Alaska Airlines says it is on track to save 87 gallons of fuel, shorten flight times by about nine minutes and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 1 metric ton, every time one of its planes land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport using new, operations-enhancing Federal Aviation Administration procedures designed by Boeing.
This means the benefits of the Greener Skies of the program are about 28 percent greater than what was initially projected in 2010, according to a Boeing report.
Alaska Airlines says the project is a blueprint for the aviation industry to take advantage of the cost and environmental benefits of flying more efficiently.
Typically large airports like Sea-Tac require planes landing on parallel runways to maintain either a 3-mile lateral or 1,000-foot vertical separation on approach into the airport until they are lined up with the runway. Since April, equipped and trained carriers, such as Alaska, can land at Sea-Tac with pinpoint precision with just half the lateral separation, before they are lined up with the runway. The key benefit of reduced separation is increased airspace efficiency.
Implementing the final phase of the seven-year Greener Skies Over Seattle initiative allows an aircraft on West side approaches to Sea-Tac, and landing south, to fly the most environmentally friendly track over Elliott Bay. These aircraft can fly the approach procedure to the runway concurrently with another aircraft on the parallel runway in both high and low visibility conditions alike. Alaska estimates the new flying is saving the airline about $200 in fuel per flight.
If all equipped airlines at Sea-Tac used the Greener Skies procedures on all flights from the southwest landing south, it would cut fuel consumption by 2.7 million gallons a year and reduce carbon emissions by 25,600 metric tons. As the use of the procedures increase, so do the environmental benefits.
The procedures implemented in Seattle can also be used at certain US airports that have comparable runway configurations, including Portland International Airport, the airline says.
Typically, commercial aircraft follow a series of stair-step descents and a lengthy approach pattern before landing. With Greener Skies, airlines use satellite technology and a continuous descent to go from cruising altitude to the airport runway, along a shorter flight path, at low power, which also reduces travel time.
According to its most recent sustainability report, Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, has reduced its mainline flying emissions intensity by one-third over the last 10 years through fleet advancements and flight technology.