Active engagement with communities required to realize environmental benefits of advanced navigation technology
(graphic: GE Aviation)
Fri 19 Nov 2010 – GE has extended its Performance-based Navigation (PBN) services in South America and China that will enable airlines to use optimized flight paths to operate in difficult weather conditions and terrains as well as shorten flight distances to reduce fuel burn and emissions. The company has been selected by LAN Airlines to design and deploy a Required Navigation Performance (RNP) network at Lima Jorge Chávez International Airport and four other airports in Peru, Chile and Ecuador. GE has also installed RNP flight paths at Lijiang Airport in China. PBN technology can achieve significant environmental and economic benefits but community noise reduction, fuel savings and reductions in CO2 emissions will not materialize if aviation stakeholders fail to successfully engage communities around airports in the process, delegates to the Global PBN Summit held last month were told.
PBN engages the full potential of an aircraft to fly precisely-defined paths without relying on ground-based radio-navigation signals. RNP, a form of PBN, ensures the aircraft precisely follows the path and provides additional navigational flexibility, such as custom-tailored, curved paths through mountainous terrain or in congested airspace. They can be deployed at any airport and allow an accuracy of less than a wingspan, says GE. RNP technology couples GPS satellite navigation with onboard flight-management technology to provide precise lateral and vertical guidance.
This precision allows pilots to land the aircraft in weather conditions that would otherwise require them to hold, divert to another airport, or even to cancel the flight before departure. In addition, since the procedures are very precise, they can be designed to shorten the distance an aircraft has to fly en-route, and to reduce noise, fuel burn and exhaust emissions.
For a typical airline, GE maintains RNP can eliminate an average of 10 nautical miles from the distance an airplane flies on its approach to landing and create significant reductions in annual fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
GE’s installation of RNP flight paths at Lijiang will allow Sichuan Airlines and Air China to maintain a reliable commercial air service at the airport.
“Chinese airlines are proving that PBN solutions, like these RNP flight paths, solve many of today’s most challenging air traffic management problems,” commented Steve Forte, General Manager of GE’s PBN Services business. “We have been providing flight paths in China since 2004 and are pleased to be expanding our RNP work there to deliver benefits to Chinese airlines and the communities and passengers they serve.”
Under the LAN agreement, PBN Services will design optimized arrivals and departures using RNP technology. Lima’s international airport is an important hub in Latin America, serving around 9 million passengers and handling more than 100,000 operations annually. With just one runway and located in a densely populated area, the airport faces many challenges to accommodate rapidly increasing traffic volume.
At the Global PBN Summit, held in Seattle and hosted by GE, Dan Elwell, Vice President of Civil Aviation with the Aerospace Industries Association, said RNP will provide “more bang for the buck” than building new runways and ground-based infrastructure.
However, delegates were warned of serious challenges to implementing the new RNP navigation paths. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is working to implement new, more efficient paths that would significantly reduce the number of residents in the area who are affected by the noise of arriving traffic, but in order to do so must route aircraft over different parts of the community. Even though fewer people are ultimately affected by noise, the new paths can create issues for those who are.
“For us, it’s community, community, community,” said Mike Ehl, Director of Aviation Operations for the Port of Seattle. He explained it was difficult though for a public entity like his to deal with sensitive issues that have major political implications. Leadership was needed, he said, “but I don’t know where we’re going to find it.”
Greg Albjerg, Vice President at infrastructure engineering company HNTB, said it was imperative that the aviation industry actively engaged with airport communities regarding the design and deployment of more efficient routes as people living in the vicinity had legitimate questions.
Chris Manning, a retired chief pilot for Qantas, said that although the community engagement process was sometimes difficult, there were serious potential repercussions if community stakeholders were not engaged early on.
An example of this was provided by Michelle Bennetts, General Manager of Corporate International Affairs at Airservices Australia, who said new RNP paths at Perth – which provided significant reductions in CO2 and an overall reduction in community noise impact – were nearly derailed by two citizens who lived 20 miles from the airport. They complained the new paths created a disturbance for them, even though aircraft crossed over their houses at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet.
Bennetts said the confrontation could have been avoided if the community had been engaged early on in the process.
FAA Chief Operating Officer Hank Krakowski said PBN navigation paths would be very much part of the US NextGen airspace modernization process over the next eight years. By 2018, he predicted, NextGen will reduce flight delays by 21%, save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 14 million tons annually.
Graham Lake, Director General of CANSO, which represents air navigation service organizations, called for an international baseline of current PBN implementation, as part of a coordinated push to implement PBN globally.
He said that currently there was a lack of clear understanding of the status of PBN implementation across the world. “Therefore, our first task should be to benchmark current PBN programmes, and then move towards consolidated best practice for implementation.”
Lake drew a link between the delivery of PBN and the emergence of ‘4D’ air traffic management, which is the cornerstone of the NextGen and Europe’s SESAR programmes, he said.
“To make airspace management work in four dimensions, we need some key techniques to be implemented as soon as possible,” he added. “Alongside collaborative decision making, air traffic flow management and real-time data link between aircraft and ATM systems, PBN is essential for realizing the capacity and environmental gains that air transport users are looking for.”
GE Aviation Technical Fellow Steve Fulton challenged airlines, regulators, navigation service providers and airport community groups to work closely together to implement efficient PBN navigation routes that reduce fuel burn, noise and emissions, while laying the groundwork for future airspace modernization efforts.