Southwest Airlines has begun implementing enhanced landing procedures at 11 airports, with an aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing delays.
Under the initiative, called Required Navigation Performance (RNP), pilots and dispatchers follow landing patterns specially designed using global positioning systems (GPS).
Southwest said the new procedures should save $16 million a year from operations at the 11 initial airports, with projected savings of over $60 million a year once the program is instituted at all Southwest airports.
Southwest has rolled out the system at nine airports: Birmingham, Boise, Chicago Midway, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, San Jose and West Palm Beach.
Amarillo and Corpus Christi will begin using RNP on Friday.
Southwest has made the move to comply with an evolving program of changes mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The FAA’s NextGen initiative seeks a nationwide shift in air traffic control methods, from ground-based to satellite-based systems. The agency says this change is vital to meeting future demand and avoiding gridlock.
It says that by 2018, the measures will reduce flight delays by 21 percent and provide $22 billion in cumulative benefits to the traveling public, aircraft operators and the FAA.
NextGen should also reduce the aviation industry’s environmental impact, saving more than 1.4 billion gallons of fuel from air traffic operations alone, and cutting carbon emissions by nearly 14 million tons by 2018, the FAA says
“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.”
To implement the changes, Southwest has had to modify 345 Boeing 737-700s with new flight display software. It has also had to train more than 5,900 pilots in the new procedures.
“This extensive training allows us to capture RNP procedures as well as provide flexibility in any new aircraft platform we might use in the future,” said Captain Chuck Magill, Southwest’s vice president of flight operations.
Dallas-based Southwest operates over 3,100 flights a day.
Picture credit: James Wang