RNP at mid-sized airports promises big benefits: GE

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Deploying required navigation performance (RNP) approaches at 46 mid-sized airports that are not presently the focus of the US FAA's NextGen scheme could save many millions of dollars worth of fuel, costs and air traffic delay hours, suggests GE in a new report that touts the benefits of using RNP technology such as that on offer from the firm.

The FAA is currently working to overhaul the National Airspace System through the NextGen air traffic modernisation programme. RNP, which allows aircraft to fly precisely-defined trajectories without relying on ground-based radio-navigation signals, is a crucial part of that effort.

However, the FAA is concentrating its efforts on implementing RNP and other NextGen technologies in the nation's most heavily travelled 'metroplex' airspace. As such, GE decided to study the economic and environmental benefits of RNP at 46 relatively lightly-trafficked, non-metroplex airports over the next three years.

Its resulting report, called 'Highways in the Sky', suggests that significant benefits can be realised from RNP implementation at mid-sized airports, such as Buffalo, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sacramento, California.

"We're talking about $65 million in economic value; 13 million gallons of fuel, which is equivalent to almost or over 1,000 flights form NY to LA with an airliner; 275 million lbs of CO2, which is equivalent to planting 1.4 million trees; and over two years of travellers' lives being saved per year," said GE Aviation Fellow and pilot Steve Fulton.

GE recently deployed two new RNP instrument approaches for the Deadhorse airport in Alaska, making the firm's second public-use RNP procedure developed for the US market since GE was approved by the FAA as a third-party performance-based navigation procedure provider in 2009. In August 2010, the company published an RNP approach for the Bradley International airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, with American Airlines making the first RNP approach and landing.

"The primary difference between the old way and the new way is we have a predictable path, something that we know in advance and so that we can plan and organize and manage the systems and the energy of the airplane so that we can get the maximum efficiency," says Fulton.

GE notes that nearly half of US commercial aircraft - and virtually all new airliners - are capable of flying these paths today.