FAA opts for nationwide public-use RNP routes

 - May 5, 2008, 5:59 AM

Too often, as their terms of office draw to a close, politicians and political appointees sign into law decisions and future commitments that many might describe as potentially self-serving. But in her last days as FAA Administrator, Jane Garvey characteristically took the high road, by committing the FAA to move expeditiously toward a nationwide public-use required navigation performance (RNP) environment.

Her announcement, issued on July 22, just 10 days before her departure on August 2, stated, “In recognition of the inherent benefits of RNP, I commit the FAA to develop and implement a plan to establish public-use RNP airspace and procedures in U.S. domestic airspace 12 months from the date of this policy statement. These procedures will be introduced judiciously and in concert with the user community.”

The announcement was welcomed by NBAA, whose members operate more than 9,000 business aircraft, including approximately 5,000 business jets. NBAA senior
v-p of operations Bob Blouin said, “This is a very important step forward, and one that NBAA strongly endorses. Many of our members have seen the benefits of RNP in Europe and in oceanic operations, and we look forward to their introduction into the NAS.”

Garvey’s initiative was also praised by the U.S. Air Transport Association and by its international associate, IATA. Earlier this year, a senior ATA official had noted that the FAA’s future Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) included 11 initiatives that would require new aircraft equip- ment installations, with six of them calling for RNP capabilities.

But the response from AOPA was more cautious. Randy Kenagy, AOPA’s director
of advanced technology, said the announcement raised a number of key issues that must be addressed soon. “To cite just one example,” he said, “will our members be able to use their present non-WAAS GPS receivers in the future RNP airspace, or will they effectively lose their current navigation capability?” Kenagy added, “With just 12 months to complete this plan, there is an urgent need to clarify many similar questions before the RNP concepts are committed to regulations.”

An FAA official said Kenagy’s overall concerns might be justified, and observed that WAAS capability certainly appeared likely to become an RNP requirement.

However, Garvey’s announcement does not mean that public RNP procedures will be in place across the U.S. by next July. While that is the required completion
date of the final plan, its first operational implementation will probably not occur until some time during the following 12 to 24 months. Development of en route RNP applications will likely be woven into the tasking of the current FAA government/industry Terminal Area Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (TAOARC), which is currently establishing RNP standards and procedures for terminal arrival and departure operations.

Industry officials expect that nationwide RNP-5 routes, essentially similar to Eurocontrol’s BRnav, will be assigned first–probably in the upper airspace, with progressive lowering of affected altitudes as operational experience is gained and more aircraft obtain RNP approvals. RNP-5 is regarded as the logical starting point, since many airline and business aircraft are already compliant with that standard to operate in European airspace. It is also less demanding in terms of overall navigation accuracy, and the need to install sophisticated avionics.