As the cooler weather arrives for the winter, it’s much more fun (at least to me) to fly in a small plane. Colder (and therefore denser) air means better performance from the airplane – both from the engine and the airframe. It also means cooler temperatures in the cockpit and an overall more enjoyable ride for everyone. I much prefer spring and late fall flying to that of the frigid winters or the hot and humid summers we see in SW Missouri.
To keep current on my instrument flying (meaning I can fly in the clouds), I often fly a number of “practice” instrument landings into Neosho. Today, those landings (or “approaches” as the lingo goes) are done one of two ways – using GPS navigation (the same satellites you use in your car with a Garmin or TomTom) or with land-based navigational aids (ground antennas). The latter in this case is the Neosho VOR located just north of Hwy 60 and about one mile west of Hwy 71. It’s built in and on top of a white building that sits in an open field. In the center is a white smoke-stack looking tower (that’s an antenna) made of fiberglass. If you’ve lived around here very long, I’m sure you’ve seen it!
From that antenna, navigation signals are sent via radio waves. Those radio waves are interpreted by instruments in the airplane to determine your location and distance from the station. For over 50 years, this VOR (and 3,000 others like it across the world) have been the backbone of “air highways” around the globe. In the continental U.S. alone, there are 967 VOR’s in service – 80 percent of which are past their economic service life. They cost the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) more than $110 million a year to operate. Replacing them would cost over $1 billion.
Given those costs, combined with advances in GPS and satellite technology, our federal government will soon be decommissioning VOR’s around the country (at least in their role of navigation) and pushing air traffic to using GPS satellites as their primary source of navigation. That is part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) design plan proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). By Jan. 1, 2020, only VOR’s associated with the country’s “core” 30 airports will remain in service. The balance will be removed from service (“gradual discontinuance” is the FAA’s technical term for it) forever.
Given that Neosho is far removed from any of the 30 “core” airports (the closest being Dallas/Ft. Worth, Memphis, and Chicago), the Neosho VOR (“EOS” is its code) will soon be no longer. With its demise, the Neosho airport will become fully reliant on satellites to allow landings when the weather is bad or when spring/fall fog is in the air. Old school pilots who have not spent the money to upgrade to satellite technology will be out of luck on those days when instrument flying is needed to depart or arrive in Neosho. But for those that use it, you’ll never want to go back!
Page 2 of 2 - When fully implemented, the NextGen system will be better and more efficient. Given the federal government’s history, I seriously doubt they will meet the timelines they’ve laid out, but it will eventually happen. Since most of you aren’t pilots, you’ll see little if any impact of the EOS VOR departure. But next time you see that little white building west of town, you’ll at least now know what it is, what is does, and have a story to tell if someone asks.
Christmas is certainly in the air! The parks are now glistening with lights. Santa made his annual appearance at the parade. Congratulations to city employee John Harrington – our “Employee of the Year” – keep up the great work! Until next time: keep the faith, stay the course, and may God bless Neosho!
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.