New GPS Tracking System Changes How Airline Pilots Fly

What’s a minute worth to you? To Southwest Airlines, it’s worth over a million dollars. According to FAA-TV in Dallas, this year Southwest Airlines is spending over $175 million on GPS navigation system updates to make its fleet of jets fly more precisely, saving the airline both time and and money. This all new GPS tracking system technology is making flying cheaper, easier and safer for all.

Southwest pilot Kent Perry said the changes are based on the same global positioning satellite (GPS) technology you might be using in your car, only more sophisticated. Now the landing points can be programmed into the plane’s computer before takeoff. Because of precise GPS data, the plane “knows” its position and altitude at all times. I’m not touching the throttles or the yoke,” Perry says as we “fly” over the lights of Chicago. “I’m basically running it with this panel up here.” The plane uses the information to approach the runway, and Perry takes over just before touchdown.

“If we save one minute off each flight — which doesn’t sound like a lot — we win,” said Newton, who’s been in charge of making the transition at Southwest. “We have 3,000 flights a day. You start adding all that up and it’s a significant amount of time in the air and gas used. Environmentally it’s better for everybody.”

“We’re changing the way Southwest Airlines flies,” said C. David Newton, Southwest pilot and program manager. “We’re modifying airplanes. We’re training crews. We’re building infrastructure.”

The flight is smoother. Air traffic controllers know exactly where aircraft are at all times, instead of having to wait for the relatively slow radar systems of the past.That means aircraft can use more direct routes and can fly closer together.