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Report Shows Benefits of 'Greener Skies' approaches at Sea-Tac Airport

Comprehensive 'Greener Skies over Seattle' report reveals significant environmental benefits
6/30/2015 10:17 a.m.

SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines is on track to save 87 gallons of fuel, shorten flight times by about nine minutes and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 1 metric ton, every time one of its planes land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport using new, operations-enhancing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) procedures. That's the equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide produced from driving about 1,800 miles in a passenger car, according to a new Boeing Company report . The benefits are about 28 percent greater than what was initially projected in 2010 .

Typically, large airports like Sea-Tac require planes landing on parallel runways to maintain either a 3-mile lateral or 1,000-foot vertical separation on approach into the airport until they are lined up with the runway. Since April, equipped and trained carriers, such as Alaska, can land at Sea-Tac with pinpoint precision with just half the lateral separation, before they are lined up with the runway. The key benefit of reduced separation is increased airspace efficiency.

"About 80 percent of the aircraft landing at Sea-Tac are equipped with avionics to use the Greener Skies approaches and can take advantage of the cost and environmental benefits of flying more efficiently," said Gary Beck, vice president of flight operations for Alaska Airlines. "This project is proof that when airlines partner with the FAA and air traffic controllers, airplane manufacturers and airports, great things can happen. What we've done here in Seattle is a blueprint for how our industry can help modernize the national airspace for future generations."

Implementing the final phase of the seven-year "Greener Skies Over Seattle" initiative allows an aircraft on West side approaches to Sea-Tac, and landing south, to fly the most environmentally friendly track over Elliott Bay. These aircraft can fly the approach procedure to the runway concurrently with another aircraft on the parallel runway in both high and low visibility conditions alike. Alaska estimates the new flying is saving the airline about $200 in fuel per flight.

If all equipped airlines at Sea-Tac used the Greener Skies procedures on all flights from the southwest landing south, it would cut fuel consumption by 2.7 million gallons a year and reduce carbon emissions by 25,600 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 5,400 cars of the road each year. As the use of the procedures increase, so do the environmental benefits.

"The Port of Seattle is glad to be a partner in this effort to reduce the environmental footprint of our airport and create increased efficiencies for current flight corridors that benefit operations and surrounding communities," said Mike Ehl, Sea-Tac Airport director of operations and customer service. "Whenever we consider airport improvements our goal is to be the most energy efficient we can be."

The procedures implemented in Seattle can also be used at certain U.S. airports that have comparable runway configurations, including Portland International Airport.

Typically, commercial aircraft follow a series of stair-step descents and a lengthy approach pattern before landing. With "Greener Skies," airlines use satellite technology and a continuous descent to go from cruising altitude to the airport runway, along a shorter flight path, at low power, which also reduces travel time.

"Flying more precise approach procedures will help Alaska Airlines and others achieve greater operational efficiency, by reducing fuel consumption, flight times and emissions," said Julie Felgar, Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing directorý of environmental strategy and integration. "The Greener Skies initiative is leading the way to establish environmentally progressive procedures for the next generation of flight."

The "Greener Skies" procedures are part of the FAA's Next Generation Air Transportation System, replacing legacy ground-based equipment with satellite-based technology and aircraft navigation capabilities.

"The NextGen procedures that we're implementing nationwide and here in the Seattle area are helping to create a better environment while improving safety and efficiency," said FAA Northwest Mountain Regional Administrator Kathryn Vernon. "By reducing fuel burn, they're helping to reduce greenhouse gases while providing benefits to everyone who uses the airspace system - from airlines and general aviation operators to tourists, business travelers and cargo shippers."

Alaska Airlines pioneered the technology being used in the "Greener Skies" initiative in the mid-1990s to help its planes land at some of the world's most remote and geographically challenging airports in the state of Alaska. Required Navigation Performance, or RNP, provides precise runway paths by using a combination of onboard navigation technology and the GPS satellite network. It improves safety and reliability in all weather, and reduces reliance on ground-based navigation aids. Alaska Airlines currently uses RNP procedures at 30 U.S. airports.

In addition to Seattle, Alaska and its sister airline, Horizon, are working with the FAA to increase use of similar procedures in Portland, Oregon, where RNP is helping equipped carriers fly more direct routes that burn less fuel, and reduce overhead noise and travel time. On a typical day, NextGen procedures are saving Alaska Airlines 45 gallons of fuel per flight, or the CO2 savings equivalent to driving 950 miles a passenger vehicle.

In addition to using NextGen procedures at airports in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska is leading the industry in environmental responsibility and its investments are paying off. Alaska has been ranked highest for fuel efficiency four years in a row among major North American airlines by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Alaska has set an ambitious goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2020 (on a per passenger mile basis). Learn more about these initiatives at http://www.alaskaair.com/sustainability .

Editor's note: An infographic illustrating the benefits of the new procedure is available at alaskaair.com/newsroom

About Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK), together with its partner regional airlines, serves more than 100 cities through an expansive network in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Alaska Airlines ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Traditional Carriers in North America" in the J.D. Power North American Airline Satisfaction Study for eight consecutive years from 2008 to 2015. Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan also ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Airline Loyalty Rewards Programs" in the J.D. Power 2014 and 2015 Airline Loyalty/Rewards Program Satisfaction Report. For reservations, visit www.alaskaair.com. For more news and information, visit the Alaska Airlines Newsroom at www.alaskaair.com/newsroom.