In a peek into aviation's future that officials say will reduce noise, save fuel and provide passengers with shorter flight times, JetBlue this week became the first carrier to fly a new technology-assisted approach into Kennedy Airport.
The software enables pilots to fly more precise, satellite-directed routes as they come in for landing. The first commercial flight with passengers aboard landed Sunday at Kennedy.
The carrier says it will save 18 gallons of fuel per flight on the six A320 aircraft it has equipped to date to fly into Kennedy runways 13L and 13R. Once it outfits its entire fleet, fuel savings of more than $1 million a year are expected for JetBlue alone.
The satellite technology -- known as Required Navigation Performance (RNP) -- is being adopted by several other carriers, but JetBlue is the first Federal Aviation Administration-certified carrier to fly into Kennedy Airport using the cockpit GPS software.
Captain Joe DeVito, JetBlue's flight standards compliance manager, said it enables shorter, quieter approaches as a pilot guides an aircraft on a steady, descending glide path. A conventional descent requires a plane's engines be on a higher power setting as it steps down, whereas the new system lets a pilot set aircraft engines at or near idle through the descent, making for a quieter approach.
Another upside: the technology's accuracy also allows a pilot to make a landing decision at a lower altitude closer to the runway than at present, minimizing the number of go-rounds especially in low-visibility conditions.
"When more airlines have the technology, it will improve flight times," said DeVito, 44, of South Setauket. "For communities under the JFK approach flight path, the new procedure means aircraft will expend less emissions and much less noise."
It also enables pilots flying the new trajectories to vary their course less, meaning whatever noise aircrafts do make will be concentrated over the same homes and villages beneath the flight path, critics note.
JetBlue began design and test work with the FAA in 2004 and all its more than 2,300 pilots are now trained and certified to fly the new procedures.
Port Authority Aviation director Susan M. Baer said it was exciting to have another piece of the FAA's "NextGen" technology in place. "This continues a grand tradition of introducing aviation innovations at JFK, and we applaud JetBlue and the Federal Aviation Administration for the work they've done," she said.
An FAA spokeswoman said the technology offered reduced fuel burn, carbon emissions and noise.
With Keith Herbert
This story has been changed to correctly reflect fuel savings for JetBlue, removing an incorrect price for aviation fuel.