Victor airways are obsolete

For decades, Victor airways have enabled navigation across the National Airspace System. These “highways in the sky” serve as the skeleton of our navigation infrastructure, connecting hundreds of VORs through a spider web of routes crisscrossing the country. But half of the VORs anchoring these airways are about to be decommissioned. How will we get from point A to point B without Victor airways?

Airways

In reality, Victor airways don’t really get us from Point A to Point B. They usually dogleg through Points C, D, and E. In some cases, the dogleg detours traffic around special use airspace, terrain, or conflicting instrument procedures. These airways are also subject to the physical location of the ground based equipment supporting the VOR. Real estate, terrain, and service volumes dictate less than optimal locations resulting in a network of Victor airways that work, but aren’t quite optimized.

 

Why Victor airways are nearing obsolescence

The FAA is on a path to reduce the network of VORs by about half in the coming years as part of the Minimum Operating Network, or MON. Because Victor airways must begin and end at a VOR, a reduction of hundreds of VORs means thousands of Victor airways will need to be modified. The FAA is already decommissioning some VORs due to natural disasters or significant equipment failures. When a VOR is decommissioned, the FAA must modify all of the associated instrument procedures like approaches, arrivals, departures, and airways. In most cases, the FAA simply replaces the VOR with a GPS waypoint to retain the airway. While this preserves the existing capabilities (at least for GPS-equipped aircraft), it does nothing to improve the access and efficiency of the airspace.

As part of the broader transition to NextGen, the FAA is promoting smarter, more efficient airspace. Simply replacing a VOR with a GPS waypoint does not leverage the benefits of satellite navigation. The FAA needs a strategy to replace Victor airways with more efficient satellite navigation. Click here to Tweet this thought.

We need an airway transition policy

Imagine the Federal government decided to demolish every on ramp and off ramp for the entire Interstate highway system. Instead, flying cars would simply levitate directly onto the highway, bypassing those crumbling and outdated on ramps. The problem is, if cars can fly, it renders the highways obsolete. This is how the FAA is currently approaching VOR decommissioning and the Victor airway network.

Instead of developing workarounds like GPS waypoints replacing VORs, the FAA needs to approach navigation infrastructure with a fresh approach. Do pilots really need to be restricted to airway navigation in uncongested airspace away from major metropolitan areas and high-density jet traffic? Wouldn’t point to point navigation be more efficient, decreasing workload for both pilot and controller?

There was once a plan called Free Flight. Pilots would take off, point their airplane at the destination, and away they’d go. If another aircraft was encountered en route, the planes would simply alter course a little bit to avoid each other’s buffer zone. While Free Flight has been largely abandoned, satellite navigation promises to get us closer to Free Flight than ever before. But we have to find a way to free ourselves from the constraints of Victor airways.

AOPA Advocacy

AOPA has been working closely with industry partners and the FAA on the VOR reduction process. We are advocating for a criteria-based approach that ensures a robust network of VORs capable of serving as a backup for GPS. Under the MON, pilots will be able to revert back to VOR navigation and land at an airport within 100 nm. We also want to ensure that pilots have an opportunity to review and comment on individual NAVAIDs. But this doesn’t address the day-to-day navigation needs under a system based on satellite navigation.

AOPA will be formally asking the FAA to convene and industry stakeholder committee to assist the FAA in developing a strategy and policy for transitioning from Victor airways to a system based on satellite navigation.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on an airway transition policy. What challenges do you see, and how would you like the future of navigation infrastructure to take shape?

Sneak Peek

Be sure to check back next week when I’ll write about AOPA’s advocacy efforts regarding the FAA’s plan to reduce the VOR network by 50%. What are your concerns with the planned reduction in VORs? Leave a comment below or send an email to airtrafficservices@aopa.org.

72 Responses to “Victor airways are obsolete”

  1. SaferAviator says:

    How do NDBs fit in? They serve a list of uses, including low frequency airways in places like Alaska.

    No, uncontested airspace should not continue to be structured along airways. This is the promise of ADS-B. Perhaps “on ramps” at the edge of congested airspace should be set using the merge point concept EUROCONTROL is implementing in Oslo.

    Fly safer,

    SaferAviator

    • Tom Kramer says:

      While this post addresses Victor airways predicated on VORs, there are airways reliant on NDBs. Like VORs, NDBs are also being phased out. However, Alaska is viewed as a special case for both VORs and NDBs. Alaska is expected to be excluded from any reduction in VOR facilities. NDBs are still being considered for decommissioning, but on a case by case basis. Preservation of airway acess in Alaska is very important, and would likely result in the NDB being retained. Thanks for your comment!

