WESTERN SAN JUANS – An enhanced ground and satellite-based air traffic control system that expands radar coverage of the airspace over western Colorado’s major airports including Telluride, Gunnison and Durango became operational on July 31 and will help deliver more on-time flights and reduce fuel consumption.
The new system, called Wide Area Multilateration technology, allows air traffic controllers based in Longmont, Colo. to track and separate flights at lower altitudes than before it was implemented. The technology was already activated at the Montrose Regional Airport last year while airports in Rifle, Craig, Steamboat Springs and Hayden all received the technology in 2010.
“This is great news for aviation safety in Colorado,” said Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Don Hunt. “This completed system will help deliver more on-time flights, reduce fuel consumption, and will help boost tourism and economic development. This system is consistent with the goals of Governor Hickenlooper and CDOT to deliver the most efficient and safest transportation system for Colorado.”
Prior to implementation of the new technology, tracking of flights at these airports was very limited via traditional radar and was not possible at altitudes below 17,000 feet. As a result there were frequent flight delays and diversions, especially during bad weather.
WAM technology works by utilizing a network of sensors deployed around each of the airports which receive and send aircraft transponder signals. System computers immediately analyze the signals, allowing air traffic controllers to determine precise aircraft location for the purposes of keeping air traffic safely separated and providing vital flight guidance in the event of inclement weather.
The WAM deployment is part of the Colorado Surveillance Project, a partnership between the Federal Aviation Administration and CDOT.
“The WAM project essentially puts radio equipment on the ground near each airport, maybe eight to 12 units, that communicates with an aircraft’s transponder,” CDOT Aeronautics Division Director David Gordon said last December after the technology was activated at the Montrose Regional Airport. “With triangulation, we can always determine where an aircraft is at. That data is then collected through a server at each individual airport and then sent to the air traffic control center in Longmont, [Colo.]”
“It’s huge,” Nuttall said earlier this year. “It has a lot of positive ramifications to it. The system will allow air traffic control to see an aircraft all the way to the ground and facilitate the flow of traffic. It will reduce fuel costs because they won’t have to hold in the air as long. It’s also a good safety feature because they can pinpoint where an aircraft is at all times. It’s a great system.”
The technology also allows pilots to fly search and rescue missions in weather conditions that would previously have kept them grounded and improves their ability to located downed aircraft more quickly. The system helps reduce weather-related flight diversions and delays.
“CDOT’s Aeronautics Division has been involved with this system for the past eight years,” Gordon said. “This has been a great partnership with the FAA. The technology which was first used in western Colorado is now being installed across the United States to help our aviation system stay safe, on-time, and dependable.”