In a general sense, I knew that NextGen would be the end of the VORs that have reliably led aviators for decades. But 10 days before Christmas, the retirement of these familiar white cones is much more real.
That’s when the FAA published its request for comments on its plan to start retiring legacy systems to the old navaids home. The comment period ends on March 7, 2012, and you can read the proposal and comment on it here.
It’s the next step in the implementation of NextGen’s “flexible point-to-point navigation enabled by geospatial positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) infrastructure and aircraft advanced navigation systems.” I added that emphasis; most of the aircraft owners I know have already stepped up to GPS/WAAS, but if you haven’t, and you depend on your airplane to get from point A to B in the weather, now is the time to think seriously about stepping up to this technology.
Sure, the FAA plans to retain an optimized network of DME stations and a “minimum operational network (MON)” of VORs to ensure safety and continuous operations in the lower 48 states and terminal operations at the “Core 30 airports,” as well as the existing ILS network (the FAA will meet new Category I requirements with LPV approaches), but it seems clear that the FAA will maintain these legacy systems behind glass labeled “Break In Case of Emergency!”
The surviving legacy systems will not navigate you as they did in their prime. There are, the FAA says, 967 VORs. More than 80 percent of them are working well beyond their service life, and repair parts are getting increasingly harder to find.
The goal is to start retiring them. The survivors will create the MON, which provides minimal navigation. If flying above 5,000 feet AGL, it will “enable aircraft anywhere in CONUS to proceed safely to a destination with a GPS-independent approach within 100 nm.”
The FAA is also working on alternate positioning, navigation, and timing (ANPT) solution that would enable “further reduction of VORs below the MON.” The FAA would maintain the VORs that support international Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean arrivals, and it seems that ANPT might also allow their retirement.
Remembering the TO/FROM confusion that seemed to plague me from time to time, I doubt that many pilots will bemoan the demise of VORs. Upgrading to avionics that deliver NextGen’s required navigational performance, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Even worse, perhaps, are the old dogs that must learn NextGen’s new tricks. –Scott Spangler