Good Riddance


The FAA announced they’re gonna prune the umptyzillion instrument approaches maintained in the US. It’s about time. After all, when was the last time you flew an NDB approach? In fact, when was the last time you flew an airplane with a working ADF that even could fly an NDB approach?

It’s expensive to maintain obsolete approaches. Each must be periodically surveyed to make sure no mountains have moved and violated the protected airspace. Well, that and man-made objects like condos or parking garages.
Then, there’s Mother Nature herself. She might be responsible for more problems than tectonic shift and maybe just about as many as your local building contractors. Yup, it’s those pesky trees.

There’s a nearby ILS that once had the normal DH of 200 feet. Then, Mother Nature grew her trees. A few years later it was up to 210. Then 220…240. Now it’s up to 287 and rising. You’d think “they” would trim those trees. But this is California. So the trees grow and the ILS gets higher mins. But I digress.

Yes, it costs a lot to maintain approaches. In addition to the physical surveys, each approach must be flown to make sure the published VOR radial still matches the compass, the NDB hasn’t swung too far due to some magnet, the ILS still brings you to the end of the runway, etc. As a side note, how’d you like to have that job? They jet all around the countryside flying all manner of approaches. Bet those guys have some stories to tell. (Hmm… I wonder if any of them would like to tell us a few?)

I used to carry all the western states approaches in a few inches in my flight bag. Now, the same coverage would require a bigger bag that’d be so full there’d be no room for my chart plotter and E6B. Where would I put those?
Maybe I wouldn’t carry ‘em. With all the handheld GPSes, iStuff, and other gadgets, when did you last measure the distance between two points on a paper chart, measure your true course against the longitude and search for the nearest isogonic line to east-is-least your magnetic course? With modern electronics we just don’t need to. Don’t need paper at all in the first place, either, of course.

I never got to fly any of the old A-N range approaches, but a few were still around when I started flying. I’ve flown my share of NDB approaches, though. Similarly, how many of this year’s 12 US pilot starts—OK, there were a few more than that, but that’s for another discussion—will ever have to fly an NDB approach? Please share your reasoning if you think the answer is more than zero.

So, why keep obsolete approaches? It’s just not worth the money to keep ‘em current. Maybe keep a few VOR approaches here and there, just in case the bad guys disable our GPS. Mothball the rest of ‘em. If Armageddon ever requires those approaches again, then we can spend the money to re-certify them.

I think I’ll go fly an NDB approach while I still can. (The ADF in my airplane must work. I can listen to the ball game.) Perhaps I’ll throw in a VOR approach just in case. As long as the approaches are in my GPS database, that is.

— Frank Bowlin


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