      • Clayton Cranor says:

        One of the unplanned for results of that NDB decommissioning here in Alaska is that it forces older planes to upgrade avionics or lose capabilities. When the FOX and WEARR LOM and NDBs were decomissioned (Fairbanks ILS 20R approach) several of the IFR airplanes I fly could no longer fly any precision approach into FAI without installing DME. All of the precision approaches into FAI now require DME, and the planes do not have it, nor do they have IFR GPS installed. IFR planes, now essentially VFR only. While some NDB’s are not decomissioned, several have simply not been turned back on after the fuel supply ran out. The airways based on these are still available, but the points are defined by GPS identification of the location of the NDB, again a loss of capability without expensive avionics upgrades.

    • Will W says:

      The GPS is clearly the best way to navigate. I fly with a Garmin 430 in the panel and a 496 on the yoke of my 182 RG and appreciate their capabilities, which are greater than the VOR’s. The one fallacy I see in phasing out of all ground based navigation is that the GPS constellation of satellites could be taken out of action by an enemy of the US, leaving us out on a limb with no way to navigate. I’d favor keeping VOR’s and victor airways in the system and in the planes for a while.

      • Dan says:

        You are right Will. In their hast to reduce cost, the FAA is removing a valuable back up navigation system. Not a smart move.

        • Tom Kramer says:

          Thanks for the comment, Dan. The FAA has not announced any plans to remove the VOR navigation system. While this is likely at some point in the distant future, VORs will remain as a usable backup navigation system.

  2. larry kalb says:

    I think GPS should be the required form of navigation for IFR flight in the near future. Having used VOR for IFR certification and then transitioning to GPS navigation I know that GPS reduces the workload while on IFR flights. IF only the FAA cert requirements were relaxed to permit portable GPS use, GPS would be a less expensive way to equip an airplane.

    • Bill says:

      I agree. GPS is a solution for Alaska too. Totally eliminates the expense of ground based navaids. There’s no reason airways cant be terminated with GPS waypoints.
      It’s time to pull the plug on NDB entirely.

      • marty hart says:

        I DISAGREE, IN MY CASE OUR AIRPORTS LOWEST APPROACH IS A NDB. WE HAVE GPS ON OTHER RUNWAYS BUT THEY ARE 300 FT HIGHER. ALSO HOW DO YOU POLICE PORTABLES TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE CURRENT

        • Tom Kramer says:

          Tanks for your comments! This highlights the need to examine and evaluate each proposed decommissioning individually. A criteria is a good starting point, but then each NAVAID needs to be examined, with local pilot input, to determine the impact on general aviation.

        • Duane says:

          Marty – Nobody “police’s” panel mounted IFR-certified GPS systems either, at least with respect to ensuring that the pilot is using up to date databases. That responsibility is squarely on the pilot, as it should be.

          There is zero reason to treat panel mounted and portable GPS navigators any differently … in fact, the entire premise of “certifying” navigation avionics has been the single biggest deterrant to improving GA safety in the last decade, by discouraging the use of the latest and greatest and most capable electonics, and by requiring extremely costly certified panel mount GPS’s.

          I have both navigators in my airplane – an IFR certified Garmin and a very cheap portable unit, which gives me satisfactory redundancy. In reality, I use the portable unit to navigate, get onboard Wx info, and maintain situational awareness, while I the panel mount mainly because it is the only way to couple a GPS with the autopilot. However, if the FAA allowed it, it would be extremely easy to couple a portable GPS to an autopilot using a blue-tooth connection.

          As to why an NDB approach has lower minimums at your local airport, that is certainly not due to higher capabilies of NDB vs. GPS – indeed, it is the opposite case … a GPS is a much more reliable and user-friendly waypoint nav device and it is likely that FAA simply hasn’t gotten around to devising a GPS approach with the appropriate lower minimums.

          • David says:

            I agree Duane, I’ve compared my 496 (which stays updated) with a “certified unit” with great accuracy. Now the FAA is forcing us to upgrade for ADS-B 2020. I have ADS-B in on my Stratus, and can upgrade my mode c to mode s/ ADS-B out, but I’m faced with the expensive “certified GPS” issue. Or move to the country and fly around the trees, and relinquish using the airplane as a mode of transportation.

    • Larry says:

      At an IFR seminar years ago, the instructor gave those of us who only had portable GPS devices but /A equipment a handy bit of advice. When filing an IFR flight plan. put “VFR GPS on board” in the special remarks section. It won’t enable you to fly an RNAV approach, but controllers will often ask if you’re able to proceed direct after you’re airborne. I fly /G now but back then, that one little piece of advice saved me a bunch of time and money.

