American Airlines Flight 1916 on Thursday became the first US flight to use a publicly available, commercially designed instrument flight path in its touchdown at Bradley International Airport. Naverus, a part of GE Aviation, designed the path, which incorporates Required Navigation Performance technology (RNP), a core component of the FAA’s NextGen airspace modernization plan. (Earlier post.)
RNP paths can be custom-tailored to reduce airport congestion, shorten trip distance, reduce an aircraft’s time in flight, and create community-friendly flight trajectories that lessen the effect of aircraft noise.
The new landing procedure, which became a permanent fixture at Bradley Airport, allows pilots to use onboard technology to follow a precise track, independent of aging ground-based navigation beacons that limit where the aircraft can go. As a result, the Bradley procedure will enable airliners to land on Runway 15 during periods of low clouds and visibility that previously would have stopped them from landing there.
Over the next 20 years, airspace and airlines around the world will fundamentally change from how we operate today. This new procedure is a critical step to help implement NextGen modernization. American Airlines, which has long been a pioneer with RNP and RNAV, is very excited to work with GE and usher in a new era for US aviation.—Captain Brian Will, American Airlines’ Director – Airspace Modernization and Advanced Technologies
The inaugural flight using the newly-approved approach to Bradley International Airport’s Runway 15 was American Airlines Flight 1916, which arrived from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Captain Will was at the controls of the Boeing 737 NG, which carried as a passenger GE Aviation Systems Technical Fellow for Air Traffic Management, Steve Fulton, a long-time champion of RNP who developed the world’s first RNP flight paths in the mid 1990s.
GE is a leader in RNP, deploying effective RNP procedures around the world and is the first third-party procedure designer to publish a public RNP procedure in the US. In Canada, China, Australia, New Zealand, Peru and now, the United States, GE’s RNP procedures are in regular daily use.
GE is working with the FAA and other regulatory bodies and navigation service providers around the world to develop the capability for aircraft to share optimized flight trajectories with air traffic control in real time, and to negotiate modifications to those trajectories when necessary. This ultimately will allow airlines to plan each and every flight to operate on the most efficient flight path with the least possible environmental impact.
Navigational and operational capabilities such as these will make air traffic management more efficient by helping airlines plan more direct routes, decreasing airspace congestion, saving fuel and reducing commercial aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions—which have increased 80 percent over the past 20 years. Without new RNP flight paths and other essential upgrades, FAA estimates that by 2015 the current air traffic control system will be unable to handle the 50% increase in airplanes and passengers expected over the next decade.
RNP procedures can provide different benefits, depending on their design. GE specifically designed the Bradley Airport RNP approach to provide pilots with continuous vertical guidance to Runway 15 while allowing them to land when the cloud ceiling is as low as 350 feet above the ground. Prior to the new RNP approach, the existing instrument approach procedure for the runway provided no continuous vertical flight guidance and was of no benefit to airlines when cloud ceilings were lower than 1,000 feet above the ground. It’s anticipated that the new RNP approach will improve the utility of Bradley’s Runway 15 and provide pilots and controllers with additional navigation flexibility during periods of adverse weather or winds.