The FAA recently released a proposed rule for a gradual but major reduction in the VOR navigation system in the United States. The proposal transitions navigation services to performance-based navigation (PBN) such as GPS and WAAS, and would only maintain the VORs located at what the FAA calls the “Core 30” airports around the country. Once the VOR system has reached the minimum operational network (MON), the planned VOR coverage would also enable airplanes in the conterminous United States to “proceed safely to a destination with a GPS-independent approach within 100 nm.” MON coverage would only be guaranteed above 5,000 feet AGL.
With the increased use of GPS and proven accuracy of WAAS approaches, the FAA appears to view the cost of operation of the VOR system as excessive. According to the FAA proposal 80 percent of the 967 VORs have reached their “economic service life” and cost the agency $110 million per year. The document also claims that replacing all VORs would cost $1 billion.
But while this measure would save the budget crunched government agency a significant chunk of money it seems a little premature to begin a major reduction of the established navigation system. The system could prove immensely valuable in case of GPS interference, a threat that is real and has recently been widely discussed in relation to LightSquared’s launch of a new broadband network.
While the proposal would enable pilots who fly at the major airports and at higher elevations to navigate in case of a GPS failure, what would happen to the pilots flying in remote areas if the satellite signals are compromised? And there is no question that the GPS system is far superior, but there are still pilots who rely strictly on the VOR system for navigation – those without GPS receivers in the cockpit.
You can read the proposed rule by clicking here and make comments on its content until March 7.