Air Transport World

Southwest bets big on RNP.(ATM)

Company culture is everything, and at Southwest Airlines, especially in flight ops, that culture is consummately conservative. The carrier "has always prided itself on the way our guys [hand-fly] the airplane," says Senior Director-Flight Operations Jeff Martin.

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That's why so many folks did a double take in May when Southwest announced it was teaming with Naverus to implement Required Navigation Performance at every airport it serves. The perceived implication: Black boxes and satellite feeds would render the company's leatherjacketed aviators mere cockpit monitors. "The perception is we're going to change our automation policy and not fly the airplane as much," accedes Martin. "This is a misconception."

It's just one misconception that attends RNP, agrees Hal Anderson, a former Alaska Airlines technical pilot who is now VP-technical operations at Naverus. "There's a perception that when you get into RNP you're just going to be pushing buttons, that you're not a pilot anymore." A myth, he maintains. The real difference with RNP is the way tunnels through the sky are generated, how lateral and vertical lines are laid out (ATW, 1/06, p. 57). Flying those paths still can rest in the hands of human beings. "You're still flying the airplane," says Anderson.

There are a lot of misconceptions about both RNP and area navigation in general. Both generate a navigation track by blending input. RNAV traditionally employs ground-based navigation facilities, but also GPS. The difference is that with RNAV there is no recognition as to the accuracy of that track. "I can know that I'm flying the centerline of the track that's generated from the RNAV system," says Anderson. …

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