Ribbon in the sky

We’ve talked here before about Boeing’s progress in meeting environmental challenges. Some of the exciting developments have been around the ASPIRE or “perfect” flights, as well as “tailored arrivals” testing going on over the past year or so.

Now we can share a little more about one of the latest initiatives in air traffic management.

Recently, pilots on Qantas flight 738 were the first in the world to use a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) exclusively for a more efficient descent, approach and landing into Sydney, Australia.

Appearing in the satellite imagery below as a green “ribbon in the sky,” the GPS-guided procedure saves up to 140 kg of fuel and 440 kg of C02 as compared to the red track used most often. Qantas estimates a conservative yearly savings of 1.4 million kg of fuel and 4.4 million kg of C02 for its 737 fleet, based on 10,000 approaches per year into Sydney.


The green “ribbon in the sky” approach and landing into Sydney. The GPS-guided procedure is more efficient than the typical track used (red).

The Qantas pilots used complementary technologies called required navigation performance and GPS landing system to fly a Next-Generation 737-800 along its shorter, quieter track.

These technologies and others are part of a concept Boeing calls performance-based navigation. It’s a framework for using the capabilities of the airplane to more precisely guide it and monitor its performance. Benefits of the concept include enhanced safety, and increased air-traffic capacity, efficiency and access into challenged airports.

Boeing has helped to shape the evolving performance-based navigation standards through close and ongoing involvement with regulators, industry groups and airlines. And for the past 10 years, our Jeppesen subsidiary has helped airports and operators around the world implement fuel-, emission- and noise-reducing technologies such as required navigation performance.

We’ve worked directly with many airlines to design precise routes and procedures in locations with challenging terrain and weather conditions such as those in Juneau, Alaska (below) and Lijiang Airport in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in China.


Boeing and Alaska Airlines developed RNP procedures into Juneau, Alaska’s airport in 1995.

Speaking of Alaska, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines continues to work on its approaches using these tools. A partnership between Alaska Airlines, Boeing, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Port of Seattle, known as Greener Skies, aims to shorten flight paths into Sea-Tac Airport to provide environmental benefits. Alaska’s Next-Generation 737 fleet is 100 percent RNP-equipped and its pilots are 100 percent trained.

Lately, the Next-Generation 737 has led the way in evolving performance-based navigation. Future advancements will come with the 787 and 747-8 as well.

I’m all for shorter, more efficient flights, but I still like that romantic notion that a star will guide you.

Comments (2)

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

The Ribbon in the sky approach looks like a bit of a smother flight too as well as a more fuel efficient method to manual or other automatic approaches.

Small Fuel Bill (Bow River, AB) (Foothills, AB):

Your article sounds like your talking about WestJet in Canada. They were the world pioneers to have their whole fleet and pilots RNP qualified. They have been changing Canadian airspace and approaches for over four years. The "short gate" approaches save up to 12 track miles at some airports vs conventional ILS or non-precision. Its all makes sense! Yet the FAA is slow to allow the same in the US. They'll be doing RNP in Mexico before the US catches on.

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