Celebrating a satellite milestone

June 6, 2013

In 10 years since the first instrument approaches utilizing Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) GPS technology, access to airports in instrument meteorological conditions—particularly smaller airports where ILS is not available—has increased dramatically. As of May 30, the FAA published 3,123 approaches that enable lower minima using localizer performance with vertical guidance (LPV), and localizer performance (LP) guidance available to aircraft with WAAS GPS, and adoption of that technology in the general aviation fleet also continues apace. The FAA is now adding about 500 LPV procedures each year, giving pilots in the cockpit both lateral guidance and a glideslope that is indistinguishable from the pilot’s perspective from ILS, though LPV approaches remain, technically, nonprecision approaches.

The 10-year anniversary of WAAS implementation was celebrated, albeit a little early, at the RTCA 2013 Global Aviation Symposium June 5 and 6 in Washington, D.C. An FAA spokesman said the first WAAS approach was commissioned July 10, 2003.

"Establishing WAAS approaches is a cost-effective way to make airports safer, more accessible, and more useful, and that's a good investment," said AOPA President Craig Fuller. "The thousands of approaches now in use have made general aviation more efficient and reliable than ever before and we hope the FAA will make certifying new approaches a priority."

For pilots still waiting for a WAAS approach at their home airport, the process is more complex than some may realize. There are several steps, including assessment, design, and testing required before any approach can be published, and the FAA is also taking care to ensure safety is not compromised by rushing the process, the spokesman said. Overall, the agency is pleased with progress made to date, noting there are now twice as many airports with published WAAS procedures as ILS-equipped airports nationwide, and that disparity will only increase. The net effect for GA pilots (with instrument ratings and WAAS GPS) is to make flying possible on days when weather would have forced a cancellation or diversion in the past.