What’s the point of carrying a handheld radio if you have one (or two) radios installed in your panel? For that matter, why carry a paper sectional chart if you have a fancy glass panel cockpit or an iPad running ForeFlight or FlyQ?
Besides common sense, what’s the point in having a backup to your primary system?
It’s not like those traveling through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International eight days before Christmas in 2017 were inconvenienced by a nearly 11-hour power failure that led to widespread panic, confusion, and more than 1,000 canceled flights. Never mind. That’s a bad example.
What about GPS? It is everywhere and drives everything. Do we need a backup for that system?
A Nov. 26, 2017, editorial in The Wall Street Journal, “If GPS Failed, We’d Be More Than Lost,” notes that 15 of the 18 Critical Infrastructure and Key Resource sectors in the U.S. are GPS-reliant, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The editorial outlines a few potential threats to GPS, such as terrorism, signal jammers, and solar storms, and advocates for reinvigorating an existing land-based navigation system.
“Loran is a great backup system because its signals would be difficult to jam and it would be less exposed to celestial events.”
Looking more specifically at aviation, Maryland’s William Rynone says in a letter to Dorchester County Manager Jeremy Goldman, “The FAA is likely aware of this and for that reason the VORs and non-directional beacons (NDBs) have not been rapidly de-commissioned. An NDB used with Automatic Direction Finding (ADF) equipment is likely the simplest and least expensive transmitter used in any navigational system.”
I suppose Mr. Rynone would know. He taught electrical engineering at both the U.S. Naval Academy and Johns Hopkins University.
Rynone’s letter was written in response to plans to de-commission the NDB at Cambridge-Dorchester Regional Airport (CGE).
If the idea to shut down the NDB is about cost, Rynone estimates the monthly cost based on transmitter efficiency, as well as power supply, oscillator and power amplifier, at “$5.40 per month.”
“Summarizing, the de-commissioning of the NDB at Cambridge Airport does not seem to be justified since it does not appear to have any beneficial consequences, but does inhibit some pilots from using the airport.”
Multiple factors drove the decision to de-commission the NDB, according to Cambridge Airport Director Dr. Amber Hulsey. Cost is a huge driver, of course. The county is in the process of demolishing the airport’s old terminal building to eventually make room for new hangars, which is part of the airport’s master plan.
In preparing for that project, re-routing power to the existing AWOS, as well as re-locating, re-building and re-wiring the NDB, would need to be accomplished. Neither the state nor the FAA stepped up with financial support for the NDB. And with a finite amount of money in county coffers, it was decided to maintain the AWOS and de-commission the NDB.
Life is often about choices. With limited options, hard choices have to be made.
Another factor is usage. Hulsey said their research showed the NDB was used two to three times per year. Which makes sense, I suppose, considering GPS architecture is operational.
Mr. Rynone’s letter, I feel, was informational and educational, not adversarial. While his letter is likely more about him and his flying rather than the larger aviation ecosystem, I think it fits nicely into the discussion.
“CGE has the full support of the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), consultants and regional airports,” adds Hulsey.
From my view on the other end of the country, Dorchester County did what it had to do. De-commissioning the NDB wasn’t done to cripple the airport or to spite someone, it was simply part of a larger project.
Hulsey said that when she learned to fly, “it was round gauges.” Yeah, me too, Amber. She then asked me how many of the myriad legacy navigation systems, which are rarely used, I felt should be maintained.
This isn’t about maintaining a specific number of legacy systems. It’s about a backup system. What’s the value to your business of paying thousands of dollars for off-site physical and digital storage of critical company data that never gets used…until it absolutely gets used.
Backup systems are crucial. Not just in aviation, but in society at large.
Should we put all our eggs in one GPS basket? I don’t think so.