More than One Way to the Runway

Approach and landing technology seeks to increase safety, efficiency and capacity

November 01, 2016 in Commercial

Late one August evening, a Delta 737 and a United 737 approaching San Francisco International Airport flew several unique landing patterns — all aimed at reducing flight delays, saving fuel and lowering noise and carbon emissions levels at major airports.

Designed by Boeing and subsidiary Jeppesen, the tests were carried out because current approaches and landings at airports in the United States commonly use Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) — technology developed in the 1950s that provide a signal at only one end of the runway.

New technology combines airplane avionics with Global Navigation Satellite Landing System technology, or GLS, offering the ability to design multiple, all-weather approaches to each airport runway with the flexibility to perform shorter, curved approaches.

In the future, fewer flights might be diverted or canceled when visibility is low or conditions require use of a different landing runway, according to those who conducted the tests.

“While having GLS capability at major U.S. airports may be some years off, Boeing is looking at using the technology already on our airplanes to help airlines and passengers get to their destination more efficiently,” said Bill Peterson, lead engineer for Global Navigation Satellite Landing Systems in Commercial Airplanes Product Development.

“This airline demonstration highlighted the potential of this technology,” he said.

Boeing airplanes are now equipped with Required Navigation Performance avionics, which use GPS satellite signals to fly extremely precise flight paths. When these avionics are combined with GLS technology, multiple approaches to a runway can be designed for landing in bad weather.

Community noise could be lowered because procedures can be designed to fly more of the arrival over water or unpopulated areas, and less over homes, Peterson said.

“[Required Navigation Performance] and GLS provide an opportunity to utilize modern technology already present on Boeing airplanes” to increase safety, efficiency and capacity at airports in the future, he added.