- The special PBN procedure is enhancing safety while reducing fuel consumption, engine exhaust emissions, and noise levels at New York's JFK airport during runway closures and poor weather.
- During a five-month runway closure, JetBlue pilots used the procedure 97.8 percent of the time for runways 13L and 13R, logging 5,939 RNP approaches, according to flight crew reports.
- Each approach saves about 11–18 gallons of fuel, depending on aircraft size.
Airports referenced in this story
- 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.
Air carriers already benefit when they fly Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures into runways 13L and 13R in clear weather at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, but they notice even bigger benefits when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
The precise, satellite-guided Required Navigation Performance (RNP) Authorization Required (AR) approach procedures enhance safety while reducing fuel consumption, engine exhaust emissions, and noise levels. Pilots also can delay or avoid taking a longer northerly route to use a conventional Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach when weather lowers visibility.
Flying ILS procedures at 13L increases delays at JFK, as well as nearby LaGuardia, Newark, and Teterboro airports. "It became a nightmare scenario to have to vector into Newark airspace, which causes a horrible chain of events, and is a last-resort procedure," said Capt. Joe DeVito, a regulatory and airspace technical pilot for JetBlue Airways. Holding and vectoring of aircraft can create a ripple effect of delays across many flights into and out of the airports due to the complicated nature and interconnectivity of the New York airspace.
With JFK as its home base, JetBlue had several reasons why it joined the FAA and MITRE Corporation to develop the new PBN procedures. The airline's decision to equip its entire fleet and train all its pilots to fly the procedure — first used on June 20, 2012 — was influenced by three main factors: major runway construction that increased dependence on 13L and 13R, complying with the tarmac delay rule, and preventing unnecessary diversions.
"[The RNP procedures] have lower minima [than conventional procedures], so chances of getting in are much better," DeVito said. "It is extremely helpful, especially in times of runway shutdowns."
During a five-month closure of runways 4L and 22R for construction in 2015, traffic was redirected primarily to 13L. As it became JFK's primary arrival runway, usage increased from 30.6 percent in 2014 to 65.3 percent in 2015, according to PASSUR Aerospace. JetBlue pilots used the RNP procedure 97.8 percent of the time for 13L and 13R, logging 5,939 RNP approaches, according to flight crew reports. Each approach saves about 11–18 gallons of fuel, depending on aircraft size.
ILS, on the other hand, drops the airport's acceptance rate from 54 to 28 flights-per-hour and conflicts with surrounding airspace. The RNP procedures and non-ILS conventional procedures that use VOR or GPS follow nearly the same path along the coast to 13L and 13R. RNP is more accurate, however, and offers vertical and lateral guidance instead of just lateral guidance.
"It is a boon for us from a safety standpoint to not fly a non-precision approach," JetBlue's DeVito said.
Aircraft can fly on a continuous descent with a precise curve to the runway with engines running at or near idle speed. This is more efficient than the step-down method, which requires multiple turns and engines running at high thrust settings to maintain altitude at each level. Pilots also can land at a lower altitude closer to the runway, minimizing the number of aborted landings, otherwise known as go-arounds.
Making this procedure possible is the automatic Takeoff Go-Around to Navigation or "ToGa" to Nav function. This is a button or switch the pilot engages to tell the flight director and auto thrust system, if available, to execute a missed approach while the lateral navigation mode remains engaged. It's this capability, which is not present on all aircraft, that allows pilots to use a decision altitude while in a turn to the runway instead of flying a lengthy straight segment after the final turn is completed. JetBlue was the first U.S. air carrier to adopt this capability and use it on these unique procedures.
JetBlue, the FAA, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association signed a letter of agreement in April 2015 to approve consistent assignment of the RNP approach to Runway 13L for JetBlue pilots when the runway is in use and weather permits, which accounts for the compliance rate of nearly 98 percent.
The FAA also has approved domestic carriers American, Delta, and Virgin America, as well as international carriers Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Qatar Airways to use the procedures at runways 13L and 13R. This benefits more passengers and air carriers while making traffic more efficient in one of the world's busiest airports.