Soon pilots who have long wanted East Hampton Airport to have the bad-weather capability of an instrument landing system, or ILS, will get their wish—and it is happening, so far, without a trace of the controversy that always used to accompany talk of an ILS.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the installation of full-fledged ILS transmitters was included in plans for the airport. That angered those who opposed airport expansion. They feared an ILS would attract more traffic, turning the town-owned field into what they called a “jetport” because it would allow landings in weather far worse than the existing instrument arrival procedures permitted.
Under pressure from airport opponents, the Town Board in the late 1990s deleted an ILS from its airport wish list. Today, an ILS is not even under consideration as the Town Board works with its consultant to draft a master plan for the airport.
But on May 7, 2009, the FAA is expected to authorize a new instrument approach procedure for Runway 10 that duplicates everything an ILS approach can do—without the installation of any equipment at the airport. FAA Eastern Region spokesman Jim Peters last week confirmed the new procedure is scheduled to be published and included in pilot approach charts on May 7 next year.
Based on the computerized integration of GPS signals from satellites, and a network of GPS ground signals called the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) that was commissioned nationally in 2003, the approach is one of hundreds of “virtual ILS” procedures that the FAA has been introducing every year since 2003 at airports across the country. The effort is part of an FAA program to improve safety and reduce infrastructure costs by phasing out approaches that rely on ground transmitters.
In FAA parlance, the new procedure is called an LPV approach for “lateral precision with vertical guidance.” It is actually a new element of an existing procedure called the Runway 10 GPS approach. The LPV procedure is officially considered a “precision” approach, because it provides extremely precise descent guidance. Because of its high level of accuracy, it allows for descents as low as 200 feet above the elevation of the runway, just like a standard ground-based ILS. That’s low enough for an airplane to break out of the clouds and for a pilot to make a safe landing in almost all kinds of weather except the thickest fog.
The existing instrument procedures for East Hampton are considered “non-precision” approaches. They are either based on satellite signals or a transmitter called a VOR (for Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range) located near Mecox Bay. They allow for descents to only about 500 feet above the runway because they provide only limited vertical guidance or no vertical guidance at all, depending on the receiving equipment on board the aircraft.
On many bad-weather days, the ceiling is often at or slightly below 500 feet at East Hampton, making it technically illegal to land there. The LPV approach for East Hampton will have a minimum descent height of 250 feet, according to airport manager Jim Brundige, low enough to get below most ceilings. He said in an interview last week the FAA had told him the minimum could have been 200 feet if the town had topped some trees off the end of the runway—an option Mr. Brundige said he had declined to pursue.
“I see it only as a positive,” Mr. Brundige said of the new approach. It will be safer than current approaches, he said, because pilots won’t be as tempted to “scud run” under low clouds to find the runway in bad weather; and it will be less noisy, because it will result in fewer “missed approaches,” which pilots must initiate by climbing away under full power if they do not break out of the clouds and cannot see the runway by the time they reach the minimum altitude. Often, pilots try the same approach again after “going missed,” creating even more noise for people on the ground, he noted. Missed and repeat approaches will be less likely with the LPV approach, he said.
The development of the LPV approach required no town involvement and will cost the town nothing, Mr. Brundige said, because it requires no new equipment or changes at the airport. It requires only that pilots using the airport have a “WAAS-enabled” and instrument-certified GPS receiver aboard. Almost all jets and helicopters do.
A past critic of an ILS at East Hampton, Ed Gorman, said this week that the LPV approach was “a non-issue” as far as he was concerned. “It is my understanding that GPS does everything that needs to be done for a safe approach to Runway 10. As far as we’re concerned, that’s all for the good.”
The sharp rise in jet and especially noisy helicopter traffic over the past decade, he agreed, had rendered the debate over an ILS moot. He said he doubted that news of the new LPV approach would stir any controversy.