SEATTLE , July 8 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- This summer Alaska Airlines began testing next-generation flight procedures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) that will allow the airline and its sister carrier, Horizon Air, to reduce their environmental impact during airport approaches. Dubbed "Greener Skies," the project in cooperation with the Port of Seattle , The Boeing Company and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is focused on using satellite-based flight guidance technology pioneered by Alaska Airlines to descend more efficiently and reduce aircraft fuel consumption, emissions and noise in the Puget Sound region. The airline is seeking FAA approval for the procedures, which could ultimately be used by all properly equipped carriers at Sea-Tac.
Testing began June 16 on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 aircraft during a noncommercial flight. Using satellite guidance technology called Required Navigation Performance (RNP), the plane flew a consistent and controlled approach to Sea-Tac with pinpoint accuracy, reducing flight-path length, ground noise and greenhouse-gas emissions, and saving time and fuel.
The efficient, continuous descent approaches at Sea-Tac enabled by this next-generation technology will benefit Seattle in several ways. Alaska Airlines estimates the procedures 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. In addition, they will reduce overflight noise exposure for an estimated 750,000 people living within the affected flight corridor.
"These improved flight procedures at Sea-Tac will help Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air minimize the environmental impact of our flying on the communities we serve," said Gary Beck , Alaska's vice president of flight operations. "With FAA approval, we hope the procedures will be available to all carriers and gradually integrated into the Seattle air traffic system. This project could also become a blueprint for expanded use of next-generation technology at more U.S. airports."
Typically, commercial aircraft approach follow a lengthy approach pattern and series of stair-step descents before landing. Using RNP technology and a continuous descent, also called an optimized profile descent (OPD), aircraft can descend from cruise altitude to an airport runway along a shorter, more direct flight path at low power.
"This effort aligns with the Port of Seattle's commitment to operate the greenest airport in the nation," said Mark Reis , managing director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. "With Alaska and Horizon representing nearly half of the daily operations at Sea-Tac, this program not only benefits our regional environment but also helps the airlines to operate more efficiently at Sea-Tac. We are working closely with Alaska , Boeing and the FAA to ensure these benefits are realized by our community as quickly as possible."
Alaska Airlines pioneered RNP precision flight-guidance technology during the mid-1990s to help its planes land at some of the world's most remote and geographically challenging airports in the state of Alaska . RNP provides computer-plotted landing paths with pinpoint accuracy by using a combination of onboard navigation technology and GPS satellites. It improves safety and reliability in all weather, and reduces reliance on ground-based navigation aids. Alaska Airlines currently uses FAA-approved RNP procedures at 23 U.S. airports.
Alaska Airlines is the only major U.S. air carrier with a completely RNP-equipped fleet and fully trained crews. Alaska is also the first airline approved by the FAA to conduct its own RNP flight validation. Horizon Air's fleet soon will be fully RNP-equipped as well.
RNP and OPD are part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the FAA's plan to modernize the National Airspace System through 2025. This initiative will increase airspace capacity and efficiency while improving safety and reducing environmental impacts through the replacement of legacy ground-based equipment with new satellite-based technology and aircraft navigation capabilities.
As part of the initial Alaska Airlines RNP operational approval team, Boeing began installing RNP guidance technology on its aircraft in 1994. Currently all Boeing production airplanes are RNP-capable, and solutions are available to upgrade the in-service fleet. The Boeing Company is continuing this pioneering tradition by working with Alaska Airlines, the FAA and the Port of Seattle in implementing RNP solutions and the Greener Skies program for Sea-Tac.
"Boeing is committed to working with Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle to increase efficiency in the way their airplanes approach and depart from Sea-Tac and other airports across the country," said Per Noren , director of Airport Infrastructure for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Using these advanced technology solutions, airlines around the world can save hundreds of pounds of fuel per flight, which is a significant step toward further reducing emissions from aviation."
Planning and testing of the procedures will continue through the remainder of the year. They will be integrated into Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air's commercial operations at Sea-Tac pending FAA approval, which the airlines hope to obtain in 2010.
Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, subsidiaries of Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK), together serve more than 90 cities through an expansive network in Alaska , the Lower 48, Hawaii , Canada and Mexico . Alaska Airlines ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Traditional Network Carriers" in the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 and 2009 North America Airline Satisfaction Studies(SM). For reservations, visit alaskaair.com. For more news and information, visit the Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Newsroom at alaskaair.com/newsroom.
Note to news media: High-resolution images of the technology are available for download from the Alaska Airlines Newsroom image gallery at www.alaskaair.com/newsroom. Broadcast footage is also available by contacting Alaska Airlines Media Relations.
SOURCE Alaska Air Group