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Pilots concerned about proposed Elmendorf instrument approachPilots concerned about proposed Elmendorf instrument approach

AOPA continues to weigh in with general aviation’s concerns as the FAA assesses a U.S. Air Force plan to extend a runway and add a precision instrument approach at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska’s highly congested terminal airspace.

An Alaska ADS-B demo flight east of Anchorage. Photo by Mike Collins.

Constrained by mountainous terrain and the waters of Cook Inlet, Anchorage’s airspace hosts aircraft from Piper Super Cubs to helicopters, jet fighters, and Boeing 747s. The airspace also hosts an equally diverse assortment of airports including Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, GA airport Merrill Field, Lake Hood Seaplane Base, and Bryant Army Airfield.

The complexity doesn’t end there. Pilots must comply with special air traffic rules prescribing procedures and communications requirements in seven separate segments of the terminal airspace. Low-altitude flights are discouraged in numerous areas adjacent to the Anchorage Class C airspace because of seasonal concentrations of migratory birds.

With its mission expanding, the Air Force has proposed extending Elmendorf’s Runway 16/34 by 2,500 feet to the north to establish an instrument landing system (ILS) approach to Runway 16 “and associated procedures,” according to a November 2017 FAA scoping document.

The report, which only became available to the public in February following a Freedom of Information Act request, calls for an all-encompassing review of IFR and VFR traffic procedures in a 60-nautical-mile-wide study radius. A contractor is conducting interviews with airspace users and running simulations “to see if a solution set can be defined,” said Rune Duke, AOPA senior director of airspace, air traffic, and aviation security.

“The airspace is very complex and the new ILS would have significant impacts on other airspace users,” he said, noting that the facility that would likely experience the most impact was Merrill Field because of its location “in the path of any missed approach” from Elmendorf’s Runway 16.

Building the record

For almost two years, AOPA has engaged with the FAA to register pilots’ concerns about possible airspace changes and the need for a collaborative approach to decision making, including submitting informal comments on the implications in October 2018.

“A negative impact on the efficiency of operations at Merrill would have an economic impact on operators, the airport, and the surrounding community. AOPA will strongly oppose any adverse operational impacts at Merrill airport. We need to look for a solution that will not create disruptions for other aviation users in the Anchorage airspace environment,” AOPA said.

Duke credited the military with “transparency and willingness to share their long-term vision” for the Anchorage airspace but noted that GA must be part of that vision and have its operations—on which many livelihoods depend—protected.

AOPA will participate in future opportunities to assess the proposal and will keep members informed of those opportunities as well, 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, Airport Advocacy, Airspace Redesign

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