For over 50 years, the National Airspace System has depended on ground-based radios and radar for aircraft navigation and surveillance.
But this older technology can't keep pace with the growth in air traffic. The result is airport congestion. This causes delays, disrupting schedules and inconveniencing passengers. The Federal Aviation Administration is transitioning navigation and surveillance functions to satellite-based GPS. One new technology has been in use for several years already. The Wide Area Augmentation System, or WAAS, dramatically improves the accuracy of GPS to meet the high safety standards required for flight operations.
We spoke to David Karp, president of Northern Air Cargo in Anchorage, Alaska, about the benefits of WAAS technology.
David Karp, President and Chief Operating Officer of Northern Air Cargo:
We have a fleet of 737-200s. We have three WAAS-equipped 737-200s. And we've recently WAAS-equipped a 737-300. So, one of the things that we talk about a lot is the fact that we were the first Boeing fleet equipped with WAAS.
Flying in rural Alaska and delivering critical goods and services to the people that live in this state, any opportunity that we have to improve our service and improve the quality of life for rural Alaskans is very important to us.
So, WAAS has now become a critical tool in our toolbox to do that. Rural Alaska is a remote, foreboding place. We have lots of extreme weather. But there's a lot of U.S. citizens that live out in that part of the country that need the service. And we're happy to be able to provide it.
So, since we've been operating with the WAAS-equipped fleet, we have multiple examples where we've been able to get into a destination when others couldn't just because of the approach. And for us, a big part of that, and it affects the pricing for our customers, is fuel. And we save about 200 pounds of fuel on each one of these flights just with the ability to fly the precision approaches, and it definitely converts to value for our customers.
We're talking to other carriers which we have about the benefits of a WAAS installation and a WAAS-equipped fleet -- better reliability, saves fuel, improves safety, and results in an overall better operation and delivery of product and services to your customers.
Of the many benefits provided by the WAAS service, saving lives has to be the most important. We went to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, to ask Director of Emergency Services Dan Keough about the impact of satellite navigation on Mercy's helicopter emergency medical service.
Dan Keough, Director of Emergency Services, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines:
We fly about 300 scene-flight type missions, where we will land directly onto a hospital or on the highway at a non-hospital-based landing zone. We need pretty perfect weather in order to be able to get that done.
Even with the airport LPV approaches, to try and ask a rural ambulance to navigate to an airport because we can get in there has not always been the best thing. So, it's been a little bit of a challenge, but it's one that we've kind of met, and now, with the WAAS approaches, it has really been a game-changer for us. I would tell you that of our 1,600 annual requests, we can utilize a WAAS approach for over 1,000 of them. And, so, to be able to hit that much population or that many calls and utilize this, like I said, it's been huge.
The opportunity to get out of this facility utilizing the precision approaches the way we do gives us the chance to bring more people back. And every one of those, although they may just be a statistic, that's personal to somebody. And that's potentially life-changing. So, I'd say that's probably been the biggest benefit.
WAAS has helped Cape Air, a small passenger airline headquartered in Massachusetts, stage dramatic growth in the past few years. We spoke to Cape Air's president, Dave Bushy.
Dave Bushy, President, Cape Air:
We operate in seven regions throughout the United States and the Caribbean and Micronesia. And we now operate to 40 different airports throughout those regions. Our airports range from large metropolitan airports in the top 10 of the United States, Boston Logan Airport being the largest one, to San Juan, which is the largest in the Caribbean, to the tiniest airports like Saranac Lake, New York.
We operate up to 137,000 flights per year into all those airports. LPV approaches, GPS, WAAS, they're game-changers because no longer are you limited to certain runways at certain airports with much higher minima than you were used to. You now can go to almost any runway -- with some exceptions for terrain, almost any runway -- and very accurately fly to much lower minima. That enhances your operational capabilities, it enhances your completion factor, but most importantly, it enhances safety. And that's our number-one value, as every airline in the United States has that as the number-one value.
We decided to equip the entire fleet simply because our growth opportunities, our flexibility, our operational completion factor, fuel savings, and ultimately safety would be enhanced by that decision.
We visited Horizon Air, a large regional airline headquartered in Portland, Oregon, and spoke to Perry Solmonson, the director of flight standards and training, about the benefits of WAAS.
Perry Solmonson, Director of Flight Standards and training, Horizon Air:
Today we fly 48 Q400 aircraft on approximately 400 flights a day. We have about 500 pilots, 3,000 employees, total.
Horizon Air has an interesting mix as a regional airline. We certainly serve large cities, large hub airports, such as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and LAX, Los Angeles International, and so on. But the other half of the mission is to go to the outstation. So we, in the northwest, have quite a few terrain-challenged airports. Sun Valley, Idaho, comes to mind. Wenatchee, Washington, comes to mind. Montana, up into Canada, down into Mexico.
Horizon Air believes that satellite-based navigation brings a lot of advantages to the table -- for example, the lower approach minimums, the safety of having vertical path guidance to the runway. And what we realized is we could train one kind of approach with our crews.
We currently have seven Q400 aircraft equipped with WAAS. We have a fleet of 48. We've just completed the business case. It's been approved by the officers, board of directors, that we can equip the remaining 41 aircraft with WAAS. The mission of WAAS and how Horizon works with WAAS and achieves our own mission -- It is the first time in the history of civilian aviation, anyway, that we have a means of flying area navigation with a primary means navigation system. And that truly is a game-changer, and we're just beginning to discover the benefits of that.
Most air traffic consists of general aviation, or G.A. G.A. pilots usually fly small, privately owned aircraft that often use smaller airports. Heidi Williams, a vice president at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, told us why AOPA members have embraced satellite technology.
Heidi Williams, Vice President, Air Traffic Services and Modernization, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA):
WAAS has enabled the ability for many airports that would have only allowed landings during visual flight conditions. It has opened up unlimited possibilities for pilots who are flying in instrument conditions. It's allowed them the flexibility to gain access to a runway in that they could not otherwise.
I think any G.A. operator in the system that has equipped with WAAS technology would tell you the benefits far outweigh that initial cost investment. You know, there are some hurdles to overcome. That's cost investment and probably the real estate in the cockpit. But once you've embraced and have equipped with WAAS technology, you find that the safety and efficiency benefits and the flexibility that it affords operating in this system far outweigh that initial investment.
Deborah Lawrence. Manager, FAA Navigation Programs:
In 2003, the Wide Area Augmentation System became operational and launched a revolution in flight. For the fist time, pilots could rely on GPS as the sole, precise means of navigation, giving them reliable, all-weather access in all phases of flight.
Since then, WAAS-enabled runway approaches have become available at more than 1,800 airports. Since 2006, the number of aircraft equipped with WAAS avionics has increased at an average of 10,000 a year.
WAAS will continue to develop and improve its service in the coming years. Signal reliability will be further enhanced by dual-frequency operation, which will allow greater performance during ionospheric storms.
WAAS will continue to enable the performance-based navigation of today and will serve as a key enabler of the next-gen technologies of tomorrow. The FAA is working with Europe, Japan, India, Russia, and China to ensure interoperability among the world's satellite-based augmentation systems. A seamless transition in flight navigation from one region of the world to another will be added to the many benefits already enjoyed by the users of satellite navigation.