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How not to buy the wrong AWOS or navaidHow not to buy the wrong AWOS or navaid

Airports that don’t qualify to have a federally owned automated weather observing system (AWOS) or navigation aid installed at the field can still provide the services, if they can take on the cost of buying and maintaining a non-federal system.

But there are pitfalls, so the FAA is urging airport operators to avoid some costly mistakes by reviewing a newly released guidance publication before taking a potentially perilous plunge into system ownership.

With budget limits in mind, the FAA holds airports to cost-benefit criteria when deciding where to install a new federally funded automated system.

“Nonetheless, any airport can buy a non-Federal navaid or AWOS,” said Michael J. Schoen, support contractor for the FAA's Non-Federal Program, the office that regulates most navaids and AWOS installations not owned by the federal government.

The Non-Federal Program also oversees the systems' technical specifications, their commissioning, operation, and maintenance, and the non-federal technicians who maintain them, according to the program’s website.

Approximately 46 new non-federal facilities are commissioned each fiscal year, although numbers have fluctuated recently from 62 in 2014 to 31 in 2015, Schoen said.

The Non-Federal Program does not track the number of airports that run into problems with their new systems. “But they occur frequently enough that the program has made airport outreach a priority,” he said.

The program’s new guide, Avoid Costly Mistakes: What You Should Know Before Buying A NavAid Or AWOS, lists common errors airports (and their consultants) make, and the consequences for making them.

Many of the errors—such as an airport operator assuming a vendor’s system is FAA-approved; not getting the FAA’s nod for the system’s location; or activating a system too soon, to name a few—can result in delayed commissioning or prompt decommissioning “before its lifecycle ends, because it's more expensive to maintain than was expected,” the guide cautions.

Tips for staying out of trouble include reading the applicable regulations for navaids and the latest version of the non-Federal AWOS advisory circular, and checking in with the area's Non-Federal Program liaison before buying a system.

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, FAA publications, Weather

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