Atlantic Airways is one of Europe's smallest flag carriers, yet its tiny size did not stop it from being the first commercial operator to introduce required navigation performance with authorization required 0.1 (RNP AR 0.1) tailored procedures with its Airbus A319 in Europe.

The design, validation and implementation of the satellite-based approach-and-takeoff system to the most accurate level of 0.1 of a nautical mile represented a major investment for Atlantic Airways, which carried just 208,000 passengers on scheduled flights to and from the Faroe Islands in 2012.

“When we embarked on the project two years ago, RNP AR 0.1 was uncharted ground in Europe. The European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] had set out guidelines in AMC 2026-2027, but nobody had used it yet. The Danish Civil Aviation Authority [DCAA] was not familiar with the technology,” says Joen Remmer, vice president of operations. The approval process was complex, but the DCAA was very committed to making it work, he adds.

Because the system was not used in Europe, Atlantic Airways sent a flight crew for line training with Air New Zealand, the first operator in the world to have its Airbus fleet approved for RNP AR navigation procedures, in November 2008.

Atlantic Airways' drive to adopt the technology lies in its aim to provide “the best and most reliable service possible to our island community of fewer than 50,000 people,” says Chief Executive Magni Arge. Attaining this is difficult due to the adverse weather conditions and mountainous topography of the rugged archipelago in the North Atlantic, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway. The approach to Vágar Airport—the airline's base and the islands' only airport—is over high ground in both runway directions, and the approaches from the northwest (used for about 40% of all approaches) require pilots to fly a non-linear approach path. An additional constraint in this direction of operation occurs when there is a strong wind from a southerly direction, causing rotor turbulence.

The airline studied various technologies to mitigate the impact of the challenging environment on its flight operations and concluded that the introduction of a narrowbody with the GPS-based navigation equipment would be the optimal solution. A narrowbody could be used because Vágar Airport's short, 1,250-meter (4,100-ft.) runway was extended to 5,847 ft. in 2011. Atlantic Airways selected the A319 powered by the higher-thrust (up 27,000 lb.) CFM 56-5B7/3 engines and fitted with a head-up cockpit display and the so-called Florence kit, enabling better braking. The aircraft, delivered in March 2012, has also been modified to facilitate the carriage of medical patients to and from Denmark.

Atlantic Airways worked with Airbus and the Airbus ProSky company Quovadis to develop a bespoke instrument-based approach-and-departure pattern for Vágar. “There would have been no benefit of introducing the A319 with the traditional aids. Quite the opposite,” asserts Director of Flight Operations Samal Danielsen. The airline received authorization from the DCAA in March 2012 for an evaluation period of six months, and final approval was obtained in November.

“The RNP AR 0.1 procedure has improved safety margins, lowered approach minina and supported fuel savings,” confirms Arge. Remmer says RNP reduced the average approach time into Vágar Airport to 10 from 16 min., with the conventional approach and track savings average approximately 16 nm. “This translates in a fuel economy of about 250 kg per approach,” Remmer says.

Service reliability has drastically improved. In the second half of 2012, 20 diversions were avoided and in July, 18 approaches were successful that would not have been with the manual approach with Atlantic's BAE Avro RJ aircraft. “The total investment in RNP AR 0.1 has already paid off due to the decrease of diversions,” says Remmer.

Cancellations or diversions due to the unfavorable weather can cause knock-on disruptions for days at a time, as the nearest alternates to Vágar Airport are in Iceland, Scotland or Norway. The airline incurs considerable costs for passenger care under the European Union's strict air passenger rights regulation 261/2004, which mandates compensation and/or assistance to passengers in case of cancellation or long flight delays.

Buoyed by the operational success of the RNP, Atlantic Airways has accelerated its fleet renewal and the phase-out of its British Aerospace fleet of two 146-200s, two RJ85s and one RJ100. “The four-engine BAE jetliners have served us well and their short-field performance and stability proved well-adapted to our very challenging operating environment. However, the range, cabin comfort levels and lower seat cost of the A319 opens up growth opportunities,” says Arge.

The airline launched seasonal scheduled flights from Vágar to Barcelona and Milan, and it is actively expanding its charter and wet-lease operations.

A second A319 retrofitted with the RNP AR 0.1 system joined in June and a third unit is expected in September. These two aircraft are on lease, while the first A319 is owned by Atlantic Airways.