FAA backs off 2012 rule restricting night approaches

The Federal Aviation Administration has “backed way off” on a rule implemented in October 2012 that could have restricted night operations at more than 100 airports across Alaska, Transportation Department deputy commissioner John Binder said.

The change in FAA policy sparked a nationwide review of aeronautical surveys of airports to determine if obstructions penetrate the 20-1 ratio approach minimum standard at a given runway. FAA regulations require a clear approach path extending up to 10,000 feet beyond the end of a runway in some situations.

A 20-1 approach ratio refers to the slope of an airplane’s descent as it approaches the runway. Common obstructions include trees, buildings and radio or cell phone towers.

Previous to a relaxing of the contested regulation, the FAA could close airports to night and instrument flight rules, or IFR, landings on runways with obstructions, or those without up-to-date aeronautical survey data — potentially impacting more than a third of the state’s 254 airports, according to the Alaska Air Carriers Association.

As of mid-December, the FAA has granted affected sites a “pretty significant grace period,” Binder said, allowing for up to a year for some obstructions to be cleared and surveys to be completed.

“Now, when FAA identifies an obstruction, rather than saying, ‘no access,’ what they’ve said is, ‘You have 30 days to verify what we think is true is actually true, also to deal with that obstruction in that 30 days if you can,’” Binder said.

Obstructions penetrating the 20-1 approach angle by more than 11 feet must be dealt with within 30 days of discovery, according to the revised rule.

Alaska Airports Association Executive Director Jane Dale said the change came quickly after a meeting with Alaska Transportation Department and aviation industry officials.

“We are very appreciative of the local FAA on this issue with support to resolve the schedule issues,” Dale wrote,” We are also very pleased with (state DOT) taking the lead on developing protocols to become proactive in regards to care of 20-1 approach slope and becoming more aware of the flatter precision approach slopes of 43-1 and 50-1.”

DOT is in discussion with the FAA on ways to conduct revised and cheaper airport surveys that would satisfy the new requirement, Binder said. One survey can cost more than $250,000 he said, something the state cannot afford to do for every airport in need.

He said the department is trying to get runway ends surveyed for roughly $20,000 to $30,000 and capture the information necessary, rather than surveying the entire area surrounding a given airport.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/15/2016 - 4:02pm