Southwest Airlines and the FAA revolutionize the skies


Southwest Airlines’ senior director of Flight Operations Jeff Martin spoke today about the benefits of RNP (Required Navigation Performance) and Southwest’s progression on RNP implementation fleet-wide at the Eco-Aviation Conference in Washington, D.C. RNP is one of the cornerstones for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Next Generation Air Traffic Control System, bringing together the accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System), the capabilities of advanced aircraft avionics and new flight procedures.

“RNP allows the aircraft to fly more precise, direct, and accurate paths, allowing more ‘lanes’ to be built into the same limited airspace,” said Southwest Airlines executive vice president and chief of operations Mike Van de Ven. “We applaud the FAA’s forward thinking, and we are grateful to work in conjunction with the agency to revolutionize our nation’s airspace.”

In support of the FAA’s Roadmap for Performance-Based Navigation, Southwest has made a commitment to invest $175 million over the next six years to implement RNP procedures at all 64 airports the airline serves. The initial investment will provide longterm benefits to industry congestion and aircraft efficiencies. For a single minute of time saved on each flight, the annual savings quickly add up to 156,000 metric tons of reduction in emissions per year (by 2015), and $25 million in fuel savings per year.

“Southwest Airlines is thrilled to enhance our green efforts,” Martin said. “Another obvious benefit in this environment of escalating energy prices is the ability to save on fuel burn.”

To help develop its RNP program, Southwest Airlines has partnered with Naverus, the worldwide leader in RNP development. Since May 2007, Southwest, Naverus, and the FAA have been working together to gain Air Traffic Control support of RNP to train the airline’s pilots on RNP, equip the airline’s entire fleet to be RNP capable and produce RNP charted procedures.

“A Southwest, FAA, and Naverus partnership is necessary to ensure our technical and economic success,” Martin said. “The FAA cleared the path, and Naverus continues to share its RNP experience and expertise in supporting our RNP program.”

“Implementing RNP offers the single greatest opportunity to make near-term gains in reducing harmful emissions, improving fuel efficiency, increasing airspace capacity and maximizing flight safety,” said Dan Gerrity, CEO of Naverus. “By embracing RNP across all its routes, Southwest is once again demonstrating the leadership for which it is so well known.”

Southwest’s Boeing 737-700 aircraft provide a wonderful RNP platform and are currently equipped and capable of operating these new procedures. Additionally, the airline has made investments to update its Classic fleet and have already begun to incorporate these new processes into its Flight Operations training. The next milestone will be choosing the airport(s) to kick off the integration of these new procedures.

“Our goal is to begin flying RNP procedures in the fall of 2009, with a ramp up through 2013 as our classic aircrafts are modified,” Martin said. “We are currently exploring the benefits of several airports for RNP implementation, including a few in our own backyard.”