Performance-based technologies will reduce delays and congestion by allowing aircraft to follow more direct routes

Three major US airlines plan to equip most if not all of their fleets with performance-based navigation (PBN) technologies in an effort to save money on fuel and cut delays.

PBN includes area navigation (RNAV) and required-navigation performance (RNP), technologies that allow aircraft to fly in narrow corridors in cruise or on approach and departure paths, saving fuel, relieving congestion, eliminating choke points and producing lower levels of emissions and noise. RNP, which generally incorporates satellite navigation and on-board performance monitoring and alerting systems, is the more accurate and modern of the two technologies.

Delta Air Lines is already well under way with its equipment upgrades American Airlines plans to pump $100 million into RNP upgrades on portions of its fleet and Southwest Airlines will equip 100% of its fleet with RNP equipment, an action that US Federal Aviation Administration chief Marion Blakey has said will prove to be a "tipping point" for PBN equipage across the industry.

Southwest says the airline has committed to the fleet upgrade, but details of its plans are not yet available. The airline has 490 aircraft, none of which are yet RNP-equipped, it adds.

Mark Hettermann, vice-president for flight operations at American, says the carrier plans to upgrade Boeing 757 and 767 cockpits with RNP equipment and displays built by "a collaboration" of vendors including Boeing, Honeywell and Innovative Solutions & Support. When the enhancements are complete in 2011, and older Boeing MD-80s replaced with new aircraft, Hetterman says 70% of American's more than 700 aircraft will have RNP capability and 100% will have RNAV capability.

Hettermann says a main focus for American will be to use the advanced navigation for cruise efficiency - gaining altitude more quickly after departure and staying at altitude longer before descent.

Joe Kolshak, executive vice-president for operations at Delta, says that 70% of the carrier's fleet will be RNP capable at the completion of an ongoing 737 cockpit refurbishment programme.

Kolshak says RNAV operations at Atlanta, where one-third of the airline's daily flights take off and land, have reduced delays on average by 3min a flight and provided fuel savings of $30 million. "Our goal is to continue to save money [with PBN]," says Kolshak. "This is almost like a crusade for us."

The FAA currently has 155 RNAV arrival and departure procedures in place at 38 airports and 37 RNP approaches in place at 17 airports, with another 34 RNP procedures due out by the end of the year, according to Blakey.

Source: Flight International