Missoula airport asking FAA for more time to phase out old radio beacon

A general aviation aircraft makes its approach into Missoula. The airport is asking the FAA for more time before it decommissions the airfield’s old radio beacon. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Missoula International Airport is asking the Federal Aviation Administration for more time before it phases out the airfield’s antiquated radio beacon, which helps guide flights into and out of the airport.

Cris Jensen, airport director, said the Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range, or VOR, is still used by general aviation aircraft and still serves a function at the airfield.

“Modern technology is a satellite-based GPS approach system, and we’ll ultimately go to that, but we’re not quite ready yet,” Jensen said. “We’ll continue to work through that process with the FAA. But we want a little more time for general aviation to transition to that.”

In 2015, the FAA owned and operated nearly 1,000 VORs across the continental U.S., according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. That year, the agency released a list of the VORs it planned to eliminate.

The second phase of elimination is set to begin this year with the decommissioning of another 234 VORs over the next five years.

“It’s a radio beacon, essentially, with 360 degree radios the aircraft use to hone into or away from, depending on which direction they’re going,” Jensen said. “It’s a relatively old system, but it’s still used mostly by general aviation aircraft.”

While the FAA moves to eliminate the system in a number locations, an effort is underway to lobby the agency to keep the VOR in Missoula for the time being.

Jensen believes the lobby has traction and could buy the airport more time, allowing the general aviation community to make the transition.

“We’re opposed to that, our tower is opposed to that and Salt Lake City, our in-route center, is opposed to that,” Jensen said. “We’ve all written in opposition. I think we have a pretty good chance of keeping VORs.”