DALLAS, TX — Southwest Airlines has started using satellite-based landing procedures at some airports as part of the Federal Aviation Administration's industry-wide NextGen program.
The airline says it's using Required Navigation Performance (RNP) flight procedures at 11 U.S. airports. RNP uses GPS to guide aircrafts on smoother landings while also leading them on more direct routes.
The procedures are designed to make it easier for pilots and controllers to see air traffic, thus increasing safety, along with reducing air travel's environmental impacts by making landings and routes more efficient.
Southwest expects to initially save $16 million a year by using satellite-based approaches at Amarillo, Birmingham, Boise, Corpus Christi, Los Angeles, Chicago Midway, Oakland, Oklahoma City, West Palm Beach, Raleigh-Durham, and San Jose airports. Once Southwest implements the new procedures at all airports it flies to, it anticipates those savings will jump to $60 million a year.
Alaska Airlines showed the benefits of RNP in mid-2010 with tests that found an angled descent saves about 60 gallons of fuel and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent per flight, compared to the typical stair-shaped descent path.
RNP procedures are one component of NextGen, a program by the FAA to improve all of aviation, from the runway to terminals, over the next 15 years in order to increase safety, reduce environmental impact and decrease delays.
So far, the FAA has authorized the use of RNP procedures at 45 airports, and also authorized a similar satellite-based navigation system, Area Navigation, at 90 airports.
Southwest flight - CC license by Flickr user tylerdurden1