Sometimes the acronyms on which aviation depends make real sense. As they did the other day when the FAA showed off how the RNP function of RNAV works in the RW-the Required Navigation Performance that is part of Area Navigation in the Real World. The aviation agency showed how a high-end bizjet equipped with the proper avionics could make a hands-off precision approach through complex airspace that's surrounded by terrain and limited by no-fly security restrictions. The River Approach into Reagan Washington National's north south Runway 19 is called that because it requires pilots to centre over the tortuous and twisting Potomac while avoiding such restricted area as the CIA, the White House and the monument-strewn National Mall-and some of the best-organised anti-noise communities in the nation.
With reporters on board, FAA pilots flew down the River on autopilot, not even touching their control yokes as the airplane banked to the left and right while swerving and descending under control of satellite-based navigation equipment and on-board Flight Management System computers. Instead of flying straight to line up with a runway, pilots stick to a tightly controlled path fed into the flight management system through the GPS.
Russ Chew, the FAA's chief operating officer, explained that RNP isn't so much a tool to increase airport capacity but an instrument to support airline scheduling: "airlines schedule to optimise, and weather is the major variable. With predictable, uniform approaches, in all weather, the airlines can schedule and sequence with reliability". And with the RNP, the FAA can 'deconflict' approaches to runways at nearby airports such as
RNP's 'repeatability' - ensuring that aircraft fly exactly the same approach every time - lets the FAA design procedures to avoid noise-sensitive areas. FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said in a hangar at National before the demo flight, "The environmental benefits are terrific too, because flying straight down the middle of the flight path means that people on the ground perceive less jet noise and experience fewer engine emissions".
On this bright and calm December day, it was an interesting sight to behold the pilots take their hands off the yokes of the FAA's new $25 million Bombardier Global 5000 as they watched their FMS keep the $25 million bizjet centered over the Potomac; indeed as we went by the CIA headquarters -on a high bluff near the river-they could have put their heads in their hands had they wished to make a point.
Alaska Airlines is the first carrier authorised by the FAA to use the RNP procedures at Reagan National. The airline pioneered the use of RNP procedures at
As the plane made its way up the river to turn around for the approach, Nick Sabatini, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety, told reporters "You're going to see a proliferation of RNP approaches at those approaches that make the most sense". Sabatini said it costs the FAA just $20,000 to develop each new RNP approach plate. JetBlue Airways and American Airlines are in talks for FAA approval for the procedures, he said. The FAA has authorized RNP at