Alaska Gets GPS/WAAS

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If it works in Alaska, does it mean that true GPS/WAAS IFR navigation will come to the Lower 48? On March 13, the FAA passed a final rule creating Special Federal Aviation Regulation 97 that allows properly equipped aircraft in parts of Alaska to use satellite-based navigation aids as their sole reference during en route portions of their flights. Current regulations normally require ground based navigation aids be available to IFR flights regardless of the use of GPS equipment. SFAR 97 is an incremental result of the Capstone program, which was begun in 1999 aiming to improve flight safety stats in Alaska. Phase I of the Capstone program focused on the southwest part of the state and began in 1999. Lessons learned in the first phase have led to a second phase for the southeast part of Alaska. The second phase includes, in the FAA's words, "a more robust set of avionics" that includes GPS/WAAS. The new rule will allow properly equipped aircraft to fly IFR on published routes that are much more efficient than those that relied on ground stations. Whereas the freedom of Capstone was previously available only to the 200 or so aircraft formally registered in the program, SFAR 97 allows anyone willing to spend the money on the avionics to use the published routes. Despite rumblings on the topic from time to time, the exclusive use of GPS/WAAS in the rest of the country continues to be a distant dream.