Required Navigation Performance, or RNP, is an acronym you’ll hear more and more in airliner cockpits in the coming months. That’s because this new way of guiding planes to their destination will eventually be in place at all US airports, as it has successfully been introduced in Australia and the UK.  The FAA is busy teaching pilots how to use this form of ‘ultra auto pilot’ to fly very precise routes to a destination, instead of a myriad of different approaches used today.

The catch is that only newer airliners have the navigation gear installed to use RNP, but as the recession grounds more older, and less fuel efficient planes, airlines are turning on this new feature…it’s as if your car came with a groovy new navigation device but it hasn’t been taken out of the box. Airplanes can land without delays in any kind of weather using RNP, unlike current systems where fog or low clouds can drastically slow down take-offs and landings.

In a Wall Street Journal article, the author flew the same approach into Seattle, an airport that’s famous for weather delays. With the conventional approach, planes descend bit by bit and use speed brakes to slow the plane down. These also burn a lot more fuel.  Using RNP, each arrival is assigned an exact time to land long before they start the descent, and it’s all done by autopilot, taking into account the weight of the plane and the headwinds.  The conventional approach took 33 minutes and burned 13,200 gallons of fuel. Using RNP, it took nine minutes and burned a third less fuel.  Clearly RNP is going to be a godsend for airports, airlines, and the traveling public!