    • Clayton Cranor says:

      Portable GPS does not have, nor will any portable unit likely have any method to validate the navigation solution. RAIM and or FDE is not implemented in any portable unit. This more than any other consideration (and there are other reasons) prevents them from being certified for IFR. On another note, certain military training manuevers involve intentional jamming of GPS signals. Where GPS is the sole source of navigation under IMC this becomes a life threatening situation without ground based alternatives. This has happened and without being able to tune and follow VOR the end may have been quite different.

  3. John Georg says:

    I guess I am tying this story together with others I’ve read about the dwindling general aviation industry. I, like many others, believe that the biggest problem with general aviation is the cost. Number one being the cost of avgas. I fly a skylane with an autogas STC, and I burn mostly 91 premium, which in the state of kansas, by law, is ethanol free. Doing this saves me between 2 and 3 dollars a gallon. Now, at 12 or so gallons per hour, that adds up. If I fly 10@ hours per year, a savings of $3000 dollars will usually cover the cost of my annual and plane insurance. I know, to a lot of people reading this, that amount of money is trivial, but if we want the numbers of general aviation pilots to increase, we must realize that these are important figures. Just a very few years ago, avgas was 3.50. The single biggest expense to put a plane in the air is the fuel. It really is quite simple why GA is on the downhill.

    That brings me to the subject of this article. Now, we are talking about decommissioning VOR’s. Once again, I am a small single engine pilot who also happens to have an instrument rating. My plane does not have a panel mounted ifr gps. Yes, I fly the old fashioned way, which also helps make positive contributions to my piloting skills as opposed to all gps or even a glass panel. Now, not only do I have to worry about the coming cost of adding ADS-B if I want to remain ifr legal, but I also have to come up with an ifr gps. Now, again, to a lot of people reading this, this cost should be no big deal whatsoever. $10,000 for a gps and around another $5000 for ADS-B,,,,,,,,no big deal, what’s $15000? Well, to someone who doesn’t make millions or even hundreds of thousands each year, it’s a damn substantial amount of money. It’s the same old story, if you want to keep flying, you had better keep forking out more and more money each and every year.

    • Ron says:

      John I agree with you totally. I reminds me of how on the back of AOPA all you usually see are the well-to-do and their story, rarely some poor schmuck trying to keep flying. One thing I am still a little angry about is AOPA making sure Alaska kept FAA Flight Service and let us have a decimated system. Looks like Alaska is going to get the nod of VOR and NDBs too! I wish my plane could use auto-fuel too.

      • Tom Kramer says:

        Ron, how has Flight Service been decimated in the continental US?

      • Tom George says:

        The reason Alaska is being excluded from VOR reductions it is already BELOW the standard defined in the VOR MON. FAA would have to add stations to meet the standard that the rest of the country is looking to achieve.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for your comment! We are talking about decommissioning many, but not all VORs. Pilots will still be able to fly via VOR navigation for many years. It will look a little different though, as a 50% reduction in VORs will change the nature of the Victor airway network.

  4. Ron Klein says:

    Free Flight should be looked at again along with approach & departure corridors from current class “B &C” airspace.

  5. Gerold says:

    In flat terrain Point A to Point B routes make sense. In mountainous areas there might be a mountain in the way. You can’t always fly over mountains. I fly in Central Vermont and in winter flying over a mountain may put me into icing conditions and of course out west in the Rockies flying over a mountain without turbocharging or oxygen isn’t always possible. Also a direct route might have us flying over uninhabited terrain, water, heavily populated areas, through an MOA, through a TFR, etc.

    Direct routes will never always be possible. Many Victor airways will become obsolete, but mapped routes with altitudes still have a place in flying, whether the waypoints are marked by GPS, VOR, NDB, Loran or bonfires.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Gerold, thanks for your comment! I agree that direct from departure to destination is not always possible, or even advisable. With that said, the pending switch away from Victor airways affords a unique opportunity to improve efficiency and access in the national airspace, where possible. There is still a need for some type of airway in many areas, particularly high-density metropolitan areas and through Class B airspace.

  6. chip clark says:

    Without victor airways determining MEA, MOCA,and MRA will be an issue. A lot of preflight planning on sectionals or wac charts will be required to determine terrain clearance over the direct route. An OROCA would have be determined and any deviations off the route would have to consider terrain and communications for IFR flight. Of course programs like foreflight would be helpful. I think the use of gps waypoints to replace airway fixes would still be a good idea since those routes are known commodities, especially in mountainous terrain.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Great points, Chip. There are some hurdles and issues to work out. I like the idea of GPS waypoints, just not sure we need to connect every single waypoint with an airway. As I said above, airways are needed in some places, but I’d argue that those areas are the exception to the rule.

