Satellite-Guided Airport Landing Trials

June 2012 sees the start of an innovative new airport landing trial programme at Seattle-Tacoma International.

Spearheaded by Alaska Airlines, it involves advanced satellite technology and it's designed to enable airliners to carry out more fuel-efficient and timely landings.

For over 70 years, radar navigation has been a feature of air travel and it's allowed ATC workers to plot the state of the skies, around an airport, on a regularly-updated basis. These updates, though, occur at a rate of ten per minute, whereas the satellite-based system works constantly.

Once in place at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it'll permit aircraft approaches to be made at a constant angle of descent, rather than the staggered path followed at present.

Satellite Landing Trials
The technology behind the Alaska Airlines' satellite landing trials isn't brand new but it will be making its debut outside Alaska and, to boot, will be used at a major airport for the first time.

Data published by the US FAA highlights the impact that the introduction of satellite-guided airport landings could have. Over the coming 20 years, it says, there'll be a twofold increase in the number of US-based airliners and, by 2024, annual US domestic passenger levels will hit the one billion mark.

It's the largest airports that are expected to bear the brunt of these increases, although the majority are already operating at near-maximum capacity. However, with satellite-guided landing systems in place, airports could ramp up this capacity ceiling without having to lay down additional runways and taxiways, since there'd be more hourly aircraft takeoffs and landings.

Satellite-Guided Landings
There'll also be potential fuel savings for airlines and, drawing on the example of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the FAA highlights how significant these could be. If equipped with the satellite-guided landing system, Hartsfield-Jackson would be able to launch ten additional takeoffs every single hour. It would also give, to all the carriers that use it, a combined annual fuel reduction of almost three million gallons.

The Alaska Airlines sat-guided landing system's been in operation in Alaska for over 15 years and while that's come at cost, the savings produced have offset this to a large extent.

Airport International will revisit the sat-enabled airport landing technology trials in future News coverage.