ATM Modernization, Commercial, Embedded Avionics

Southwest Using RNP Procedures at 11 Airports

By Tish Drake | January 12, 2011
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Southwest Airlines has now begun using required navigation performance procedures at 11 airports nationwide, the carrier announced Tuesday.

The milestone, part of the company's announced $175 million, six-year investment in the technology, is a partnership between Boeing, GE and Honeywell to bring about more efficient operations at congested airports. RNP is a key part of FAA's Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The airline's pilots and dispatchers now follow these flight procedures to fly specifically designed satellite-based navigation approaches to many Southwest airports. The primary airports with efficient RNP procedures include Amarillo, Texas, Birmingham, Ala., Boise, Idaho, Corpus Christi, Texas, Los Angeles, Chicago Midway, Oakland, Calif., Oklahoma City, West Palm Beach, Fla., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and San Jose, Calif.

"RNP sets the stage for Southwest to continue doing its part to conserve fuel, improve safety, and reduce carbon emissions and Greenhouse gases, while simultaneously taking advantage of the high-performance characteristics that exist in an airline's fleet," said Capt. Jeff Martin, Southwest's vice president of the Operations Coordination Center. "The efficiencies RNP introduces help Southwest be a good neighbor while also maintaining our low fares."

Southwest projects with the RNP procedures designed at 11 Southwest airports will save the company $16 million a year, with an anticipated savings of more than $60 million per year once all Southwest airports have efficient RNP procedures.

"RNP is a significant step in the future for the NextGen Air Traffic Control system," said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "This milestone culminates substantial efforts by our Company working with the FAA to position Southwest as a leading participant in a modernized air traffic control system."

Southwest in 2008 announced plans to invest $175 million over six years to equip its fleet for RNP and train 6,000 pilots to fly the precision approaches. In order to use RNP approaches, Southwest had to invest in aircraft modifications, RNP approach procedures and pilot training. The aircraft modifications included activating the autothrottles and vertical navigation (VNAV) guidance for its 737 NGs, and new control display units, dual flight management computers, GPS receivers and new cockpit displays for the 737 Classics. The modifications are ongoing.

The carrier’s RNP equipage plans were recognized in a speech Nov. 30 by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.“Southwest Airlines and (CEO) Gary Kelly understand that the system of tomorrow is hinged on equipment,” Babbitt said. “... When they hear ‘best equipped, best served,’ they don’t want to be in that line, they want to be at the front of it.”

For more on RNP and other airlines' use of the technology, check out the February edition of Avionics Magazine.

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