AOPA has urged the FAA to adopt changes in airport design criteria that would promote the increased use of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) at general aviation airports in the United States. That's only fair, considering the FAA has been pushing the GA pilot community to equip their aircraft with this technology to show there are enough users to support the system.
"Modifying design criteria for GA airports is a critical step that the FAA must undertake immediately," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "It's a Catch-22: The FAA has invested more than a billion dollars in developing WAAS, yet at the same time its outdated airport rules are preventing pilots from reaping the benefits."
Just last year at AOPA Expo in Long Beach, California, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey promoted the technology that could enable every runway to have vertically guided approaches:
"The Wide Area Augmentation System is here, and I'm encouraging you to be a part of the new wave." Blakey later said, "It's a good investment and an investment in safety. It's also a critical investment if WAAS is going to pay off for the GA community. Because if you are slow to equip, there will be folks who will say there aren't enough users in the system and push to move the money away from developing and maintaining procedures for all those airports..."
But how can the pilots who have upgraded to this satellite-based augmentation system use it if it's not available at most GA airports?
Current regulations are designed for air carrier airports, which in turn prohibit precision instrument approaches into many GA airports where it is virtually impossible to meet those standards. For example, in order to have precision approaches, Frederick Municipal Airport at AOPA headquarters in Maryland is required to have the same size runway protection zone as Chicago O' Hare. AOPA says the runway protection zone should fit the type of aircraft operating at each airport.
The regulations also require full-length parallel taxiways and a runway width of at least 60 feet, among other things.
However, as AOPA pointed out, these requirements don't enhance the safety of WAAS implementation at GA airports - they only prevent the technology from being used at many of them. AOPA urged the FAA to seek alternatives to full-length taxiways that can increase the level of safety for WAAS during LPV approaches, which provide localizer performance with vertical guidance.
The association recommended that the FAA make accommodations to allow runways that are narrower than 60 feet to still offer these approaches.
AOPA also said the FAA should focus on long-term airport planning by designating Airport Improvement Program funding for WAAS approaches and related infrastructure revisions and enhancements.
September 1, 2005