We received an extra special gift in our Christmas stocking this year. On December 15, 2010, our Operations Specification (aka OpSpec) was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Why am I excited about this? This milestone brings us one step closer to deploying our fleet into daily Required Navigation Performance (RNP) Special Aircraft and Aircrew Authorization Required (SAAAR) approach operations (aka RNP SAAR) on January 11, 2011. RNP is satellite-based navigation that brings together the accuracy of GPS (Global Positioning System), the capabilities of advanced aircraft avionics, and new flight procedures.
I know that’s a mouthful, but bear with me. An OpSpec is the method the FAA uses to "approve" almost every aspect of our operation. For instance, all of the cities Southwest serves must be listed in an OpSpec for us to legally carry Passengers. So, you can understand how important this step is in the process for when our first RNP flight takes to the skies.
This FAA signature is the culmination of a nearly four-year long project with many departments across the Company to automate our flight decks and bring RNP SAAAR approach capability to Southwest Airlines. As part of this effort, each of our 6,000 Pilots received six training events; Maintenance modified the entire Southwest fleet with RNP software, hardware, and a new flight deck display format; and we transformed our flight procedures on April 6, 2010. On January 11, 2011, we will again change our flight procedures to add RNP SAAAR approach capability that provides fuel savings through shorter flight distances. In other words, RNP SAAAR is a more efficient way to operate our aircraft that will help Southwest continue doing its part by reducing our environmental impact.
We are far from finished. Development of efficient RNP procedures at our airports continues, and we are finalizing the list of airports that will include RNP procedures. But, for now, Southwest has the "driver's license" for RNP SAAAR operations. The shiny new car (-700 flight deck) is waiting in the driveway, and our Pilots have been given the keys.