Tag Archives: Southwest

NYT looks, superficially, at aviation’s fuel-saving efforts

The New York Times has joined this month’s parade of general-interest news outlets looking at how fuel efficiency is bringing changes to the airline business. This article doesn’t mention ADS-B, RNAV, or RNP, but it does mention continuous-descent arrivals. It also takes a look at efficiency-improving products like winglets and new technologies in engine design.

The following excerpt hints at NextGen and equipage issues, but doesn’t really explain either topic:

On a recent trial flight, Southwest Airlines used satellite navigation and continuous descent approaches on a round trip between Dallas and Houston and determined it could reduce fuel consumption by 6 percent.

“If we were able to reduce and get 6 percent savings across all our flights, that would equal 90 million gallons a year in fuel reduction and a reduction in carbon emissions of 1.9 billion pounds,” said Jeff Martin, Southwest’s senior director of flight operations.

Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs for the Air Transport Association, said that changing from a radar-based system to a satellite-based one was “a big, big thing.”

But incorporating the new flights into an older traffic infrastructure takes time. Air traffic control centers and airlines are in transition, with some updating equipment faster than others. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, about 80 percent of American airliners have the necessary devices.

Brian Will, program manager for American Airlines and a pilot, said the agency needed to do more to reward companies that make an investment in new technology. Air traffic control “is compelled to maintain a system that will accommodate everybody,” he said. “In my opinion, this is a mistake.”

The aviation authority is considering ways to expedite satellite-guided planes through the system. “Clearly there is a policy that we’re looking at right now to try and improve our delivery of services to those who are better equipped,” said Carl E. Burleson, the F.A.A.’s deputy acting administrator for policy planning and the environment.

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EXPLAINER: The state of performance-based navigation

FlightGlobal’s Aimée Turner has an excellent, multi-part overview of what’s happening in the fast-moving world of performance-based navigation (PBN). The centerpiece is this article, which brings home the point that all industry players — airframers, ANSPs, regulators, airlines — must pull together in order for the hoped-for cost and carbon savings to emerge. And even that may not be enough:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) influential report on Aviation and the Global Atmosphere said in 1999 that improvements in air traffic management and other operational procedures could reduce aviation fuel burn by up to 18%. The influence of ATM over CO2 emissions was estimated at 12%.  [..]

Phil Stollery, chairman of the [Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation] environment working group, frames those IPCC figures, however, in light of a recent CANSO study that has given the industry much greater clarity in terms of ATM’s potential contribution to the efficiency debate.

Stollery explains that efficiency in this sense is the difference between the exact point-to-point distance of a flight at the most fuel efficient altitude and speed, and the actual flight mileage flown.

“One of the things we wanted to do was to put the record straight. The IPCC report estimated that ATM had an influence over 12% of system inefficiencies and our report reflected back on that. We reckon that between 1999-2005, improvements allied to a better overall assessment, as well as the introduction of initiatives such as RVSM, generated a 4% improvement in system efficiency and that on average the global ATM system is operating at around 92% efficient today,” he says.

That is 4% down with 8% still to go.

“Of the remaining 8%, half is locked up in interdependencies. The other half, 4%, we have set at the goal to recover, which amounts to an ambitious target considering forecast growth.”

The same piece also features an excellent sidebar explaining PBN, RNAV, and RNP concepts – it’s one of the best we’ve seen.

Separately, the series also features an article about Southwest Airlines’s efforts to aggressively adopt PBN technology and procedures.

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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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FAA adds 3 new carriers to cockpit safety trial

The FAA has announced it will partner with three additional airlines for its upcoming cockpit safety initative, which focuses on Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and Aural Alerting technology. (FAA fact sheet). The newly added carriers are Atlas Air, CommutAir and Shuttle America, and the three will receive a combined total of $1.7 million in return for access to operational data. Last month, the FAA said it had reached agreements with US Airways, Southwest, SkyWest and Piedmont Airlines to take part in the same trial.

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Earnings report: Q3 fuel costs hit airlines hard

Three of the nation’s largest air carriers reported stiff underlying quarterly losses on Thursday, with American Airlines parent AMR reaching profitability only through the sale of financial firm American Beacon Advisors. (Stories here and here.)

AMR said its third-quarter net profit amounted to $45 million, or 17 cents per share. [..]
Excluding the sale of American Beacon Advisors and other items, AMR said it lost $360 million, or $1.39 per share, compared with forecasts for a loss of $1.36 per share, according to Reuters Estimates. [..]
The company reported revenue of $6.4 billion, an 8 percent gain over the year-ago period.

Delta, which is buying Northwest Airlines Corp (NWA.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) to form the world’s largest airline by traffic, reported a quarterly net loss of $50 million, or 13 cents per share. [..]
Delta increased operating revenue 9 percent to $5.7 billion, even though it reduced its flying capacity in the quarter, helped by strong trans-Atlantic business, higher fares and more fees. But the airline’s operating costs increased $814 million, or 17 percent, almost entirely due to higher fuel.

Continental Airlines Inc. said Thursday it swung to a $236 million loss in the third quarter from a year-ago profit as it battled high fuel costs and weather disruptions at its big Houston hub.
Revenue rose nearly 9 percent to $4.16 billion, beating analysts’ $4.11 billion forecast. [..]
Hurricane Ike, which shut down Houston airports for more than two days last month, cost the airline about $50 million in operating profit. And the carrier had to contend with a 68 percent spike in fuel costs to $1.5 billion during the quarter, as crude prices flirted with $150 a barrel mark in July.

All players emphasized continuing cuts in capacity. Meanwhile, it’s noteworthy that operating revenue is up 8 to 9 percent across the board — looks like those higher fares and fees are having an impact.

UPDATE:  Southwest also announced a loss for Q3, though in this case underlying operations had been profitable. In a bit of a twist, the hit came from a big *drop* in oil prices. Details from AP:


Southwest lost $120 million in the third quarter due to $247 million in charges, mostly due to writing down fuel-hedging contracts that are less valuable now that oil prices have plunged more than half since July.
Without the write-down and other charges, Southwest said it earned an operating profit of $69 million. [..] Revenue rose 11.7 percent to $2.89 billion, beating analysts’ forecast of $2.83 billion.
Southwest has been more successful than any other airline at hedging against high oil prices. It buys options to lock in fuel at set prices, a strategy that has saved it several billion dollars this decade.
But accounting rules require Southwest to constantly update the potential value of some of those contracts, and their value tumbled as oil prices fell.

Believe it or not, this was Southwest’s first quarterly loss in 17 years.

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