Friday, November 18, 2016

New technology helps cut flight diversions at Friedman Memorial Airport: Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier, Horizon, gets Federal Aviation Administration approval

Diversions of Horizon Air flights bound for Friedman Memorial Airport should drop dramatically thanks to a new FAA-approved instrument-approach procedure.

Horizon’s sister company, Alaska Airlines, announced Tuesday that it had been granted approval to start using the required navigation performance instrument approach procedure at Friedman.

That means that flight diversions due to inclement weather should plunge by 95 percent, from 40 to 50 per year down to one or two, according to a news release from Alaska Airlines.

The technology will allow planes to take safer flight paths and ensure reliable landings. It removes the need to have ground-based navigation aids, because the technology has a precise, three-dimensional curved flight path to follow, according to the news release.

The planes will have onboard navigation technology and global-positioning systems, which give pilots a more precise flight path and allows them into an airport at a lower altitude or with limited visibility.

That is a common constraint on flights into Friedman Memorial Airport, where pilots often have to grapple with low-hanging cloud cover.

“Friedman Memorial Airport is located deep in a valley with surrounding mountain peaks,” said Cody Hargreaves, RNP engineer at Alaska Airlines. “As a result, instrument approaches used by pilots are often hampered by low cloud ceiling and extensive visibility requirements, resulting in a higher-than-average percentage of flight cancellations or diversions.”

Horizon has been working on the RNP technology for a decade, and estimates it will save about $600,000 annually by allowing flights to land at Friedman when they would have been otherwise diverted to another airport.

Chris Pomeroy, airport manager at Friedman, said the new technology was welcome as air traffic increases at Friedman for the holidays.

Horizon will be operating seasonal flights into and out of Friedman starting Nov. 23, with a Thanksgiving flight from Seattle to Sun Valley.

Horizon will then have daily service to Los Angeles starting Dec. 16, and twice weekly service to Portland, Ore., on Dec. 17.

“Just in time for the ski season and holiday travel, the expected improvement in reliability this brings to our airport during inclement weather will greatly benefit our customers traveling to the area as well as local residents,” Pomeroy said in the news release. “This is a fantastic complement to the other recent facility improvements, including our newly renovated passenger terminal and new concessions.”

Alaska Airlines has used this RNP technology for two decades, and uses it at airports in Alaska, San Diego, Pullman, Wash., and Palm Springs, Calif.

It will start using the technology in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., later this month, according to the news release.


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