September 4, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
The second phase of a radar-enhancement program to expand air traffic control services in mountainous regions has increased coverage at three western Colorado airports.
Under Phase II of the Colorado Mountain Surveillance Project—a partnership of the Colorado Division of Aeronautics, the FAA, and state airports—the technology known as wide-area multilateration (WAM) combines GPS, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), and a network of sensors on the ground to provide radar-like air traffic control capabilities at Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional, Telluride Regional, and Durango-La Plata County airports.
AOPA has long advocated for technologies to be developed as a priority under the FAA’s NextGen modernization program to provide and enhance access to airports in non-radar environments.
"Prior to implementation of the new WAM technology, tracking of flights at these airports was very limited via traditional radar, and was not possible at altitudes below 17,000 feet. As a result there were frequent flight delays and diversions, especially during bad weather," said the Colorado Aeronautics Division in a news release.
WAM will help controllers at the FAA’s Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center track and separate flights at the mountain airports.
Aircraft require no new or special equipment to receive service under WAM. The three airports now receiving the service join a system previously activated at airports in Montrose, Rifle/Garfield County, Craig, Steamboat Springs, and Hayden.
"This is great news for aviation safety in Colorado," said Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director Don Hunt. "This completed system will help deliver more on-time flights, reduce fuel consumption, and will help boost tourism and economic development."
WAM is "consistent with the goals of Gov. (John) Hickenlooper and CDOT to deliver the most efficient and safest transportation system for Colorado," he said.
Colorado’s program "is an excellent example of efficiencies gained when state aeronautics agencies work with the FAA to implement technology," said David Ulane, AOPA’s Northwest/Mountain regional manager. "Colorado’s expertise with mountainous airports and airspace, combined with FAA’s WAM technology, can improve airport capacity and safety of flight in the high country."
WAM service has also been operating in Juneau, Alaska, since 2010.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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