Qantas 737-800 at Queenstown: Wikipedia Commons

Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s ‘fun’ airports when it comes to medium sized jets because its surrounded by mountains and hills, which you see close up as your flight follows some scenic approach and departure paths past them.

These are kept safe and reliable by a procedure called RNP or required navigation performance which is used to reduce noise and emissions at some airports and avoid the hills at places like this South Island centre for skiing and leisure travellers.

But those flights paths, while as interesting as ever, have now been ‘redesigned’ so that up to 12 aircraft an hour can arrive or depart from  Queenstown instead of five.

GE Aviation and New Zealand air navigation service provider Airways New Zealand have completed the redesign of the Queenstown airspace that more than doubles hourly airport capacity. The cornerstone of the project is the new Required Navigation Performance (RNP) flight paths that enable concurrent arrivals and departures at the airport.

“More than a million people a year fly into Queenstown —the airport has seen a 30% rise in passenger numbers over the past three years alone,” said Giovanni Spitale, general manager of Flight Efficiency Services for GE Aviation. “Airways needed to redesign the airspace to support safety initiatives while greatly improving efficiency in the terrain rich environment where no full-service radar is available.”

The accuracy of the RNP paths allows air traffic control to confidently manage up to 12 aircraft per hour, compared to five with previous procedures. Controllers can now to monitor arrivals and departures as opposed to continuously providing tactical separation.

“We engaged a wide group of stakeholders during the project to ensure we were able to simplify controllers’ workload, deploy consistent and predictable flight paths, better utilize the airspace and increase take-off payloads where possible,” said Ed Sims, CEO of Airways New Zealand. “The new RNP departure procedure enables an increased take-off weight on runway 05 of approximately 1,700 kgs.”

There are some You Tubes that cover the Queenstown RNP approaches well.

This first one of a Qantas 737-800 landing was made from a ski slope, and you actually lose sight of the jet against the mountainside before it lands. But it puts the approach into perspective, including the change of direction in which the flight turns directly toward a mountain side after having descended into the Queenstown area and then turning back toward the landing strip.



The next video is taken mainly looking forward from the cockpit of an A320, either flown by Air NZ or Jetstar.



In the last video, from the cockpit of a Jetstar A320, there are additional pan shots of the side views of the approach, giving a better indication of the terrain that confines it.



It’s almost as much ‘fun’ as the old Mt Cook Airlines DC-3s and HS 748s that used to fly to a strip near the Mt Cook Village and descend down the full length of Tasman Glacier on the approach, for which no video record was found.

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