When it comes to landing in low visibility, the instrument landing system (ILS) at Green Airport is one of the best. It is said to be superior to the system at New York’s busy LaGuardia. It has a Category 3 designation, the highest.
But during the last week, dozens of flights have been diverted from Green, causing passengers to wait at airports elsewhere in the country until Rhode Island rain and fog clear away. In addition, a number of flights have been canceled outright and that has the compound effect of canceling outgoing flights because those planes never landed here.
Airport traffic numbers for May are certain to reflect the impact.
Causing the problem, apart from the weather, has been the failure of an antenna used to establish the glide slope on Runway 23; the approach that brings in planes over Airport Road. Seemingly, if weather conditions allow for it, aircraft could use Runway 5 that would take planes in over Main Avenue or the shorter crosswind runway.
But that’s not the case.
That’s because another piece of equipment essential to informing pilots whether they are left or right of the runway, called a localizer, is being moved about 200 feet to get it out of the Runway 5 safety area. Even though the Runway 5 glide slope works, it can’t be used for instrument landings without the localizer. The antenna informs the pilot whether the plane is on the correct trajectory to touchdown at the end of the runway.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman said Tuesday that work on relocating the localizer started May 2 and should be done in another two weeks.
What about the crosswind runway; why couldn’t it be used?
Runway 16, which comes in over Ann & Hope, does not have an ILS. Coming from the opposite direction over Sandy Lane, Runway 34 is a Category 1 system, meaning it can’t be used once visibility drops below 1,200 feet.
The convergence of repairs to the localizer, the failed antenna and reduced visibility caused 11 diversions and four canceled flights last Wednesday, Rhode Island Airport Corporation President Kevin Dillon said Monday. He also reported that the antenna had been repaired for Runway 23, seemingly reducing the possibility that the airport would be shut down for low visibility in the near future.
But this Tuesday there was another round of diversions and cancellations.
The antenna had been repaired, but in order to be activated, it needed a flight check. The FAA had not done that, even though the skies were clear over the weekend.
“As soon as weather conditions permit, the FAA expects to flight check the Instrument Landing System for Runway 23 at T.F. Green Airport to ensure that the equipment is working properly after recent repairs. Bad weather over the last several days has delayed the flight check,” the FAA responded. Further, it was pointed out that the check must be scheduled because the planes that do that work are based in Oklahoma City.
Dillon was hopeful the flight check could be performed Wednesday if the weather permits.
Even when the localizer is back up and working, it will be some time before Runway 5 is restored to a Category 3 system. When first initiated, the runway will be a Category 1 system and only after a “burn in” of about 1,000 hours can it regain its superior Category 3 status.
During diversions, Dillon explained, planes scheduled to arrive at Green are directed to other airports where they will wait for improved weather conditions before resuming their flights. Cancellations are more problematic because the arriving plane is not here for an outgoing flight.
“It’s a double impact,” said Dillon.