Cumberland Times-News

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March 23, 2013

Garrett airport, state oppose proposal to decommission beacon system

FAA would scrap navigational system to allow construction of wind turbines

GRANTSVILLE — The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposal to decommission a regional navigational aid for aircraft has drawn opposition on both the local and state levels.

Ed Kelley, manager of the Garrett County Airport, and the Maryland Aviation Administration have expressed opposition to the plan to decommission the Grantsville VOR/DME system.

VHF omnidirectional radio range (VOR), is a type of short-range radio navigation system for planes, enabling pilots to determine their position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio beacons, with a receiver unit. It uses radio frequencies in the very high frequency (VHF) band from 108 to 117.95 MHz.

VOR/DME refer to combined radio navigation station consisting of two beacons placed together.

The FAA is proposing that the setup be decommissioned so that the 24 wind turbines that are part of the Fourmile Ridge project can be constructed.

“The decommission of the GRV (Grantsville) VOR would leave Garrett County and Cumberland Airport without a ground-based approach and would eliminate numerous instrument procedures, including six instrumental approach procedures, nine standard arrival routes, four victor airways and one remote communication outlet,” Kelly said in a letter to Melinda George of the FAA. “The loss of procedures and services could severly impact the safety, of general, commercial, emergency and military aviation within the now served VOR/DME.”

The loss of the remote communication outlet will prevent pilots from opening and closing flight plans as well as obtaining other services from the flight service stations while on the ground, according to Kelley. The primary role of a such a station is to provide weather briefings and flight planning services to pilots, according to the FAA website.

“Pilots operating under visual flight rules who utilize these procedures for training, practice and proficiency will be forced into other corridors served by only one navigational aid,” wrote Kelley.

In addition to the loss of instrumental approach procedures, the decommissioning of the Grantsville VOR would also result in a loss of ground-based backup to the published GPS instrumental approach procedures, according to the letter from the state aviation agency to George. The MAA noted that each proposed decommission should be looked at a regional and national level, rather than on a singular basis.

In February, the FAA issued an interim determination stating that all 24 proposed wind turbines are presumed to be a hazard to air navigation, according to a letter written to Fourmile Wind Energy, LLC. “Every structure over 200 feet is considered a presumed hazard,” said Andrew Gohn, clean energy program manager with the Maryland Energy Administration during the Maryland Public Service Commission hearing at Garrett College on Tuesday. “That is just a blanket statement that refers to anything anybody registers with the FAA that they want to put up over 200 feet.”

The FAA doesn’t approve the construction of the turbines, even at a reduced height, according to their letter. The internal study by the FAA revealed that all 24 wind turbines are within 3 1/2 nautical miles of the facility in Grantsville.

“There is a potential conflict with an existing but scheduled to be deactivated radar antenna,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the Synergics project in a previous interview with the Times-News. “It is being worked out with the FAA and we anticipate a solution that does not entail moving the turbines or any changes to the project as proposed.”

With Garrett County as an ideal spot for wind turbines, all of these projects will and do affect the safety and economic outlook of the Garrett County Airport, stated Kelley in his letter. “Local economic growth and commerce could be lost by the proposed decommissioning causing additional economic hardships to Garrett and Allegheny County Airport,” he wrote. “The region cannot afford to lose critical all weather, en route and terminal access in the National Airspace System.”

Construction on the Grants-ville VOR has been going on for the last few years, said Jeff Conner of Avilton who lives near the VOR, during the PSC hearing.

The PSC also received written comments from the Garrett County Airport.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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