FAA will not decommission airport navigation device

Mon, 07/15/2013 - 3:12pm

After reviewing public input, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided not to remove a navigation device at the Block Island Airport.

In February, the FAA said it was considering decommissioning the navigation unit, known as Sandy Point VOR/DME.

At that time, the FAA also cited concerns that the proposed Deepwater Wind project would “have a significant impact to the related signal” of the device. There are five turbines proposed for the Block Island Wind Farm.

But the FAA, in the most recent memorandum dated June 24, said that “it would not be prudent, nor in the best interest of the [National Airspace System] to decommission the Sandy Point VOR/DME at this time.”

The memorandum said, “After consideration and review of the responses gathered from the interested parties, a determination of objection is made with strong recommendation to convert the VOR/DME to Doppler. The Sandy Point VOR/DME is extremely utilized, in good working condition, as well as being structurally sound.”

Dopplerization would involve upgrading the VORs radio signal to a specialized Doppler radar technology, which is what Deepwater has offered to pay for.

This week, Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski said that the company had been in contact and had “initial conversations” with the FAA about paying for the Doppler. “It would be our responsibility to pay for the dopplerization,” he said.  “We have begun discussion about how to go about putting in place an agreement for the upgrade.”

The Sandy Point VOR is located just south of the runway at the Block Island Airport. It is cone-shaped and transmits radio signals that are received by an airplane’s radio system and helps pilots determine their position to land safely.

The memorandum states that the VOR “supports 13 airports and was identified as a candidate for decommissioning by the FAA.”

The FAA said it received numerous comments from the public about the potential decommissioning.

One of the public comments listed in the FAA memorandum is: “In the summer months the Block Island Airport (KBID) is the busiest airport between [John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York] and [Logan International Airport in Boston] and removing the SEY VOR will make a dangerous airport even worse. Changing weather conditions occur with rapidly declining ceilings and visibility. Un-forecasted fog rolls into the area creating a precarious situation for a relatively small runway and aircraft pushing the weather envelope.”

In addition, other comments from the public included the fact that the VOR is used for training purposes by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army, and the Air National Guard. According to the FAA, the public also said that losing the VOR would “limit general aviation access to” the Block Island Airport.

Local pilot Henry duPont, along with the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the town of New Shoreham, opposed the move to decommission the device.

“It’s exciting that we got what we requested,” said duPont. “Four of the 10 reasons that they [the FAA] gave not to decommission were taken word for word from our letter. I’d like to thank the Town Council and the aviation community for writing letters. I give them a lot of credit.”

The FAA also received input from Air Traffic facilities, which said that removing the navigational device would require amending procedures, airways, intersections and holding patterns. Air Traffic facilities also said that many aircrafts that fly using the VOR “are, as of yet, not equipped to fly advanced navigation routings.” Some of these aircraft include volunteer organizations that benefit the Block Island community, said Air Traffic facilities.

The FAA added in the memo, “It is understood by all parties that this [navigational aid] may be re-submitted for decommissioning consideration at a later date provided that GNSS [satellite navigation] structural changes have been made and are in place prior to re-submission.”