Possible action by the Federal Aviation Administration could affect the future of the Sussex County Airport. The FAA has plans to decommission a ground-based radio transmitter located near Broadkill Beach.
Known as the Waterloo VOR (VHF omni-range), the structure aids navigation, assisting pilots as they approach the county airport's two runways, particularly during adverse weather conditions.
“Without this, some planes won't be able to land when the weather is bad,” said airport manager Jim Hickin. “It will have a negative impact on the airport. I can't put a number on it, but it's obvious it's going to hurt us. We need to go on record that we oppose this.”
The technology has been used since the 1960s, Hickin told Sussex County Council members during the Feb. 4 council meeting.
Hickin said the FAA wants to abandon the facility because of flooding and mold problems that could lead to structural issues and drive up the cost of maintenance. In addition, Hickin said, the FAA supports the use of GPS-satellite approach systems for airport runways.
Hickin said while the airport has GPS approaches to both of its runways, many planes are not equipped with the system and rely solely on the VOR ground-based approach system. He said even a large percentage of the airport's corporate jet users do not use GPS approach. “The current combination of ground and satellite-based navigation aids is ideal for the existing mix of airport users,” Hickin said.
Council voted to send a letter to the FAA in opposition to the proposed move and to also contact Delaware's federal delegation to make them aware of the ramifications of the FAA's plans.
“Loss of the Waterloo VOR would make the airport less competitive with neighboring airports, particularly those with ground-based approaches,” Hickin said, adding that FAA has provided more than $16 million in grants over the past decade for county airport improvements.
When Hickin told council it's doubtful the transmitter could be relocated to another location, Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, suggested that county staff could look for funding to keep the transmitter in Sussex County.
Cole said the county needed more information about the transmitter. “Exactly what are the expenses? What is the cost to operate it?” he asked.