  7. Dave Wilson says:

    The concept of victor airways is still an important one. To be able to plan and execute a flight relatively free from SUA’s and obstacles reduces the pic’s workload and enhances the experience. With the proliferation of gps both handheld and panel mount and the obvious situational awareness the anchoring with gps points will work.

  8. Victor Steel says:

    Victor airways help in many parts of the country where specific routing simplifies the controllers’ job and helps manage high traffic flow. Replacing VORs with GPS waypoints retain the benefits (also including MEA vs. OROCA, etc.) for GPS-equipped aircraft. Other parts of the country already are largely “GPS Direct” friendly and capable. We don’t necessarily need a structure to replace the Victor Airways; rather, the ability to fly direct, or to define/negotiate one’s own GPS-based route, is already here. Pilots have the option of using the airways if they are not GPS equipped (though that capability will diminish over time), and they already have the ability to fly direct in most areas of the country. I’m not sure why AOPA should be advocating something (potentially more complex than) we already have.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for the comments, Victor! AOPA is not advocating for something potentially more complex. Airways offer great benefit in many areas. As you pointed out, many areas are already GPS friendly and offer GPS direct options. AOPA is advocating for expansion of this, and reducing our reliance on Victor airways. While the capability to fly direct is possible, oftentimes ATC or instrument procedure conflicts make it impossible.

  9. Burl Scherler says:

    This all sounds easy to get rid of the VOR’s but what happens when we get a giant solar flare or other catastrophe and the GPS system goes down?

    I was flying along in in SW Oklahoma before Christmas and my 530 showed dead reckon only no GPS signal available and then the ipad lost signal also. I was flying above a solid overcast. What a shock! The signal came back in 10 minutes. Does this happen often or was the signal jambed? I think some redundancy is valuable.

    • Glenn Swiatek says:

      Excellent point. It’ll be quite impressive when those 30,000 UAV’s I keep hearing about all fall out of the sky when the flare hits.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Burl! To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans to get rid of all VORs. The VOR Minimum Operating Network is designed to serve as a backup for the exact situation you describe. The entire purpose of the MON is a backup in the event of a GPS outage.

    • Duane says:

      Burl – it is theoretically posslble for a solar event to knock out the entire GPS system, but in more than 20 years of ops there has not been a single such catastrophic event. As new satellites are launched to replace the first generation satellites, they are being hardened against such radiatio,n so that will become less and less of an issue in the future.

      Besides, any solar event capable of knocking out the entire GPS constellation at one fell swoop is probably also going to knock out your VOR radio, your comm radio, and perhaps even knock out your entire aircraft electrical system! Plus it would likely disable much or all of the entire planet’s electrical generation and distribution systems (meaning, we lose all electrically powered aids to navigation).

      The reality is that GPS is much more reliable than any single NDB facility, which has no redundancy. Every GPS receiver is in tune with a minimum of 4 satellites at any time, and in most instances will receive signal from many more satellites than that, so that if any single satellite goes out, GPS reception continues unabated. IFR-certified GPS receivers must have RAIM capability, while virtually all commercial GPS nav receivers, certified or not, will tell you at any time how many satellites are being received. RAIM units will warn the pilot any time RAIM is lost, so that at least the pilot knows if the GPS is working OK.

      Plus, the Russians already have their own GNSS in place, and the Chinese are launching another in the next few years .. so it’s feasible that future sat nav radios will have the capability for multiple GNSS reception, further increasing nav signal redundancy.

      • Mike Winthrop says:

        Several years ago there was a test of a GPS jamming device at Rome AFS, New York. The test was supposed to last a few minutes, but instead the jamming device was accidentally left on for two weeks. The 5 watt jamming device killed GPS for a radius of 200 miles (high altitude). Commercial Pilots at that time who had GPS switched over to VOR and NDB. They complained bitterly at the inconvenience. A few years later, an enterprising person in the former Soviet Union was selling GPS 5 watt jamming devices for a pretty low price. (I wonder where they are now) Thereafter, the Russian government came out with its’ own GPS system, as did the Europeans. Clearly solar flares are not the threat and unfriendly governments realize that. They are also aware that the US government can control its’ own GPS signals over unfriendly territory. The VOR and ADF systems are decentralized, land based, and operates on multiple frequencies that make jamming difficult. Additionally, the signals are much stronger. Our US GPS system, the only one “certified” by the FAA can be compromised. Aside from the cost of putting a $15,000 system in a $19,000 aircraft, the thing may not work when you need it most.

