Southwest works with FAA on RNP development

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(clarifies fuel savings)

As Southwest Airlines moves closer to its target of launching required navigation performance (RNP) operations during the fourth quarter, the carrier is working with FAA on a pilot project to build area navigation (RNAV)/RNP routes between its headquarters at Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby airport.

The carrier plans to spend $175 million to develop its RNP programme starting this year to feature the technology system-wide by 2013. During recent testimony before the US Congress FAA VP for operations planning services Victoria Cox said Southwest believes that investment can be recouped "within the next three-to-five years because of the operational efficiencies RNP offers".

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.

Cox outlined the plans by FAA and Southwest for the development of RNAV/RNP routes from Dallas to Houston as the carrier recently completed a demo RNP flight between the two cities. Using some preliminary data from the flight Southwest estimates estimated fuel savings of 162.755 litres (43 gallons) on the flight.

Alaska Airlines started using RNP in Juneau in 1996, and in 2003 San Francisco became the first airport in the 48 contiguous states to feature a RNP approach.

Cox of the FAA says currently more than three-quarters of commercial aircraft are equipped for RNAV, and also half of those aircraft are capable of conducing RNP precision procedures. She says FAA published more than 600 performance-based navigation procedures and routes in 2008, and plans to keep that pace each year for the next four years.