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Federal government to fund airport safety improvements

DAVID TEWES

By DAVID TEWES
Dec. 26, 2010 at 6:26 a.m.


Improvements planned for the Victoria Region Airport at no cost to the county are expected to make flying safer for pilots and help air traffic controllers.

"We're very fortunate," said S.F. "Trey" Ruschhaupt, chairman of the airport commission. "It just gives us a lot bigger safety margin and it's a real boost for the airport."

Jason Milewski, whose company manages the airport, said the improvements involve the Federal Aviation Administration installing a 60- to 80-foot tower with an antenna. It would be next to the terminal building.

"What it does is offer benefits to general aviation aircraft that have the proper equipment," he said. "The aircraft can communicate with each other and relay their positions to each other."

That means pilots with the proper equipment can look at their screens and see other traffic around them, Milewski said. They will not have to have expensive radar systems aboard their planes that commercial airlines have, he said.

"The side benefit is our air traffic controllers in the tower will have a feed so they can see Houston Center's radar display," he said. "So, they can see everything that Houston Center sees around Victoria, which means that it will increase the level of safety by allowing them to see the positions of aircraft."

Houston Center's controllers hand off and receive air traffic when it flies into or out of air space for Victoria and other airports.

The controllers will be able take advantage of the upgrade immediately. But Milewski said not all general aviation pilots will be able to receive signals showing the location and altitude of other aircraft.

Most aircraft are not equipped with the necessary equipment and may not be for years, he said.

"However, as planes upgrade their instruments, these options will be available," he said. "Eventually they may or may not be mandatory at some point in time."

Hollis Millard, a pilot from Nursery, said he looks forward to the improvements.

Right now, Victoria's controllers have no radar and are limited to locating only aircraft within the tower's visual range.

That ability can vary with weather conditions. It also depends on the pilot's knowledge of the geography of Victoria and experience, Millard said.

Some pilots have reported being five miles north of the field, when they are five miles south of the field, making it difficult for controllers and other pilots to locate them.

"That is a problem, especially with a lot of the younger pilots," Millard said. "They don't really know how to give a bearing and a distance to the airport from where they're at."

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