Southwest Airlines plans to officially start using wide-scale required navigation performance (RNP) on 11 January.
Company chief operating officer Mike Van de Ven outlined that timeframe during the carrier's recent investor day. "We finished our pilot training this month," he said. "There are a number of airports that have already have RNP procedures outlined, and we will begin flying those," Van de Ven explains.
RNP is designed to allow equipped aircraft to fly more direct and precise paths to cut flight time and fuel consumption. RNP also allows for the use of localizer performance with vertical guidance procedures requiring fewer ground-based instrument landing aids, which allows for increased access to airports, particularly in low visibility conditions.
In 2008 Southwest announced it was investing $175 million during the following six years in RNP development.
"If we can save literally three minutes of flight, we'll have, depending on the price of fuel, $25 million, $30 million, $40 million worth of fuel-burn benefits," Van de Ven says.
While Southwest was upgrading cockpit avionics to support RNP, the carrier also opted to start using auto-throttle on its Boeing 737-700s, which it had never done before, explains Van de Ven.
The auto-throttles allow Southwest to ensure it maintains an optimum altitude throughout cruise.
"That change itself probably reduced our fuel costs by about $15 million a year," Van de Ven says. "And so we've experienced that this year before RNP actually is rolled out."