‘RNP is the way of the future’

Issue: 12-2011

Steve Fulton is a Technical Fellow at GE Aviation and was the co-founder of Naverus Inc in 2003, the root of GE Aviation’s performance-based navigation (PBN) services. Steve is a pioneer in the design of modern PBN instrument flight procedures. Earlier as a Technical Pilot in Alaska Airlines, he led the development of improved instrument approach and departure procedure based on required navigation performance (RNP), an advanced form of PBN. On the sidelines of the third US-India Aviation Summit in New Delhi, Steve spoke to Air Marshal (Retd) B.K. Pandey of SP’s Aviation. Excerpts of the interview:


B.K. Pandey (SP’s): Can you briefly describe GE’s involvement in aerial navigation?

Steve Fulton (Steve): GE Aviation develops and implements technologies that provide significant economic and environmental benefits to airlines, airports and the community at large. GE’s “PBN services” is a world leader in the design and deployment of performance-based navigation and is working with aircraft operators and air traffic management establishments in several parts of the world to implement PBN solutions.

SP’s: What is PBN and what specific advantage does it offer over other conventional methods of air navigation?

Steve: PBN is a central component of airspace modernisation. The navigation system combines GPS, inertial reference systems and other navigation inputs to provide the capability to current-generation aircraft to fly precisely defined paths without relying on signals from ground-based radio navigation facilities. The greatest advantage of PBN is that it provides for full transition from groundbased to performance-based air navigation. It enables the aircraft to fly the desired track with great precision via the shortest route leading to saving in fuel and consequent reduction in emissions.

SP’s: Can you throw light on the term RNP?

Steve: RNP is an enhanced mode of PBN that ensures that the aircraft does not stray from the desired path and provides for enhanced navigational flexibility such as the ability to follow curved paths required to be flown while approaching to land at an airfield.

SP’s: Can you please explain how RNP would be of relevance to the aircraft operator?

Steve: RNP procedures ensure that the aircraft always flies inside a precisely defined “tunnel” in the sky. New RNP procedures help lower decision heights and visibility requirements for commercial aircraft operators. With the deployment of new and advanced instrument approach procedures, the aircraft would be able to operate more easily in conditions of bad weather, poor visibility and low cloud ceiling. RNP could also provide benefits to business and general aviation aircraft operators subject to appropriate level of proficiency of aircrew through proper training. It can be adapted to exploit full performance capability of the specific aircraft platform.

SP’s: How does RNP help improve air traffic management?

Steve: RNP procedures can be formulated to avoid busy airspace and noise sensitive or restricted areas. It provides the facility to handle higher volume of traffic in the airspace available with higher levels of safety.

SP’s: Can you please elaborate on the technology employed in RNP?

Steve: RNP relies on performance characteristics of the aircraft itself, incorporating GPS, advanced instrumentation and computerbased navigation capabilities to define a very precise trajectory or flight path. The technology frees the aircraft from the constraints of ground-based radio-navigation infrastructure. Procedures can therefore be continuously improved without the need to install additional ground-based equipment.

SP’s: Would it be possible to vary operating minimas with experience?

Steve: After the RNP procedures are deployed, over time, they could be optimised to further lower decision heights, reduce visibility requirements and allow RNP operations by multiple aircraft types. It is clearly the way of the future.