    • David Lincoln says:

      Exactly….what will be the backup to GPS? I had both my Garmin 430W & 530W units lose complete signals for 20 min while flying on an IFR flight plan flying from NC-GA in 2010. It was at night. Now if I don’t have VOR backup, then what? We need a reliable backup to GPS period.

      • Tom Kramer says:

        The VOR Minimum Operating Network (MON) will serve as the backup for GPS. There are no plans to eliminate the entire VOR network in the near future. FAA and AOPA are working to identify a longer term solution to the GPS backup requirement. This initiative is called Alternative Navigation Position and Timing or APNT.

  10. TomSpann says:

    I cannot afford to own an airplane. I do on occasion rent to take a trip or rent a week end hour to remain current. The cost to rent is now in the 150.00 range, With requirement for a certified panel mounted gps and adsb the cost of airplane rental will ground me. I fly victor airways using the trusted VORs in the airplanes I rent. I have since I got my ticket in 1958. The FBOs I rent from said they cannot afford to put all the latest and greatest required electronics in their airplanes as it will put them out of business for the lack of customers who could afford the needed rental price to cover the cost..

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for the comments, Tom! I can certainly empathize with the rising cost of aviation. Many, but not all, of the VORs will be decommissioned. You will still be able to fly using VORs for navigation. It may not be quite as efficient, but still possible. Modernizing Victor airways will not require FBOs and flight schools to install any equipment in their aircraft.

  11. RAY says:

    Blah, blah, blah. I would guess that this same discussion took place when four-course ranges were decommissioned in favor of the VORs – how can we afford receiver and CDI? Then the requirement for transponders for many of us. Then the need for DME for many approached. Time to move on. You are not using a ten year old CRT TV or 5 year old computer! It takes money.

  12. Roger says:

    Even a portable GPS appears to be more accurate and dependable than a VOR or NDB, am I wrong?

    • Ron says:

      Roger, you are absolutely right. Forget NDB. It is an emergency approach system. Remember the latitude for a VOR check? +/- 4 degrees. Even within the short range limits of the VOR low altitude system, that is a lot of room for error. GPS on a route in visual conditions will “scare” you because all the airplanes are exactly on course and you see them “face to face or nose to nose.” My Garmin 296 is so impressive and old now. But it beats VORs any day as long as the GPS system is “up.”

  13. Boots says:

    I havn’t flown a VOR airway in more than 10 years. I always file GPS direct and ATC directs me to the necessary waypoints about 20 percent of the time. Otherwise, approach tells me I am number 2,3,4 for the approach and Awos has told me what to expect. Direct is more flexible and fuel efficient!

  14. Stacey Morris says:

    Thanks for the article, Tom.

    I (as I suspect many GA aircraft owners are) am in a boat very similar to John Georg. My airplane is also equipped with the “old fashioned” navigation equipment. I still have an ADF along with my VOR. I use a portable GPS for situational awareness. I have seen a shift of cost from the FAA/federal government to the aircraft owner as we have gone more and more to GPS. With an aircraft like mine, for the most part the VOR keeps working, and my cost is a certification every two years for the pitot/static system and the transponder. That’s usually around $300. Like John and many others, I will have to shell out several thousand dollars to equip with an approach-approved GPS. On top of that, the cost to download database updates is not free, and keeping the database current is one more thing on the checklist. I have no argument at all with the benefits derived from GPS and use the portable all the time. But, my cost to comply with ADS-B, then also have to buy and install an approach-certified GPS in the panel is VERY hard to justify for a person like me that flies 70 to 80 percent or more of my flying time to maintain proficiency so that I can use my airplane the other small percentage of the time for travelling for business or pleasure. Based on my conversations with my mechanic and my observations at my based airport and others, I strongly suspect a LOT of other aircraft owners are in a similar boat. I would venture a guess the percentage of the 190 based aircraft on my home field that fit in this category is probably well over 50%, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was close to 90%. As John indicated, the additional cost will, I believe, drive even more of us out of aircraft ownership. The remaining VOR’s will be so far apart, the aircraft will probably have to be very high to ensure reception. Maybe even so high as to be for all practical purposes only useful to passenger or corporate jets or turbo-props. Maybe a good backup for them, but not for me.

    As AOPA works to keep GA affordable for the “little guy,” I hope that they consider these kind of issues. Those of us out here in the “heartland” or flyover country may not be as blessed financially as people around Frederick and the east coast. I am afraid (and suspect) my grandkids will not have the same opportunity to participate because the cost will just simply be too high. Thanks for listening.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks very much for the thoughtful comments, Stacey! AOPA absolutely considers exactly those types of issues. Even with a 50% reduction in VORs, pilots will still have the option of navigating to the remaining VORs. You should be able to receive the VOR signal at 5,000 feet, and much lower in many cases. Modernizing the airway structure does not eliminate the option of flying VOR to VOR, it just may reduce the efficiency in some cases.

