Airplane navigating through mountains

NextGen Implementation Plan (PDF)

Performance Based Navigation (PBN)
Addresses ways to leverage emerging technologies, such as satellite-based Area Navigation and Required Navigation Performance, to improve access and flexibility for point-to-point operations.

When you live at the top of the world, getting there can be a bit tricky. Unless, of course, you can fly. For people in Juneau and other parts of Alaska, aviation is the most important means of transportation.

Juneau International Airport is surrounded by mountains. Aircraft descend to the airport through a narrow pass that becomes difficult or impossible to navigate when visibility is low. But a NextGen procedure that keeps aircraft on a precision path into Juneau has enabled Alaska Airlines to virtually eliminate costly flight cancellations and weather-related diversions.

Using the GPS-based NextGen flight procedures, Alaska Airlines is saving $15 million a year from completed flights. These Area Navigation Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures are so effective that in 2011 Alaska Airlines was able to complete 820 flights to Juneau alone that would have otherwise been diverted or cancelled. This averages to two flights per day or 10 percent of the carrier's Juneau operations, said Sarah Dalton, Alaska Airlines' director of airspace and technology.

The use of RNP is an important step in moving the U.S. from an exclusively ground-based navigation system to NextGen's satellite based system. Using RNP, onboard technology enables pilots to navigate aircraft in a narrow corridor of airspace using geospatial coordinates to fly safer, more precise and more efficient flight paths. More efficient flight paths, which are either shorter or flown at an optimal altitude, also reduce the amount of fuel needed with an accompanying reduction in carbon emissions.

For Alaska Airlines, using RNP means more consistent and reliable air service for its customers, Dalton explained. The Seattle-based carrier began operating with RNP at Juneau in May 1996 and subsequently outfitted its entire Boeing 737 fleet with the equipment necessary to use the fuel-saving procedures. Today, roughly 60 percent of Alaska's Juneau flights operate with RNP. In 2011, Alaska Airlines valued total RNP fuel benefits at $1 million, said Dalton.

In addition to Juneau, Alaska Airlines has recorded RNP "saves" at other airports it serves, including Adak, Cordova, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat in Alaska and Palm Springs, Calif.

Alaska Airlines uses a NextGen procedure to fly through the narrow mountain pass leading into Juneau International Airport. See what the pilots see in this video, courtesy of Alaska Airlines. (No audio available.)