AOPA opposes FAA radar tower that doesn't benefit pilots

June 21, 2006

AOPA opposes FAA radar tower that doesn't benefit pilots

It's the old story about the right hand, the left hand, and mutual knowledge. It will come as no great surprise to many AOPA members that when it comes to the FAA, the hands sometimes don't communicate.

Consider this: While one FAA hand is finally coming up with new regulations to provide better airspace protection for general aviation airports, the other hand is about to make things a little worse at AOPA's home airport of Frederick Municipal in Maryland.

AOPA is opposed to that, of course, as it would be if it were happening at any GA airport. And Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who represents the Frederick area, wrote FAA Administrator Blakey opposing the tower as well.

"AOPA recommends that the FAA take action to protect both the visual and instrument operations at Frederick Municipal by ensuring the tower height is lowered to at least 32 feet agl so as not to be considered a hazard to air navigation," the association said in its opposition letter.

What's happening is that the FAA wants to build a 122-foot-tall radar tower on a ridgeline just 100 feet off the extended centerline for Frederick's Runway 12. One part of the agency already says that would be a "hazard to air navigation," which would affect traffic pattern operations and some instrument operations. Also, it would probably prevent adding a needed LPV instrument approach to Runway 30.

Now also consider that Frederick Municipal is the second busiest airport in Maryland and one of the most important reliever airports for the Washington, D.C., area.

But on an IFR day, traffic barely trickles in and out of the airport. That's because there's no radar coverage at the airport, so controllers have to carefully meter traffic - an aircraft can't begin the approach until the preceding aircraft has radioed in its IFR cancellation, letting the controller know the landing was successful. And departing IFR aircraft are sometimes held waiting for release for a long time.

Radar coverage down to the airport would make a huge difference, but "the proposed radar will have no benefits for pilots," one FAA official told AOPA. The radar won't be tied into Potomac Tracon's air traffic control functions.

What is it for? Well, Frederick is just outside the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and close to the President's Camp David retreat. Certain agencies like to keep a very close eye on aircraft getting close to (or inadvertently entering) that airspace.

June 21, 2006