GE: Navigation-enabled flight paths could save $65.6 million

Technology would save substantially on jet fuel, slash flight times.

By opting for new flight paths at 46 midsize airports in the United States-- using Required Navigation Performance landing approaches enabled by satellite navigation technology -- GE Aviation figures airlines could save at least $65.6 million annually.

That's one of the findings in GE Aviation's new report called "Highways in the Sky." That number is based on the potential fuel and flight time that could be saved by flying planes with more "precisely defined" trajectories than is currently possible through the current ground-based, radio-navigation signals.

The study calculates that these actions could save up to 12.9 million gallons of jet fuel, which is the equivalent of 527 round-trip flights from New York to Los Angeles. The amount of flight time saved could be 747 days, not to mention the potential for 274.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Oh, and the savings calculated were based on 2009 fuel prices. Using the current numbers would doubtless save more. Here's a visualization.

Performance-based navigation is one of the foundations of the NextGen program being undertaken by the United States, with an eye to improving air traffic management. The visualization at this link compares two different approaches at Bradley airport in Connecticut: one enable by RNP, the other based on current technologies.

Some of the airports that were considered as part of the GE Aviation study are Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Fla., Austin, Texas, and Tulsa Oklahoma.

In a statement released with the study, American Airlines Captain Brian Will, who is in charge of the airline's airspace modernization and advanced technologies, said:

"There is no reason the U.S. aviation industry should be tied to a ground-based beacon system that was developed in the 1940s. ... For controllers and pilots, we have safety benefits from reduced radio transmissions and reduce controller workload and increased pilot situational awareness. [RNAV} and [required navigation performance] can reduce both noise and emissions -- with is a win-win-win scenario, everyone benefits."

A government-sponsored test of these technologies in Brisbane, Australia, demonstrated savings of approximately 882,000 pounds of jet fuel per year -- and that was with only 18 percent of the aircraft participating. Airservices Australia is currently planning an installation of the technologies at 28 airports across the country, which will save an estimated 86 million pounds of jet fuel per year.

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