FAA should work with users on navaid decommissioning plan

January 28, 2010

The scheduled decommissioning of many ground-based navaids starting this year puts GPS on course to supplant long-range navigation (loran) and VOR equipment in general aviation cockpits. AOPA is asking the FAA to work closely with users on a decommissioning strategy that aligns with the deployment of new technology and takes into account many pilots’ current use of VORs for navigation.

The Coast Guard’s scheduled decommissioning of the loran system by Oct. 1 will leave GA pilots with only VORs to serve as a backup to GPS. The FAA plans to phase out those navaids, too, starting with service reductions in 2010. AOPA is communicating directly with the FAA’s office of navigation services and providing input about the decommissionings as requested.

“AOPA appreciates the outreach by the Navigation Services Program office and their ongoing efforts to collaborate with AOPA and the user community,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization. “We are looking forward to continued discussion and being involved in helping the agency develop a plan that ensures the needs of airspace users.”

The 2008 Department of Transportation Federal Radionavigation Plan calls for gradually discontinuing service at VOR facilities as aviation users transition to satellite services, beginning with facilities where service is not needed or where satisfactory alternatives are available.

Williams told the director of navigation services in a letter Jan. 25 that there are several hurdles to clear before pilots can end their reliance on VORs: the regulatory requirement to carry VOR equipment unless equipped with Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS); the perception that VORs are the best way to comply with certain air traffic control clearances; and a lack of confidence in GPS, with the accompanying desire to remain equipped with VOR receivers as an electronic backup because the financial investment has already been made. The FAA should maintain a robust VOR network while working on a decommissioning strategy that will meet users’ needs, she added.

AOPA has long supported the use of GPS for navigation and surveillance but has warned against relying on the technology without a safety net in the event of an outage.