NextGen at Snoopy’s Airport

The FAA has posted several NextGen Performance Snapshots, including one about Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in California that agency officials thought our readers would find interesting. So, what do the names Woodstock, Lucy and Pigpen bring to mind? For pilots flying into STS, those are the waypoints that guide them along the NextGen approach to runway 32.

The airport, named for the famed Peanuts cartoonist who lived nearby, sports Snoopy dressed as a World War I flying ace on its logo.

schulz logoNestled in the heart of Northern California Wine Country, the airport is surrounded by tall mountains. When the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, as it often does mornings and evenings, it shrouds the view of the runway.

While this kind of weather is perfect for growing grapes, it’s not an ideal situation when landing aircraft. Fortunately, the FAA has taken a cue from Linus van Pelt and provided the airport with a safety — the NextGen procedure enables pilots of equipped aircraft to land even when the approach to the runway is covered in fog.

At STS, there is only one Instrument Landing System (ILS). But the NextGen approach relies on GPS and uses a technology that boosts the accuracy of GPS satellite signals so pilots know, within a few feet, their exact position in space.

Flying the procedure, known as Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV), pilots descend to an altitude of 455 feet using their onboard instruments before they have to see the runway to land at Charles M. Schulz.

The satellite-based approach “provides a great backup (to the ILS) and is another means for us to get our passengers into airports we otherwise could not,” said Steve Castellano, a Horizon Air pilot who focuses on air traffic control issues. Horizon Air, whose entire aircraft fleet is equipped to fly LPV approaches, uses the NextGen approach into Charles M. Schulz on a regular basis in all sorts of weather conditions.

Pilots of the small, general aviation aircraft that frequently fly into Charles M. Schulz are also benefiting from the LPV approach. Jim McCord, a general aviation pilot and member of the FAA Safety Team, said the NextGen approach makes it much easier to keep track of the aircraft’s exact position. This is especially important as the terrain within a few miles of the airport rises as high as 4,600 feet above the airport’s elevation.

McCord prefers the NextGen procedure to the ILS approach also because it is simpler to fly. As a certificated flight instructor, McCord trains student pilots to fly the NextGen procedure, which is easily programmed into the aircraft’s navigation system.

The FAA is in the process of adding an LPV approach to the second of the two runways at Charles M. Schulz. This is especially important as the main runway, and the only runway with an ILS, will be closed for construction for several months next year and the ILS will be out of service.

Read more snapshots here.

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Comments

  1. You are all correct but if you question this story I must wonder where you have been since the FAA, ATA, and Airports groups began hyping NexGen about 10 years ago. This is just a way to gain interest and hopefully push the FAA’s agenda forward. Problem is…the FAA doesn’t know what their agenda is. This is perhaps the poorest managed government program yet. Hard to say. The Affordable Care Act effects more people but the NexGen people can seldom answer basic questions about it’s future.

  2. Inaccuracies in reporting? Nextgen misnomers?

    Reporters write copy.

    Software engineers, pilots and others design approaches.

    Never shall the twain meet…….

  3. Ranferi Denova says:

    I am trying to figure out what NextGen has to do with this approach,
    This sounds like a WAAS LPV approach. Not sure why they are calling it a “nextgen” approach.

    Can someone please explain?

  4. Also, 455 feet is a little high for an LPV GPS approach. The story says the system allows landing when the runway is covered in fog, then later it says you must see the runway below 455 feet. There must be more to the story than what was reported. Maybe they are adding some type of NextGen system in addition to a common GPS approach.

  5. Marty Heller says:

    Yeah, WAAS has been in effect since July 1995, but has been growing both with procedures (~500/year) and more system coverage and redundancy. Not sure if the STS RNAV approaches are relatively new, or just NEXTGEN marketing trying tomearn points. Up until the past years or so, NextGen wouldn’t even acknowledge WAAS, (referred to as NowGen) but now the NextGen office grabs on to the success, probably due to an FAA reorganization.

  6. This sounds like it has nothing to do with NextGen. It’s merely another GPS approach being added. GPS approaches have been around for years. Who’s writing this stuff?

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