Southwest full steam ahead on RNP upgrade

An interesting story — and admirable reporting — from Henry Canaday at Airline Procurement Magazine about Southwest Airlines’ commitment to Required Navigation Performance:

Jeff Martin, senior director-flight operations at Southwest, says RNP has been pursued in four “swim lanes” via FAA, pilots, aircraft and airports. Application for RNP Operation Specifications recently was submitted to FAA and Martin is hoping for approval in May or June.

Training and certification of 5,600 pilots has begun and will finish in 2010. Initial training enabled the airline in January to activate its automatic throttles and vertical navigation, bringing the first benefits from RNP: More efficient continuous descent approaches.

Southwest’s 300 737NGs need very little modification for RNP. Modification has begun on 737 Classics and should be completed by 2013. The carrier has developed RNP procedures for William P. Hobby and Dallas Love Field and is working with additional airports, Naverus and FAA to develop procedures for other destinations.

Martin aims to have the majority of SWA’s network using RNP by 2012 but admits this is a very ambitious goal. Other airlines–American, Continental and Alaska, for example–are moving forward with RNP, but not in such a visible and fleetwide fashion.

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