Most pilots experienced in navigating with both VOR and GPS will prefer the latter. It’s easier, it’s more accurate and it’s available right down to the ground. The VOR technology—with the exception of ILS and where VOR stations are on the airport—enjoys only one advantage: It’s been around so long, most everyone knows how to use it. Well, everyone, that is, except pilots trained in aircraft lacking a VOR receiver, of which there are a growing number.

The FAA, like any other government agency these days, is fighting for every budget dollar it can get. Over the long run, maintaining the existing air traffic control system and hundreds of ground-based navaids like VOR isn’t compatible with the agency’s desire to reduce costs. That’s one of the reasons—but by no means the only one—underlying the FAA’s next-generation airspace system—NextGen—and ADS-B. Of course, to properly realize savings from NextGen, the number of ground-based navaids needs to be reduced.

Late last year, the FAA gave notice  it “plans to transition from defining airways, routes and procedures using VOR” and other ground-based navaids. The FAA plans to retain an optimized network of DME facilities and a minimum operational network of VOR facilities. It also plans to satisfy any new requirements for CAT I ILS with WAAS-based LPV procedures. According to the FAA, a network of existing ILS facilities “will be sustained to provide alternative approach and landing capabilities to support continued recovery and dispatch of aircraft during GPS outages.”

In other words, the transition from the traditional, “legacy” system of navaids to one based on GPS and WAAS is beginning.
One of the drawbacks to such a plan, of course, will be elimination of VORs providing approach guidance to general aviation airports. As recently as August, the FAA indicated it would develop a plan for discontinuing VORs, presumably along with other ground-based navaids, but that plan has not yet—to our knowledge—been made public.

We’re optimistic such a plan will have two features. The first should be retention of any approach procedures based on a VOR facility the FAA plans to retain. Yes, the agency will incur some infrequent expense to flight-check the procedure, but that’s the only real downside from retaining them. The other feature is establishing an RNAV procedure to the same airport(s) served by the soon-to-be-defunct VOR. Basically, the FAA should adopt a policy embracing the concept of no net loss of airports served by an instrument approach.

There are many other concerns we may have with the FAA’s eventual plans to retire VORs, but reducing the number of airports served by an approach is not something the FAA should implement.
—Jeb Burnside


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