Civil aviation authorities in Latin America are being pushed to hasten implementation of new area navigation (RNAV). Carriers view the expansion of the RNAV capability as a key step forward for recovery.

RNAV procedures have been approved for 10 routes in the region connecting 35 city pairs, but the approval process takes on average 12-18 months, Peter Cerda, director for safety, operations and infra-structure in Latin America for the International Air Transport Association, told Flight International.

IATA and the Latin American International Transportation Association (AITAL) have launched an effort to reduce by half the implementation time for new RNAV routes. "We need to speed things up," says Alex de Gunten, executive director of AITAL.

RNAV procedures allow aircraft to fly more directly rather than being required to fly over navigation beacons or waypoints that designate traditional airways. On one approved new RNAV route from Santiago to Madrid, the carrier has reduced the flight schedule by 14min by flying in a straight line, potentially reducing annual costs by $780,000, says Cerda.

The RNAV capability offers a key advantage for Latin American carriers struggling to compete with the more efficient networks of US-based airlines, says de Gunten. AITAL's 18 airline members have posted three years of consecutive losses, but are poised for a tenuous comeback.

Another drain on airline costs are the so-called "oxygen-restricted" routes. Modern aircraft usually carry a 12min supply of oxygen to allow an aircraft suffering depressurisation enough time to descend to a breathable altitude. But over very high terrain in the Andes mountains the descent option may not be available, so airlines have to choose routes that seek out lower terrain. Many topographic charts in Latin America are outdated and incorrect, says de Gunten, making choice of the optimum routes impossible. Progress has been slow, but AITAL and IATA are urging governments to update and correct maps.

Civil authorities in Brazil and Chile also are close to introducing required navigation performance (RNP) RNAV procedures for airports in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. During FIDAE 2004, US Federal Aviation Administration administrator Marion Blakey joined Chilean government officials aboard an American Airlines Boeing 777 on the first RNP landing at Santiago International airport.

Source: Flight International