Friday, August 20, 2004

Airport needs pilots? aid

Pressure grows on FAA to approve weather navigational system

Express Staff Writer

With the prospect of another winter without a weather landing system at Friedman Memorial Airport, business and government officials are asking for congressional pressure on the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly approve the navigational aid.

Airport manager Rick Baird said he welcomes any help the airport can get.

A Transponder Landing System, a less expensive relative of the more sophisticated and costlier Instrument Landing System, has been installed at Friedman since last fall.

But the FAA has yet to fully test and certify the TLS for use.

Members of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitor Bureau?s Blaine County Air Transportation Advisory Group met with two of Idaho?s congressional delegation, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, as well as staff members of Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Butch Otter, seeking help.

The group estimated that as many as 30 percent of the flights of Horizon and Skywest airlines are cancelled or diverted because of marginal winter weather.

The groups?s chairman, Hailey City Councilman Rick Davis, criticized the FAA?s inaction, saying the community was ?frustrated? by the testing and certification delay.

A spokesman for the FAA?s Northwest region office, Allen Kenitzer, said Thursday that Idaho?s congressional delegation would be briefed on the delay today. He said that the FAA had been ?testing and validating the (TLS) technology? but setbacks with software had caused some of the delay.

?These things take time,? Kenitzer told the Express.

TLSs have been installed at two airports other than Friedman--Moscow-Pullman in northern Idaho and Rhinelander Airport in Wisconsin.

The technology allows pilots to contact an airport?s control tower, obtain a code for the aircraft?s on-board transponder, then activate a cockpit instrument whose horizontal and vertical needles lead the aircraft to the runway in the proper direction and descent rate.

However, because of nearby mountainous terrain, Friedman has asked the FAA for an exemption to the standard offset that allows pilots to deviate 3 degrees from the TLS runway centerline.

Friedman wants a 10-degree offset to the west to create a wider clearance from terrain on the east. Despite the offset, the TLS would guide aircraft to the runway at an angle.

The Hailey airport is one of the country?s most challenging commercial airports. Not only does it have high terrain east and west of the approach zone and a full city population on its northern boundary, it has only a single northwest-southeast runway.

Most aircraft are landed by flying north over Bellevue to Hailey. Most takeoffs are made toward the south. Throw in low ceilings and reduced visibility and the airport?s need for the TLS becomes critical.

The Friedman TLS cost about $1 million. The airport also is planning to install a combined Automated Terminal Information System (ATIS) and Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) to provide pilots with frequently updated voice data to eliminate control tower personnel repeating the data verbally over and over.

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