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FAA resource gives pilots a voice on instrument proceduresFAA resource gives pilots a voice on instrument procedures

One of the FAA’s most daunting tasks in bringing about a GPS-based instrument approach infrastructure is reducing the inventory of legacy procedures that don’t get enough use to warrant being kept usable with periodic flight checks and navaid maintenance.

The Federal Aviation Administration is one of the many government agencies that have influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

Culling out underutilized instrument approach procedures isn’t as easy as counting operations and canceling the IAPs that don’t measure up: At some airports, those IAPs still meet a useful, if not easily quantifiable, safety or economic need.

In those circumstances it takes an informed local pilot community to communicate the procedure’s relevance to the FAA as the agency pursues the continuing project to cut back on legacy IAPs in the NextGen era.

To help pilots send that message, AOPA has encouraged pilots to sign up on the FAA’s Instrument Flight Procedures Information Gateway to receive notifications about possible local changes to published procedures at their home airports, and has published this fact sheet on the issue.

Here’s the big picture: There are about 20,000 instrument flight procedures in the FAA’s current inventory, a figure representing a tripling of active IFPs since the year 2000, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.

The FAA estimates that 20 percent to 30 percent of those 20,000 IFPs “provide no additional benefit” to the airspace system. Meanwhile, maintaining them is costly and impedes progress toward the NextGen program’s transition to performance-based navigation (PBN) with its capability to provide straight-in instrument approaches to many additional runways.

IFPs are reviewed every two years, for which the FAA publishes a timetable such as this one issued for 2017. Designing and implementing a new approach takes about two years, in part because the agency’s workload includes addressing a considerable backlog of requests, he said.

The FAA and the aviation industry have worked together to develop criteria for retiring little-used procedures, using a process requiring public notice, a public-comment period, and a timetable for following up on the results.

In October, AOPA reported that the FAA had published a notice seeking comments on criteria for canceling numerous legacy circling approaches—a sizable portion of what the FAA referred to as an  “unsupportable” inventory of IAPs. The final criteria are expected by next June, Duke said. Cancellation criteria also are being jointly developed for other approaches, such as those based on radar.

In all such proceedings, AOPA has noted strong support for the transition to PBN and the importance of making sure general aviation pilots have a voice in the effort—a point it reiterated in formal comments submitted in October on the National Procedures Assessment Initiative’s proposals for approach-cancellation criteria.

However, IFP retirement policies “cannot account for all factors, so there are still cases where exceptions need to be made,” Duke said.

“AOPA believes the retirement policies should consider the various operational scenarios pilots must deal with in the real world,” Duke said. “Pilots need operational flexibility and continued airport access.”

To ensure that those cases get the attention they deserve, AOPA is advocating for the FAA to publish notifications in the IFP Gateway alerting airport users to possible procedure cancellations—giving them an opportunity to submit comments during the reviews.

The IFP Gateway’s role in making the procedure-retirement process both efficient and effective makes it crucial for pilots to make use of the gateway’s resources to stay informed and participate in the transition to the future air navigation system, he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, NextGen, ATC

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