Southwest Airlines has heralded its required navigation performance demonstration flight between Dallas and Houston as a major milestone and a vindication of its massive financial commitment to roll out satellite-based navigation procedures.

Dallas-based Southwest last year announced it was investing $175 million during the next six years to implement required navigation performance (RNP) procedures at the 64 airports the carrier serves.

Southwest senior director of flight operations Jeff Martin said the March 8 demonstration flight of a Boeing 737NG, which had been match-weighted to mimic a typical revenue flight, used RNP procedures between Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby generating significant fuel savings of 163 litres (43USgal) based on early independently verified flight data.

Southwest Airlines
 © Southwest Airlines

"We used some on-board data-gathering devices and demonstrated that using RNP procedures there was a 6% reduction in fuel burn, exactly what it was designed to do."

Southwest's aim is to have an RNP arrival procedure for every runway at the two airports, with each of the new instrument-flight-rule approaches reducing distance flown as well as fuel burn and emissions.

Martin says Southwest is now working towards Federal Aviation Administration Part 97 Standard Instrument Approach Procedures authorisation to carry out RNP procedures at the airports: "We still have all the paperwork to do but we are hoping to secure that within the next three months."

Southwest's 737-700s are already equipped to operate RNP procedures and classic aircraft will be modified with glass cockpits to be RNP-capable. In addition to readying aircraft, the airline will train more than 5,700 pilots and develop charted procedures with partner Naverus.

By 2015, the carrier estimates the new procedures will reduce emissions by 156,000t a year and result in $25 million in fuel savings annually.

During recent testimony before the US Congress, FAA vice- president 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".


Source: Flight International