Aviation is a very interesting industry. Aircraft contain some of the most advanced technology in the world. Most of the new planes could quite literally land themselves in many cases. Many aircraft now use fly-by-wire technology where the pilot uses a joystick that sends electronic commands to manipulate the plane’s control surfaces.
It is all absolutely amazing stuff, and a far cry from the wood and canvas Wright Flyer that started it all. Yet with all of this new technology, most of the airways in the world are directed using decades old equipment.
VORs, TACANs, VORTACs, and even NDBs in some cases, are still used all over the world as radio navigation aids for these multi-million dollar jets. Despite their age they still do an amazing job keeping the airways safe. In tandem with air traffic controllers, they keep flying as the safest way to travel period.
Safety is of course at the top of the priority list, but creeping increasingly closer is money, and these old navigational aids don’t offer a whole lot to make flying more efficient.
GPS has been around for quite a while, and is already used in diverse ways in aviation. However, it is not being used to its full capacity, and it is costing everyone money.
GPS has the ability to improve aircraft navigation in ways that will not only make flying more efficient, but make it safer for everyone involved. Qatar Airways recently flew the first approach into Kathmandu’s airport in Nepal using a RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach in an Airbus A320. (Airbus’s press release of the occasion can be found below.)
The unique mountainous terrain of the region has always required complex, difficult approaches that can challenge even the most seasoned pilot. Using this new approach pilots are able to reduce their workload leading to a much safer, and more efficient approach. The increased efficiency is what makes this approach so valuable for every single airport out there.
The airports in the New York/New Jersey region are not exactly troubled with terrain issues, but it is some of the busiest airspace in the world. By using the increased accuracy that GPS provides, these airports can utilize their airspace more efficiently, and in turn more safely.
Implementing these procedures is not as simple as having everyone turn on their GPS, but it is imperative that the newly confirmed FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, do everything in his power to get these procedures in place immediately in order to further improve the safety of the industry, while at the same time providing some financial relief to the airlines.
The milestone flight took place with the Doha-based airline’s A320 performing an RNP-AR (Required Navigation Performance – Authorisation Required) approach to landing. RNP-AR enables an aircraft to automatically fly accurate trajectories without relying on ground-based navigation aids, while also optimising airspace utilisation and reducing diversions in difficult weather conditions.
Located in Kathmandu, Tribhuvan International Airport has one of the world’s most complicated landing approaches due to surrounding challenging terrain at its location in the Himalayas. Flying an RNP-AR approach considerably reduces pilots’ workload and allows them to take full benefit of the advanced navigation equipment installed in the Airbus A320 to easily circumnavigate difficult terrain.
Qatar Airways partnered with Quovadis, the Airbus-owned flight operations services company, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to design and implement the Kathmandu RNP-AR procedure.
Yannick Malinge, Airbus’ Senior Vice President and Chief Product Safety Officer, recognised Qatar Airways on the achievement.
“Airbus always promotes and supports initiatives contributing to improving safety. New technological capabilities like RNP allow aircraft to improve descent trajectory and reduce non-stabilized approaches,” Malinge explained. “Airbus would like to congratulate Qatar Airways and Nepal Authorities for the outstanding results achieved for this RNP-AR project in Kathmandu and we are delighted to have contributed to this major milestone.”
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said safety was the top priority for the airline. “We pride ourselves on adopting the latest technology across our fleet and operation to ensure we maintain our high standards, vital for any business of our nature,” he added.