernization efforts to cut delays and emissions
After the flight: Capt Brian Will, who piloted the American Airlines Boeing 737NG to Bradley International, (left) and Steve Fulton, GE Aviation Systems Technical Fellow for Air Traffic Management
Fri 10 Sept 2010 – A recent American Airlines scheduled flight to Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport marked a new era in the modernization of US airspace as it was the first to use a publicly available, commercially designed instrument flight path. The new landing procedure allows pilots to use onboard technology to follow a precise track that is independent of ageing ground-based navigation beacons that limit the routes where the aircraft can fly. Although the Bradley procedure was specifically designed to enable suitably equipped aircraft to land on a particular runway during periods of low visibility, so-called Required Navigation Performance (RNP) paths can be custom-tailored to shorten trip distances, thus saving fuel and emissions, and create community-friendly flight trajectories that lessen the impact of aircraft noise.
RNP is a core component of the FAA’s NextGen airspace modernization plan, claimed GE Aviation subsidiary Naverus, the designer of the Bradley path.
“The event marks a significant milestone for the flying public by augmenting the means to develop and deploy airspace improvements in the US that will translate to fewer delays, less air pollution and greater system reliability,” commented Naverus General Manager Steve Forte of the flight. “Modernizing the US air traffic management system is a monumental task that requires the best efforts of government and private sectors alike. Today we showed how third-party navigation providers, like GE, and airlines, like American, are helping accelerate these improvements.”
GE has already deployed RNP procedures in countries such as Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand and Peru, and is now the first third-party procedure designer to publish a public RNP procedure in the US.
Additionally, GE is working with the FAA and other regulatory bodies and navigation service providers around the world to develop the capability for aircraft to share optimized flight trajectories with air traffic control in real time, and to ‘negotiate’ modifications to those trajectories when necessary. This would allow airlines to plan each flight to operate on the most efficient flight path with the least possible environmental impact, explained GE, in the process saving fuel and reducing commercial aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which, it noted, have increased 80% over the past 20 years.
Without new RNP flight paths and other essential upgrades, GE quoted FAA estimates that by 2015 the current air traffic control system will be unable to handle the 50% increase in airplanes and passengers expected over the next decade.
“Over the next 20 years, airspace and airlines around the world will fundamentally change from how we operate today,” said Captain Brian Will, American Airlines’ Director Airspace Modernization and Advanced Technologies.