Alaska Airlines Begins 'Greener Skies' Testing

Alaska Airlines Begins 'Greener Skies' Testing

Last month, an Alaska Airlines 737 aircraft took the first step in a project to dramatically cut emissions from air travel.

Using a satellite guidance technology called Required Navigation Performance (RNP), the plane took a continuous-descent approach that reduces the flight-path length, saving fuel and emissions and cutting down on the noise for the communities around the airport.

Rather than using the more common stair-step descents along a lengthy approach pattern, the technology allows airplanes to descend steadily and on the shortest, most efficient path possible.

Alaska Airlines estimates that by using this technology for its approaches to Seattle-Tacoma Airport it can cut its fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons per year and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 22,000 tons.

Currently, Alaska Airlines uses these RNP procedures at 23 U.S. airports, and hopes to expand their use to other airlines and other airports. Alaska developed the technology in the 1990s to help its planes land at remote and geographically difficult airports in the state of Alaska.

All of Alaska Airlines' planes are equipped with RNP technology, and Horizon Airlines is in the process of equipping its fleet as well. The airlines will continue testing the optimized landing processes through 2009, and hope to get Federal Aviation Administration approval to integrate them into their Sea-Tac operations in 2010.

Last month, the international aviation industry announced a goal of achieving "carbon neutral growth" by 2020, primarily through increasing fuel efficiency and expanding the use of low-carbon biofuels for air travel. Earlier this year, industry groups called for wider adoption of a similar technology to Alaska's RPN. Performance-based Navigation systems could cut emissions by 13 million tonnes if they were adopted globally.