Commercial

Southwest Airlines to Equip Fleet with RNP Capability

By Tish Drake | May 10, 2007
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Southwest Airlines is equipping its entire fleet for Required Navigation Performance (RNP). The Dallas-based carrier said it will retrofit its current fleet of 490 Boeing 737s and specify RNP-capable equipment for future purchases. RNP is based on the use of sensor inputs, which can include GPS, VOR, DME/DME, inertial systems and other sources, integrated through the aircraft’s flight management computer to yield a highly accurate position.

The approach facilitates more direct routing and increased airspace capacity by ensuring that an aircraft is contained within defined boundaries around the planned trajectory, with a high level of assurance. FAA has designated RNP and Area Navigation, or RNAV, procedures as key components of the Next-Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, with the potential to save airlines millions of dollars in fuel and operational efficiencies.

At a press conference Tuesday, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said the number of airlines adopting these “performance-based” techniques is growing. “Let me tell you, this is a tipping point for performance-based navigation,” Blakey said. Responding to questions from Avionics, Southwest said it is working on a timeline for the required steps to obtain FAA certification and approval of RNP-capable aircraft. “It's too early to announce a ‘start date’ at this point,” Brandy King, a Southwest spokesperson said. “We realize that required navigational capabilities are one of the cornerstones for the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System. We believe (aligning) with the FAA and airports during this transition will provide our industry with operational efficiencies, including reducing fuel burn and reducing congestion and delays. We have made the internal decision to move forward with the philosophy of RNP/RNAV. We also need to crunch the numbers and decide how to move forward from a financial standpoint. Our -700s (50 percent of our fleet and growing) are equipped and capable of operating with RNP. We would need to activate that equipment or ‘turn it on.’  We are planning to make investments to eventually update our classic fleet.”

Delta Air Lines, Horizon Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Continental Airlines all have approval to fly RNP approaches. In March, Delta received approval for its 737-800 fleet to fly RNP approaches.

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