by ANTHONY SIMPSON
Eastsound residents probably couldn’t help but notice a blue and white Lear Jet that made repeated approaches and departures at the Orcas Airport on Monday, June 24.
The Lear Jet that made the passes is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and is highly instrumented to evaluate airport navigation components and instrument procedures to ensure their accuracy and safety. The evaluation should help travelers use the airstrip in all-weather conditions. In this instance, the FAA was re-evaluating the ground device that uses lights to assist a pilot in landing, also called VGSIs, on both runways to ensure they were set to the correct standards for terrain south of the airport. During the flight check, the southern indicator was found to be out of tolerance and multiple passes were needed to dial it in.
In addition to checking the VGSI on each runway, this flight check also evaluated a new, draft standard instrument departure (SID) to the south. When published, the new SID will permit safe departures with significantly lower ceilings and visibilities than currently permitted. There is also an instrument approach from the north in development that will permit safe arrivals with comparable weather. While the departure was evaluated and passed, along with the two VGSIs, the jet that was here is not sophisticated enough to conduct the approach evaluation, so therefore another flight check aircraft will return later this summer to evaluate the approach. The approach and departure are scheduled for publication in September. The approach from the north and departure to the south should significantly improve the all-weather capability of the airport for pilots and commercial operators. The hope is that travelers will have less need to have a “ferry backup plan” when traveling in the winter.