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Approaching perfectionApproaching perfection

How pilots can protect instrument procedures from a NextGen purge

Your airport is buzzing with news that an instrument approach you have long relied on is slated for cancellation. Is the rumor true? Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Photo by Mike Fizer.

AOPA’s advocacy team often hears from pilots asking how to keep an important local instrument approach procedure from being eliminated in a NextGen-related reshuffle, or how to get a new IAP set up at an underserved airport.

Both goals are achievable—but now you’re playing chess, not checkers, with the airspace powers that be.  Here are some tips to get you established on a glidepath to success with your instrument-approach advocacy project.

For a high-level perspective, keep in mind that there are now four times as many flight procedures on the books as there were two decades ago. Each one requires special care and cleaning (technically speaking) to keep it operational. So, as the air traffic control system moves from one technology to the next, it keeps the system’s infrastructure-maintenance workload manageable to pare little-used IAPs or those based on antiquated navigation methods.

“The complexity and cost to the FAA of maintaining these procedures is not sustainable,” the FAA said in October 2019. “As a result, the National Procedure Assessment (NPA) Program was initiated. Under the NPA, MITRE completed an exercise to identify underutilized procedures that the FAA may consider as candidates for cancellation.”

In the current round, more than 4,000 procedures are under review. And as any instrument pilot knows, there’s more than one way to fly an approach, so thousands of circling minimums published along with straight-in IAPs will also go under the regulatory microscope.

With such big gears grinding in the ATC system, it may seem almost impossible to immunize your airport’s existing approach against extinction.

But there’s a process—which comes as good news for instrument pilots who haven’t upgraded their avionics or who fly to and from airports still not served by RNAV approaches. However, you will have to make a compelling pitch for preserving your airport’s instrument arrival.

Since the NPA began in 2011, AOPA has advocated to make sure general aviation’s needs are met, participating in key working groups and keeping pilots informed about the local impact.

Rune Duke, AOPA’s senior director of airspace, air traffic, and aviation security, has been point man in this effort, and he stresses the importance of pilot participation.

“We know this is an important topic for many pilots, particularly those flying aircraft that do not have RNAV capability,” he said. “The FAA has accounted for many of the concerns we have heard. However, only local operators know for sure whether an approach is important or not.”

Pilots can get involved in the process by going to the FAA’s Instrument Flight Procedures Information Gateway website and subscribing to receive information about the status of their airports’ procedures, which, Duke said, helps the FAA “make an informed decision.”

How do you find out if your preferred procedure is a target, and what happens next?

  • The list of 4,000 or so candidates for cancellation is now being circulated among air traffic facilities and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to begin whittling the list down. If an ATC facility says a procedure stays, it stays.
  • The next step is notifying airport managements so they can comment. Again, if they say an IAP stays, it doesn’t go away.
  • If, however, a procedure remains on the cancellation calendar after that, you can see that on the IFP Information Gateway —where subscribed pilots can submit a comment and request that it not be canceled.

When less is more

Pilots can also request adding, rather than subtracting, IAPs.

AOPA knows that adding an instrument approach to an airport can add great value to the facility, as well as promoting safety. “We hear regularly from pilots about the need for a new instrument approach, and we have to explain the long process for establishing a new approach and the prioritization process that can lead to delays,” Duke said.

Here is our fact sheet on the issue. Note that originating a request also begins with the IFP Information Gateway.

Don’t confuse the NPA with a similar but unrelated program also in progress: the VOR Minimum Operational Network, a navaid-reduction initiative designed to create a basic network of navaids that would take over providing guidance in the event of a widespread GPS outage.

You can email questions about these issues to our advocacy team.

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, Airport Advocacy

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