Navigation technology that could greatly speed air travel is being rolled out slower in the United States than abroad - and might not be fully implemented in New York area airports any time soon, says the CEO of a company trying to implement the changes.
Equipment for Required Navigation Performance has been installed on new jetliners for years.
RNP allows planes to travel more directly between airports. Using global positioning system technology - which lets pilots track their courses with computers with greater precision than traditional radio navigation - planes can be automatically steered around obstacles and through bad weather to safe landings.
But while RNP has been rolled out without trouble in remote parts of China and in airspace in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the U.S. is mostly missing out because our airspace is more crowded and subject to tight federal regulation, said Dan Gerrity, CEO of Naverus, a Renton, Wash.-based firm that is putting the systems in place around the world.
"This has been a pretty thorny issue," Gerrity said. "Our little business has been successful outside the U.S. But there is FAA policy that prevents us from doing anything in the U.S." It's not that the FAA doesn't want changes - the agency is always looking to speed up air traffic, and FAA administrator Marion Blakey has been pushing to expand Required Navigation Performance.
"We are working hard to get as many done as quickly as we possibly can," said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.
The FAA is working on RNP procedures for Newark Airport and for Kennedy Airport, where JetBlue Airways has been pushing the system.
Under conventional navigation, aircraft generally travel from point to point to point between airports, with pilots using ground-based navigation signals to determine their location and the points at which they make turns.
RNP lets pilots choose more direct routes, and frees them from having to make turns at or near FAA-designated navigation points. It also lets pilots safely steer through bad weather and around hazardous terrain.
"You can weave around prohibited airspace . . . It allows you to steer around noise-sensitive areas," said Gerrity. "You can increase the capacity of airports, and you can safely put more airplanes in the same physical airspace."
SMARTER WAY TO GO
** Planes burn less fuel by taking shorter routes.
** Flights are quicker because they reach destinations more directly.
** Precise navigation lets pilots land in bad weather or around tricky terrain.
** Better navigation means more flights arrive and depart on time.
** Most navigation equipment is aboard planes, meaning less reliance
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In 2005 alone, Alaska Air's pilots conducted about 6,100 RNP approaches or departures, and about 850 of those were considered direct RNP "saves."
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