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Thu, Jul 09, 2009

Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air Pursue 'Greener Skies' Over Seattle

NextGen Approach Procedures Are The Heart Of The Experiment

This summer Alaska Airlines began testing next-generation flight procedures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) that will allow the airline and its sister carrier, Horizon Air, to reduce their environmental impact during airport approaches. Dubbed "Greener Skies," the project in cooperation with the Port of Seattle, The Boeing Company and the FAA is focused on using satellite-based flight guidance technology pioneered by Alaska Airlines to descend more efficiently and reduce aircraft fuel consumption, emissions and noise in the Puget Sound region. The airline is seeking FAA approval for the procedures, which could ultimately be used by all properly equipped carriers at Sea-Tac.

Testing began June 16 on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 aircraft during a noncommercial flight. Using satellite guidance technology called Required Navigation Performance (RNP), the plane flew a consistent and controlled approach to Sea-Tac with pinpoint accuracy, reducing flight-path length, ground noise and greenhouse-gas emissions, and saving time and fuel.

The efficient, continuous descent approaches at Sea-Tac enabled by this next-generation technology will benefit Seattle in several ways. Alaska Airlines estimates the procedures will cut fuel consumption by 2.1 million gallons annually and reduce carbon emissions by 22,000 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 4,100 cars off the road every year. In addition, they will reduce overflight noise exposure for an estimated 750,000 people living within the affected flight corridor.

"These improved flight procedures at Sea-Tac will help Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air minimize the environmental impact of our flying on the communities we serve," said Gary Beck, Alaska's vice president of flight operations. "With FAA approval, we hope the procedures will be available to all carriers and gradually integrated into the Seattle air traffic system. This project could also become a blueprint for expanded use of next-generation technology at more U.S. airports."

Typically, commercial aircraft approach follow a lengthy approach pattern and series of stair-step descents before landing. Using RNP technology and a continuous descent, also called an optimized profile descent (OPD), aircraft can descend from cruise altitude to an airport runway along a shorter, more direct flight path at low power.

"This effort aligns with the Port of Seattle's commitment to operate the greenest airport in the nation," said Mark Reis, managing director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. "With Alaska and Horizon representing nearly half of the daily operations at Sea-Tac, this program not only benefits our regional environment but also helps the airlines to operate more efficiently at Sea-Tac. We are working closely with Alaska, Boeing and the FAA to ensure these benefits are realized by our community as quickly as possible."

Alaska Airlines pioneered RNP precision flight-guidance technology during the mid-1990s to help its planes land at some of the world's most remote and geographically challenging airports in the state of Alaska. RNP provides computer-plotted landing paths with pinpoint accuracy by using a combination of onboard navigation technology and GPS satellites. It improves safety and reliability in all weather, and reduces reliance on ground-based navigation aids. Alaska Airlines currently uses FAA-approved RNP procedures at 23 U.S. airports.

Alaska Airlines is the only major U.S. air carrier with a completely RNP-equipped fleet and fully trained crews. Alaska is also the first airline approved by the FAA to conduct its own RNP flight validation. Horizon Air's fleet soon will be fully RNP-equipped as well.

Planning and testing of the procedures will continue through the remainder of the year. They will be integrated into Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air's commercial operations at Sea-Tac pending FAA approval, which the airlines hope to obtain in 2010.

FMI: www.alaskaair.com

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