The FAA has received investment approval for the first phase of its plan to decommission lesser-used VORs and has announced a list of the first 35 VORs to be cut as part of a plan to create a minimum operational network (MON) that will serve as a backup to ensure aircraft can land safely in the event of a widespread satellite navigation outage.
The list of VORs slated for decommissioning includes some sites that will be among 74 VORs set to be removed from service in the next five years during the first phase of the project. Others on the list won’t be decommissioned until the second phase, which is set to begin in 2020 and will involve decommissioning another 234 VORs over a five-year period.
AOPA has been actively engaged in the process since 2011 when the FAA first announced plans to begin taking VORs out of service. Initial proposals involved decommissioning approximately 500 VORs. But, as a member of several task force groups considering the plan, AOPA consistently argued to keep a larger network of active VORs in place and to spread the decommissioning process over a longer period of time.
As a result, the number of VORs to be decommissioned was reduced to 308 and the number of “safe landing airports”—those within 100 nautical miles of an airport with a VOR or ILS instrument approach procedure that does not require GPS, radar coverage, DME, or ADF—was increased from 145 to 189.
“We wanted to be sure that the process of setting up a minimum operational network could be done in a way that would ensure safety and give pilots adequate time to make the transition,” said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic. “We’ve worked closely with the FAA to make sure the real-world needs of general aviation pilots were considered and we’ll continue to be engaged as the process moves forward.”
The FAA currently owns and operates 957 VORs in the continental United States. An additional 100 nonfederal VORs are in operation around the country, but are not part of the effort to create a minimum operational network. The minimum operational network program will leave two-thirds of the federal network in place. Included in the list of VORs to be decommissioned are 12 VORs, 155 VOR/DMEs, and 141 vortacs. The majority are located in the eastern and central regions of the United States. In the case of VOR/DMEs and vortacs, the DME and TACAN portions of the units will be left in place to facilitate RNAV requirements.
The safe landing airports, also called minimum operational network airports, were selected for their geographical locations and the available instrument approaches. Together, the airports have 340 VOR and ILS approach procedures for runways as short as 4,000 feet and as long as almost 15,000 feet. The VORs that make up the minimum operational network will have a service volume of 77 nautical miles at 5,000 feet agl, but will need to be flight checked.
The removal process has already begun for some VORs, with the first cancellation expected in June 2016. The FAA is also planning to place a notice in the Federal Register in early 2016 that will list all 308 VORs proposed for decommissioning and allow public comments. By the time the minimum operational network is complete, approximately 950 VOR instrument approach procedures will be canceled, and the FAA will need to make approximately 7,700 chart revisions to reflect the changes over the next 10 years.
“The FAA and others will need to coordinate carefully to ensure that this process is completed safely in ways that won’t have negative effects on aircraft operations,” said Duke. “And though the process may be challenging, eliminating some of these conventional navaids will free up resources for the FAA to invest in performance-based navigation procedures that are not only less costly to maintain but also provide pilots with greater efficiency, accuracy, and flexibility.”