We all know that circling in an airplane waiting to land is annoying. As it turns out, it also wastes a lot of fuel–something both the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and Alaska Airlines would like to see change. Partnering with the Port of Seattle, Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline recently conducted a successful test flight at Sea-Tac using advanced satellite-based guidance technology to enable more efficient landing procedures. The test flight demonstrated a fuel savings of 35% over a traditional airplane landing.
This satellite -guided landing procedure, called Required Navigation Performance (RNP), was developed by Alaska Airlines to enable more direct, continuous descent approaches. If such procedures are made the rule for all flights at Sea Tac, the airline estimates it will cut fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 metric tons (the equivalent of taking 4,100 cars off the road every year). As an added benefit, Required Navigation Performance landings would also reduce overflight noise for an estimated 750,000 people living below the affected flight corridor.
Testing for the project began last summer. Since then, Alaska Airlines has flown two demonstration flights and submitted more than half of the proposed procedures for FAA review. Representatives from Alaska, Boeing, the FAA and the Port of Seattle all participated in the most recent demonstration to observe the level of flight path precision and fuel consumption on eight landing approaches in a Boeing 737-700. With a landing weight similar to a typical passenger flight, the shorter and more efficient approaches reduced carbon emissions and saved 400 pounds of fuel per approach.
“Sea-Tac is the ideal location to pursue this cutting-edge project,” said Ben Minicucci, Alaska’s chief operating officer, in a statement. “Seattle has the highest percentage of advanced RNP-equipped planes in the nation, and — working with the FAA — Alaska Airlines, Boeing and the Port of Seattle are committed to making ‘Greener Skies’ a reality as soon as possible. Ultimately this project could serve as a blueprint for next-generation aviation technology throughout the country.”