      On the point of GPS equippage, our research shows that over 80% of aircraft that have flown 2 or more IFR flights in the last 12 months are equipped with IFR certified GPS units. I recognize that 80% is not 100%, and agree that GPS units are expensive and sometimes difficult to justify financially.

  15. jim hanson says:

    The entire concept of the FAA “Free Flight” program was laughable–showing how out of touch the Administration is. Far before that–from the days of the old RNAVs and Loran, we have been filing Direct in most of the country. Only in the Beltway has the concept of Victor airways remained alive. I fly 500+ hours per year–the majority of that IFR in anything from a Cessna 206 to a King Air–and I haven’t had an IFR enroute chart out for years.

    The need for MEA/MOCO planning is real, however, and will need to be addressed. It can probably best be done by Foreflight–leaving the government out of it.

    On the other side of the coin, the same enroute process should allow lower cruising altitudes–without having to worry about the service volume/distance from VORs–something that the old NDBs offered in Canadian airspace.

    Needed–a way to let pilots know where the arrival/departure gateways are for major hubs. These are usually specified in “letters of agreement” between ATC facilities, and are not usually available to transient pilots. Arrival/Departure procedures are a start–but often, ATC doesn’t put low-performance airplanes on an arrival as they clog the procedure for faster aircraft. The best clue we have to date is to look at Fltplan.com to see how other aircraft have been routed when filing your flight plan.

  16. N Lynn Thoma says:

    Hasn’t anyone heard the phrase “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? (Other than Berl).
    Instead of decommisioning VORs as they break with obsolete or non-existant parts, how about a good refurbish with new technology? Sure, we aren’t using CRTs, but, this does not mean we no longer view images from our computers. We haven’t done away with rotating becons because of the advent of LEDs, we’ve replaced old broken becons with the update.
    If I’m not mistaken (I might be), VORs were invented about the same time as room filling computers. We clearly didn’t get rid of computers. Why can’t VORs be improved in much the same way with off the shelf parts? Make it some college engineering challenge for some unjaded students….they’d probably get it done for less than six thousand.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for the comments! Someone else may know more than me on this, but I believe it is the limitations of any ground-based NAVAID. I’d argue the improved VOR is satellite navigation. I understand GPS is not perfect and has limitations as well, but as a system, it is more flexible and enables more diversity of operations than VORs.

      Again, there are currently no plans to decommission the entire VOR system. So we are not putting all our eggs in one basket. Admittedly, the second basket will get a lot smaller with 50% less VORs, but the remaining VORs are designed to serve as a backup navigation system during a GPS outage.

    • ron says:

      There is no reason why the satalite based GPS system cannot be enhanced with ground based GPS transmitters located in fixed positions at the VOR sites. It would provide for redundancy and the aviation system already owns the VOR real estate. Of course we would not be able to see all the VOR located GPS transmitters at the same time, but we also cannot see all the satellite GPS transmitters at the same time. If the satellite base GPS system is disabled by a solar storm, or one or more individual satellite is destroyed by a hostile act as it lies over an unfriendly country, we would not be put at risk as long as three or more ground based GPS transmitters are visible. It might be possible to upgrade some GPS receivers to include ground based transmitters in their database. Others would eventually be rendered obsolete. However, the cost of including ground based GPS transmitters in new devices would be mainly a programming cost that would amount to pennies per device, and the math for fixed position transmitters is much simpler than the moving transmitters in satellites.

      • Mark Boguski says:

        Ron, this is one of the potential proposals for APNT that Tom mentioned. One of the issues with ground-based GPS is time synchronization. (There are many other issues) If the GPS satellites are jammed or spoofed, we loose the time synchronization standard. The FAA has a contract with Stanford University to look at this, and a number of other options for APNT. Even if this is solved, you still have the equipage issue – which affects both GA and particularly DoD aircraft. Conventional Navaids are still needed for a lot of operators as primary means, and for almost everybody as a backup navigation system. The issue becomes how robust a conventional system we need versus the cost and the efficiency of that system.

  17. Loel Ewart says:

    Guys

    While GPS is exceptional in use, remember it is controlled by the military and can be destabilized by a switch, in times of national emergency, with no advance notice. Also it can be spoofed by very inexpensive electronics. If it is not usable then we have no fall back capability. With the terrorist acts today, and the very dangerous condition this world is in, GPS alone without any backup, just does not make sense. The destruction of the VOR system is not in the best interest of pilots or this nation.

