July 18, 2012 / 8:26 PM / 7 years ago

LATAM Airlines eyes wider use of RNP navigation tools

July 18 (Reuters) - Latin America’s biggest airline plans to use an efficiency-boosting navigational system for all its routes in coming years, the LATAM Airlines Group said on Wednesday.

LATAM , formed last month by Chilean carrier LAN’s estimated $2.7 billion takeover of Brazilian rival TAM, plans to expand use of the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) system made by General Electric after LAN flew the region’s first takeoff-to-landing route, Cusco-Lima in Peru, using the satellite-based technology.

RNP and its cousin Area Navigation (RNAV) are part of a broader framework of Performance-based Navigation (PBN), which takes advantage of satellite systems to fly more precise routes. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body, has encouraged PBN systems.

PBN shortens flights, reduces fuel use, cuts carbon emissions and allows planes to navigate despite difficult weather.

“Next year, we’re going to introduce this in a very big way in Brazil,” said Christian Staiger, who works on PBN for LATAM. “Our idea is to raise the level of PBN operations until we basically reach 100 percent for all of our routes.”

In general, newer planes and systems have navigational capabilities that are often more advanced than traditional radio equipment on the ground, which regulators like the FAA in the United States want to upgrade.

Some U.S. carriers have said the FAA should adopt PBN more quickly as part of a modernization plan slated to run through 2025.

Steve Fulton of GE said Latin America has the potential to leap over the aging aviation infrastructure that has slowed North America’s progress toward PBN.

“This region has a great opportunity to move forward. In the U.S., switching over is like changing a tire on a car that’s driving,” Fulton told an audience of mostly Latin American carriers at a PBN conference.

Most U.S. carriers still rely on radio equipment for navigation, but last month JetBlue Airways became the first FAA-certified carrier to use RNP at New York’s JFK airport.

LAN has so far invested $7 million to develop Performance-based Navigation at more than 15 airports in Chile and Peru, said the airline’s fuel conservation manager Adolfo Fierro. He said the move has generated savings of about $2 million per year.

The use of PBN on LAN’s Cusco-Lima route has reduced cancellations due to foul weather in the popular highland destination of Cusco near Machu Picchu by 60 percent, said Fierro. At the same time, the route is saving the company about $500,000 in annual fuel costs.

Next year LATAM plans to start using PBN in Brazil at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport, where competitor Gol Linhas Areas has been using it since May. Gol became the first carrier approved to use the technology in Brazil.

LATAM could be able to achieve full implementation of PBN in about two years, said Peter Cerda, the Americas Director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“Developing or designing a procedure doesn’t take that long, but then you have the regulatory issue to resolve, you have to train both pilots and controllers, you have to get aircraft approval,” he said.

LATAM formed last month with $12 billion in debt, and executives have promised to cut costs by up to $700 million within four years - partly by implementing new navigational technology.

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