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Southwest Launches Energy-Efficient Landings

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

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2 thoughts on “Southwest Launches Energy-Efficient Landings

  1. While I commend SWA for their efforts to reducing their carbon foot print, this is really about the dollar and this isn’t anything new.
    The next generation Boeing 737-700 that SWA has been operating for years have always had this ability to fly these approaches. SWA has chosen not to operate the aircraft at a maximum efficiency level. This is probably due to the increased maintenance and training cost that utilizing these systems requires. Now with oil nearing $90 per barrel and lacking large fuel hedges like they had in place the last time oil spiked, bringing there operations in line with current best practices must make sense to them.
    Given what I have witnessed from this company, I wouldn’t look for any innovation beyond maximizing share-holder value from this management group.
    Carrying passengers along busy routes in larger aircraft to allow the lowering of frequency along that route would do far more to reduce carbon emissions than simply flying in a slightly more efficient way. But unfortunately this solution does not meet SWA’s business model.

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