    • Tom Kramer says:

      The fall back capability will be provided by the VOR Minimum Operating Network (MON). There are no plans to eliminate the entire VOR system. The total number of VORs will be reduced by about 50%.

  18. Mike Winthrop says:

    Tom:
    About 15 years ago I wrote a software program for the Palm Pilot that took two VOR readings (from) and calculated your Lat/Lon. After two position fixes, it calculated your ground speed. You state “The fall back capability will be provided by the VOR Minimum Operating Network (MON)”. I ask, “Does the MON guarantee that I can always see at least two VORs?” I fly VFR cross country from 3000 ft AGL to 10000 ft MSL because I do not have oxygen, or pressurized cabin in my PA-28-140. Even flying VFR, I love a moving map. If the MON cannot me coverage from 3000 ft AGL to 10000 ft MSL, then the FAA asking me to use dead reckoning when GPS is jammed (see my previous remark) or when GPS is “off line” for solar weather issues. I suppose that the FAA/AOPA is not overly concerned about small aircraft such as mine, but I am!

    • Mike Winthrop says:

      For your information, see:
      www(dot)spacenews(dot)com/article/civil-space/37706companies-see-market-for-systems-to-counter-gps-jamming-devices

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Sounds like an interesting solution, Mike. To be honest, I don’t know if the MON guarantees that you can always see VORs. Since you don’t need to see 2 VORs to navigate, I suspect the answer is no. The MON is proposed to provide coverage beginning at altitudes of 5,000 feet. So, in the event of a GPS outage, the VFR pilot would have the option of using the VOR MON (at altitudes >5,000′), pilotage, or dead reckoning.

      • Mark Boguski says:

        The MON as it is proposed right now is based on emergency recovery of aircraft. If you loose GPS, you would have single VOR coverage at 5000′ agl that would enable you to navigate to a VOR and an associated “safe landing” airport. That would have an ILS or VOR approach. It would allow for Navigation from VOR to VOR, but not efficiently. The feedback that AOPA and other groups need to provide the FAA is if this emergency backup scenario is sufficient and will it be acceptable in a non-GPS environment.

        • Tom Kramer says:

          Thanks for the comment, Mark. AOPA has been working collaboratively with industry stakeholders and the FAA to provide just such feedback. We are advocating on behalf of our members to ensure the VOR MON serves as an acceptable backup to GPS navigation, while preserving access and efficiency to the greatest extent possible.

  19. Allan R. says:

    I think airways are safer than GPS or direct navigation. Most of them take you over or near airports, so in case of an emergency you are never too far from help. I have had to declare an emergency five times, and in all five cases the airway had me within landing distance of a towered airport. Going direct would require much closer attention to the location of the nearest runway, and it may well not have an ILS or even a tower. Besides, flying airways gives me something to do and keeps me awake. The planes I fly now have glass, but I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with it.

  20. Boyd says:

    I rarely use VOR’s enroute, I do use the position of the VOR as a convent GPS waypoint (an intersection could be substituted and serve the same function with no maintenance required). I use the actual VOR receiver if there is a VOR approach when no GPS approach is available, if I’m IFR.

    For VFR flying a portable GPS is much lees expensive than a VOR receiver and more accurate, while giving substantially more information.
    I do not have any problem with eliminating all of the VOR’s that are not used for an airport approach or segment of an approach where there is no GPS approach available.

  21. Bruce C says:

    A program like Free Flight makes all kinds of sense to me.

  22. Erick Borling says:

    This article is just baloney!

  23. Mike Ryan says:

    I am a lowly 140-hour private pilot and instrument student and part owner of a (to me anyway) beautiful, IFR-certified 1966 Cherokee 140. And I absolutely love VORs and flying them. Is GPS more efficient and more accurate? I guess. But what happens when your easy-to-use, reliable GPS goes kerfloowy?

    I remember learning VOR navigation, and once that light in my head came on, boy, that was the greatest thing ever. Now I can easily navigate to a known point if I’m lost, easily fly airways. I did then and still think it’s he greatest thing since sliced bread. I may be e exception, especially among new, younger pilots (and I do have an ipad with Foreflight), but I love VOR navigation. There’s just something romantic about having a skill that not everyone has. Plus it’s just so easy. And if we eve rarer equites to have a panel mounted IFR certified GPS to fly IFR, well, that will be one less plane and pilot flying IFR.

  24. rob says:

    I agree with Mike, I fly alot of grass strips and out of the way places. My gps did go out on me. I used the VOR raidal to track out and found the grass strip. I also use the vor’s as backup navigation. It’s another tool

  25. Terry says:

    I’ve read all comments in this blog and didn’t see pilotage mentioned once.

