Airport lands technology funds$2 million "instrument landing system’ should help pilots land in foul weather |

Airport lands technology funds$2 million "instrument landing system’ should help pilots land in foul weather

Cliff Thompson
Daily file photoThe Eagle County Regional Airport will receive $2 million in federal funding.

The electronic “instrument landing system,’ or ILS, will shorten the approach time into the airport by as much as five minutes per plane. That will enable more planes to land in a given time period and should make it safer to land during foul weather. It will provide pilots with an electronic reference point relative to the ground and their landing point when visibility is reduced by bad weather.

The system is scheduled for installation this summer and should be operational by October, said Jack Ingstad, Eagle County administrator.

The ILS is the second major safety improvement at the airport this year. A new traffic control tower was built and opened in time for the busy ski season.

Last year 171,000 commercial passengers and 70,000 charter and private aircraft passengers came through the airport. In ski season that translates into 20 or more commercial flights – consisting mostly of 757s – and up to 75 private aircraft per day.

Because the airport has no on-site radar, approaching aircraft are controlled on a landing “slot” system from the Longmont air traffic control radar facility nearly 130 miles away. Up to 16 aircraft an hour can land during optimum weather.

But when the weather is poor, that total slows to six or fewer airplanes per hour because pilots have to take safety precautions such as making more space between their airplanes, using a timed approach and using visual flight rules. That can leave other pilots in holding patterns and force others to land at other airports that aren’t socked in by weather.

That scenario and worse occurred during the heavy departure of commercial and private aircraft during this New Year’s holiday weekend. A heavy snowstorm actually closed the airport and forced commercial and private aircraft to land elsewhere.

The new landing system can partially alleviate the effects of bad weather, but the ultimate solution will be a new radar system. The county has been lobbying Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration for an on-site radar since 1997, when direct commercial flights began using the airport.

“It appears we now have the support of the FAA on the full radar system,” Ingstad said. “Before we just had Congressional support.”

That radar is expected to cost $4.8 million and once money is appropriated it will likely take two years to commission. It will add an additional level of safety for landing and departing airplanes, Ingstad said. Funding for that is expected to be appropriated in 2005.

Meanwhile, Ingstad said, the county will spend up to $75,000 this year for an “approach pattern analysis” for the airport. Because of the mountainous terrain it will be slightly steeper than that used by most airports.

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.

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