Southwest and RNP

Southwest Airlines decided this year to have a presence at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I was lucky enough to fly in on Southwest’s special ferry flight from Chicago Midway on 31 July, on one of Southwest’s newest Boeing 737-700s.

The airline was offering tours of the aircraft, and was displaying some of the work it has been doing on Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures, that will allow it to fly more efficient routes. I was able to catch up with David “Fig” Newton, Southwest’s Senior Manager of NextGen and Airspace, who was able to share some of the highlights of the project:

Southwest has already been able to take advantage of the benefits of the project. A major undertaking like this one created the opportunity to activate autothrottles and VNAV. Newton estimates these changes alone are saving the airline approximately $1.5 million in fuel per month.

The airline also began utilizing GPS approaches in April, which has yielded operational benefits, as the airline has now been able to operate flights that previously would have been canceled due to weather.

Newton says that about 20 Southwest airports will be ready for RNP operations when the airline begins them in January, and that the airline hopes to bring the technology across its network of 69 destinations.

Earlier in June, Jeff Martin, the Assistant Director of Operations for the airline, estimated $16 million in annual savings from RNP at an industry conference. These savings would allow Southwest to recoup its investment in less than ten years.

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