  26. Robert Hovan says:

    Living in Florida and flying up the eastern seaboard in summer with no certified GPS would require any IFR flying to be above 5000ft with the reduced VORTACs almost certainly requires flying thru the bumpy cumulus reducing safety (or scud running VFR below the bases).
    In anticipation of the ADS-B requirement I found ESquitter transponders now cost less than $3000 but a blind certified Wass GPS with external antenna to feed the ES pushes another $4000 ($7000 total). I would have gone this route but If at some date I will not be able to use IFR VOR navigation to choose the best routing altitiude I will need a $12000-$15000 Wass panel GPS navcom to fly IFR efficiently. This puts my cost to reequip to fly IFR at $15000-$18000 the price of a compact car. Why is a blind certified GPS so expensive?
    This VOR decommissioning discussion gives me less incentive to equip ADS-B out now until I know how bad it will be (and when) to fly IFR and If I will have to save up for a $15000 panel GPS to do it (In addition to the ADS-B expense!)

    Also VOR receivers require an accuracy check to fly IFR. How soon before the FAA requires A GPS receiver accuracy certification like the transponder 2 year cert? More cost!

    I have owned a Warrior II for the last 30 years and portable GPS’s for 18 years. When flying IFR I always fly the portable GPS and just monitor the VOR needle. I have never had a problem with VOR needle being off course. Also the GPS on the yoke mount is closer for better readability, reduces my scan and arm length moment for programming in turbulence.

    The FAA needs to find some way to spec how a lower cost portable GPS can be used for enroute navigation only.
    For the amount of IFR flying I do (mostly 4-8 vacation or weekend long distance trips a year with the other 70% of trips VFR $100 hamburger trips) a Wass panel GPS is cost prohibitive!
    I do not require a sophisticated panel GPS that borders on a flight management system to navigate. Before GPS you set your nav equipment to navigate to a point and then re tuned to go to the next point. I was able to navigate just fine and did not need my entire trip listed in a program!

  27. FRANK says:

    I see two concerns which have been addressed (but not emphasized) in the article.

    Even in my limited recent experience I have lost my GPS navigation. Until GPS navigation is 100% reliable we need some backup system.

    I have flown in some of the most confusing and restricted airspace of my experience in North and Central Florida. The most efficient method of avoiding all of the MOAs and Restricted Areas is to use the Victor airways. No matter the navigation system, “suggested” routing around and among these areas needs to be retained.

    Thanks

    • Tom Kramer says:

      Thanks for the comments, Frank! I agree completely that GPS needs a backup. That is the purpose of the VOR Minimum Operating Network, or MON. I also agree that there are situations where airways are needed or beneficial.

  28. Tom Muller says:

    The only navigation instruments in my RV are two compasses and a Garmin 496. I have been flying VFR more than 6 years and 600 hours over nearly all the contiguous US. During that time I have occasionally used VORs as waypoints, but with no more navigational significance than intersections or user created waypoints. I have rarely used Victor airways. I fly most cross country trips under Flight Following. I have never been denied a direct course except when dictated by the priorities of IFR operations in B,C or military airspace. I have never experienced a GPS system failure and had instrument failure only twice, once due to radio interference and once due to system lockup (which was corrected by removing the battery to reboot the instrument). I do not presume to speak for IFR operators, but for VFR, the FAA could shut down the entire VOR/NDB system tomorrow with very little impact. There may be some IFR value in keeping the airways under GPS, but it seems that we could all fly direct with spacing maintained by TCAS and ATC.

  29. Dennis Mac says:

    I fly almost exclusively X-Country on business in the far west. I use Victor Airways with Flight Following using my IFR GPS at 8.5 to 10.5 alt.

    I like using Victor Airways to get me around the mountain peaks and through the valleys. It just makes my flight planning much easier. However, I do think that some of the VOR’s (50%+/-) could be eliminated. But leave the VOR’s that are aids to Low Level flight routes and those that have been placed to skirt high terrain and restricted air space.

    Given the vast number of MOA’s in the west I have long ago stopped flying around them. I just tell Center when I am going through the active MOA and ask them to tell the military that… “I come in peace and are unarmed”… (Well almost. I live in Arizona we are always packing.)

  30. In the summer of 1957, I flew a C-119 from Japan to the US. In Japan all we had was LF airways. At McClellan AFB I was introduced to the new, at that time, Victor airways—fortunately they overlaid the airways I used to get to Baltimore where I delivered the airplane. That was my VOR training flight. Now the Victor airways are going. Aviation marches on!