Few carriers ready for new precision navigation rules

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Only five European airlines have so far secured approval to conduct new precision-navigation operations in terminal airspace, as the continent’s airports prepare to implement new arrival and departure flight paths which will require higher levels of navigation accuracy.

Data from Eurocontrol indicates that only SAS, Finnair and three SAS Group carriers – Braathens, Wideroe and Air Botnia – have formally received approval for the new precision area navigation (P-RNAV) operations.

European aircraft presently have to be able to operate along a flight path to within a lateral accuracy of 5nm (9.2km) for 95% of the time. This capability is known as ‘basic’ area navigation (B-RNAV) and eliminates the need for ground-based navaids – thereby allowing the aircraft to fly a more direct and efficient flight path.

While B-RNAV is fine for en route navigation it is not considered accurate enough to guarantee safety below certain altitudes, which means that it generally cannot be used for terminal airspace navigation.

Precision area navigation, on the other hand, tightens the lateral accuracy requirement to just 1nm (1.85km). This allows airports to implement more efficient departure and arrival routes.

Eurocontrol is not mandating P-RNAV approval. But it is stressing that, from 20 March next year – and in some cases earlier – countries will require airlines to be P-RNAV-certified in order to conduct area navigation procedures in terminal airspace. Aircraft without such systems will have to rely on alternative, possibly less-efficient, procedures such as the use of conventional navaids for arrival and departure.

Navigation equipment on modern aircraft is generally capable of meeting the more-rigorous criteria of P-RNAV. But a Eurocontrol spokesman says that airlines will face being potentially inconvenienced in terminal airspace if they fail to seek the necessary approvals.

Scandinavian region states are heading up the drive to implement P-RNAV. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is to be among the first to put P-RNAV procedures in place this month; introduction of the new procedures will coincide with the opening of the airport’s new third runway on 28 November.