Wind turbines cause safety, access concerns for airports

May 10, 2012

The adverse effects of 52 wind turbines on the Kessel VOR-DME in West Virginia do not justify decommissioning the navaid and weakening the area’s aviation infrastructure, AOPA said.

The association is urging pilots to comment by May 28 on an FAA study that is weighing a shutdown of the Kessel VOR-DME. The FAA granted AOPA’s request for a two-week extension of the comment period. The navaid serves seven airports; supports numerous instrument approaches, preferred routes, and en route navigation; and provides two-way communications services in the area of western Maryland’s Greater Cumberland Regional Airport.

The start of construction of the wind turbines, about seven miles away from the navaid site, gave rise to the FAA study.

AOPA reminded the FAA that it is critical that the agency protect the nation’s infrastructure and preserve safety and access to regional airports. 

To preserve existing navaid functionality, the FAA must decide whether to engage in a so-called dopplerization upgrade of the VOR, or decommission it, the agency said in this notice.

AOPA cited the “significant” impact of decommissioning in formal comments opposing the shutdown proposal. The association recommended as an alternative that the wind-turbine developers—as the parties responsible for reducing the navaid’s capabilities—be required to fund the dopplerization upgrade.

Replacing the VOR-DME with GPS waypoints would not restore all functions provided by the navaid, said Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of airspace and modernization. But losing the navaid’s communications capabilities could result in loss of all pilot access to weather information at some airports served by the navaid.

Another hardship may confront aircraft that rely on ground-based navaids for instrument procedures, because those aircraft may not be outfitted with IFR-capable GPS equipment that the FAA might seek to substitute for a decommissioned navaid.

“While the region and the FAA are looking to invest nearly $58 million in airport improvements, we must be assured that there is no loss of access or critical infrastructure that would diminish that investment,” Kramer said.

Members are urged to review the proposed action and submit comments to the FAA by May 28. Please also share your comments with AOPA.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.