FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told pilots at AOPA Expo's opening general session on Thursday to use the new Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) or risk losing it. It provides vertical guidance during approaches. If GA pilots are slow to equip their aircraft with WAAS-capable GPS units, funds meant for WAAS development might instead be switched to other areas of the strained FAA budget, she warned.
There are now 300 runways in the country where WAAS approaches are available down to 350 feet, and 39 where approaches are available down to 250 feet: 10 of those have no ILS approaches. Both Garmin International and Chelton Flight Systems now offer WAAS-capable receivers, although Chelton uses a different system for providing vertical information.
AOPA President Phil Boyer first flew a WAAS approach October 7 using a Garmin 480 GPS receiver and sent an e-mail praising the system to Blakey, who read it as part of her speech. The WAAS system will be available for most of the continental United States and much of Alaska. The system results in a savings for the FAA because ILS equipment would not have to be installed or maintained. The FAA plans to certify 300 approaches a year at 4,500 qualified runways. Blakey said that if WAAS is to pay off, it is critical that there be a robust aviation community using it.
In other remarks, Blakey prepared the pilot community for the upcoming contract award in January 2005, allowing private industry or a government group to operate the flight service station system, excluding Alaska. There will continue to be no fees to pilots for briefings once the competition for managing the flight service stations is completed.
There are five bidders for the flight service stations: a group consisting of the FAA's own employees in partnership with Harris Corporation; Lockheed Martin; Computer Sciences Corporation; Northrop Grumman; and Raytheon. Blakey warned that the taxpayers can't afford to continue to operate the flight service stations. She said it costs the FAA $25 each time a briefer picks up a phone call. Savings from the move are expected to be $500 million over seven years, she said.
Blakey also reiterated her opposition to user fees for providing air traffic services to pilots.
Runway incursions continue to be a high priority for the FAA. Blakey praised efforts by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation and its online interactive runway safety course for helping reduce accidents. However, all of the 14 more serious incidents this year were caused by GA pilots, she said. Despite the concerns, she said U.S. runways are "...a very safe place to be."
October 21, 2004