At bustling traffic hubs like O'Hare International, planes can spend an interminably long time waiting for their turn to land. And at airports like Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International, pilots must contend with tight flight paths to avoid crowded population centers and hills on their final approach. But thanks to a new hyper-accurate GPS-based tracking system, airliners will no longer have to contend with land-locked navigation beacons and overworked control towers.
The technology is known as Required Navigation Performance (RNP). Rather than the Eisenhower-era traffic management systems and land-based radio navigation beacons we've been using, RNP utilizes GPS satellite navigation to track planes with an accuracy of 32 feet and within 10 seconds of their arrival. It also demands that the planes fly along specific three-dimensional flight paths (as seen in the above GIF), resulting in a more efficient flight path for the plane, shorter flight times for travelers, reduced fuel costs for the airlines, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Everybody wins.
RNP is more a system than any one specific piece of technology. Developed by GE Aviation, it combines software, hardware, and procedure very similar to what's known as area navigation (RNAV, which differs in that it doesn't require on-board performance monitoring and alerting should the pilot screw up and fly outside the lines) to ensure that all aircraft operating within a specific airspace are doing so within bounds at least 95 percent of the time. This allows air traffic controllers to develop specific landing approaches that avoid noise-sensitive areas and geographical obstacles.
Depending on the specific topological conditions, the level of tolerance an RNP allows can vary. For example if an area has an RNP of 10, such as over oceans, all aircraft operating within that space must be able to calculate their positions within a 10 nautical mile radius. An RNP of .1, as is the case in Rio de Janiero, means they have to resolve within a tenth of a nautical mile.
Now if only there were something we could do about the glue-sniffers running the control towers. [GE Reports 1, 2, 3 - Wikipedia - FAA - Jeppesen - AEA - Top Image: GE Tumblr - Before-After: LAN Airlines - Glue: Airplane]