Southwest Revamps with New Satellite Navigation

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Southwest Airlines will make a bold move into the future of flight navigation next week. On April 6, the Dallas-based airline will begin installing new satellite-guided navigation systems in two-thirds of its cockpits, allowing for shorter flights and smoother landings.

With the new navigation systems in place, Southwest will be able to fly more precise, curved routes -- known as Required Navigation Performance (RNP) routes -- to certain destinations, shaving minutes off of airtime and enabling smoother descents. The cockpit upgrade comes at a cost of $175 million, after three years of preparation and retraining of 6,000 pilots, reports the Wall Street Journal. The airline hopes to recoup its investment by the money saved on fuel alone.

The move puts Southwest on the fast track into the good graces of the FAA, which has been pushing airlines to modernize their navigation systems since satellite-guided RNP routes are narrower and would reduce congestion problems at busy airports. Only a small number of airports have RNP procedures currently in place, but another 20 Southwest destinations will have the RNP procedures instated by the end of this year, which should mean swifter landings and fewer delays for Southwest passengers.

The satellite-guided navigation systems are not entirely new to the world of commercial air travel. Alaska Airlines, which pioneered the technology, has been flying satellite-guided routes since early 2009. Starting next year, in addition to the new navigation systems, the older Southwest aircrafts will be outfitted with new electronic cockpits, replacing the analog gauge panels of yesteryear with multi-function displays.
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