PULLMAN — Weather-related cancellations when flying into the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport in unfavorable weather may be significantly reduced.

The airport’s land-based instrument landing system is under construction by the Federal Aviation Administration, and when complete is expected to allow pilots to drop to lower elevations and get closer to the airport to see the runway.

Airport Executive Director Tony Bean said pilots of commercial aircraft have to be able to see the runway from 375 feet in elevation and a mile away. If they can’t, they aren’t permitted to touch down.

That window could be reduced to about a half-mile and 200 feet when the system is fully installed, Bean said, adding it is a feat not easily replicated with other systems approved for commercial use.

The new system includes two land-based antennae that transmit a signal telling pilots the appropriate angle of descent and where the center of the runway is. This allows pilots to descend blind through clouds or thick fog using instruments alone until they’re low enough to finish landing visually with the help of runway lighting and strobes.

While other systems can compete with the performance provided by the new technology, including new GPS-based approach procedures that will also be available in Pullman, none are as universal: Most commercial aircraft and pilots can land using the system, Bean said.

“The regular, standard instrument landing system is tried and true technology from the ‘50s and the ‘60s,” he said. “It is radio technology. It’s at most all commercial service airports. Almost every single one of them has an ILS.”

Bean called the new system an “investment in reliability.”

He said the technology will dramatically diminish flight cancellations because of inclement weather. The system will provide the airport with the best visibility minimums for landing it has ever had, meaning more planes can land in low visibility.

There have been 33 cancellations, departure or arrivals, in 2019 alone. This same time last year, the number was 12; the year before that it was 40. The number can vary greatly depending on weather.

“An ILS will make it exponentially better — there’ll be just a handful of cancellations that we would have,” Bean said. “We’re going to have cancellations — every airport in the Northwest does due to weather — but we will have a significantly reduced amount.”

Bean said the new system is only available with aircraft that approach the runway traveling from west to east. Even so, he said, the increased reliability in landing procedures coupled with a new and improved runway will put the airport in a much better position as officials investigate adding an additional airline and a direct flight to Denver.

“It’s a big factor when you’re talking to an airline — What are your approach capabilities? Do you have an ILS? What’s your (visibility) minimums? How bad is your weather? — those are very predominant discussion points,” Bean said.

“The less flights we have to cancel (and) the better technology that we have, the better off the airline is, and the more profitable the airline becomes in the better service we receive as a community.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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