I recently returned from a week in India. The main event was the US India Aviation Summit at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, but while I was there I took the opportunity to meet with executives and technical staff at airlines, Airports Authority of India, and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. It was a welcome visit for me because I was able to reconnect with many friends and acquaintances that I had not seen in some time. This is the part of the business that is always interesting to me. Yes, we deal in technology and even my job title is “Technical” Fellow, but at the end of the day, it is always about people.
It had been a while since I last visited India to support early efforts to deploy RNP into Indian airspace. In the intervening period of time, progress with RNP in India has been surprisingly and, curiously slow. I was asked to join a plenary discussion at the Aviation Summit on Air Traffic Management, Air Space Utilization and NextGen Technology and talk about the value of RNP in India. One of the first points I made was that India is unique among the major regions in the world in that 79% of the air transport fleet in India is fully capable of RNP operations, and that fleet operates at fifty-two of India’s airports. This is an amazing number when you consider other regions, such as the United States, where just over 40% of the air transport fleet is equipped and capable of RNP. For an explanation of why the high percentage of equipped aircraft in India, you have to look no further than the fact that air traffic in India has tripled in the last decade. This increase in traffic is supported by large fleets of new production Boeing and Airbus aircraft that are delivered fully configured for RNP operations. Some estimates have the number of passengers more than tripling in the next 10-15 years, which will require new airspace infrastructure to increase air capacity in order to keep up with this pace of growth. A key component to this build-out of infrastructure is RNP, and Airports Authority of India’s Directorate of Air Traffic Management of Airports has published a Performance-based Navigation (PBN) Implementation Road Map.
The first GPS approaches (now RNP APCH, per ICAO Navigation Specification) were deployed in the US in early 1990s. The first RNP approach with passengers was conducted in May, 1996 by Alaska Airlines in Juneau, Alaska. Over the last eight years, my colleagues and I at GE’s PBN Services have been deeply involved in deployments of over 350 RNP procedures in Australasia, China, South and North America. RNP has been the foundation to impressive improvements in access to some of the world’s most physically constrained airports, such as in the mountainous areas of West and Southwest China, New Zealand, Canada, and Peru. In addition to addressing the physical obstacles, RNP routes have been designed to de-conflict busy airspace and to avoid noise sensitive areas at airports that are not terrain-challenged. Inherent in the design of RNP paths are Optimized Profile Descents (OPDs) that allow the aircraft to transition from cruise flight to landing in the most efficient way, further reducing noise and fuel burn. The technology and experience is available. A full complement of ICAO and FAA documents have been published that promulgate guidance, standards and best practices so that all regulators now have the tools to support the transition to performance-based navigation.
So, with all of the industry experience, validation of benefits, and regulatory tools for success, how can it be that India, with the highest concentration of capable aircraft in the world, does not have a single RNP approach procedure in service? It was my observation during my visit that this is a question that a lot of people in India are asking and it is my belief that this situation will not persist much longer. I wish all of my friends in India the very best success in this endeavor.