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Southwest Airlines Grows Pilot Program
More airports using “Required Navigation Performance”
Houston Airport System
March 1, 2011

Navigational procedures, initially unveiled by Southwest Airlines in Houston, are expanding to additional airports across the country.

Southwest Airlines recently announced that the technology and techniques that were studied in flights between Houston and Dallas by Southwest pilots are operating in eleven additional airports located across the country.

“Required Navigation Performance” (RNP) is a satellite-based guidance system that helps pilots find and utilize the most efficient flight path when approaching airports during landing.

The new technology not only assists Southwest pilots maintain operational efficiency, but also helps reduce fuel-usage, carbon emissions and Greenhouse gases by avoiding unnecessary air time associated with some aircraft approaches.

Southwest Airlines began studying the possible advantages of using RNP in 2009, and in doing so they relied heavily on assistance from two airport facilities associated with them from the company’s earliest days, Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport and Love Field in Dallas.


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RNP technologys helps both operational efficiency and the environment.

Southwest Airlines performed a test flight using a Boeing 737 aircraft flying from Houston to Dallas in an effort to quantify the environmental and economic advantages of utilizing Required Navigation Performance.

The results of that test flight were not disappointing. “We used some on-board data-gathering devices and demonstrated that using RNP procedures there was a 6 percent reduction in fuel burn, exactly what it was designed to do,” said Jeff Martin, Southwest Airlines’ senior director of flight operations. 

The idea behind RNP was born around the mountains of Tibet and New Zealand, with the goal being maximized safety measures and avoiding dangerous mountainous terrain.

But in the years that followed, researchers began to notice a side benefit; researchers began to discover that the RNP technology also helped reduce fuel burn, an exciting prospect in an industry where fuel costs represent a large portion of the overall cost structure.

“RNP is a significant step in the future for the NextGen Air Traffic Control system,” says Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s executive vice-president and chief operating officer. “This milestone culminates substantial efforts by our company working with the FAA to position Southwest as a leading participant in a modernized air traffic control system.”

Southwest Airlines is investing more than $175 million for the studying and implementation of RNP procedures. Company officials say they’re optimistic that the investment will eventually save them more than $60 million per year, once all Southwest airports have RNP procedures in place.

Copyright © 2011 - Houston Airport System

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