Swearingen SA-227-AT, Beaver Island, Mich., February 8, 2001–Two people were killed, two seriously injured and two sustained minor injuries when the SA-227 (N318DH) crashed into trees while circling to land during a night, nonprecision instrument approach at Beaver Island Airport (SJX). The airplane was on a Part 135 charter flight operated by Air Taxi & Commuter Northern Illinois Flight Center.
With its 5,000-ft runway, Weslaco (Texas) Mid Valley Airport (T65) may not be a beehive of jet activity, but the local authority recently spent $2.1 million in improvements to attract business to the field. Located about 30 mi west of Brownsville, near the Mexican border, Weslaco expanded its parking apron to 280,000 sq ft, added two new taxiways and installed pilot-controlled lighting.
It is usually easier to find fault with a flight crew during an ensuing accident investigation than it was for the crew to make the right decisions instantly as the event unfolded. However, some accidents reveal procedural flaws that forge the first link in a chain of events long before a critical situation arises.
On March 29, 2001 a series of operational and instrument approach procedural errors led to the crash of N303GA, a Gulfstream III, just 2,400 ft short of the approach end of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE)’s Runway 15 while attempting to complete the VOR/DME C circling approach. Eighteen people, including three crewmembers lost their lives in the accident.
One of the things that most infuriates Jim Morton when he’s on his job is when he hears ATC telling nearby traffic, “Caution: FAA practice instrument approaches under way.” Morton is an FAA airspace system inspection pilot, and he and his crew must frequently emphasize to ATC and pilots that “we are not shooting practice approaches.” His mission is flight checking the accuracy of electronic navaids in the U.S. and abroad.
The FAA recently passed a major milestone in the move toward NextGen with the implementation of the 1,000th instrument approach that uses the enhanced GPS wide area augmentation system (WAAS). As of February 14, the FAA had approved 1,028 WAAS approaches at 577 airports, more than half of them general aviation facilities.
LEARJET 35A, GROTON, CONN., AUG. 4, 2003–Learjet N135PT, operated by Air East Management, was destroyed on a positioning flight when it crashed on approach to the Groton/New London Airport (GON) at approximately 6:39 a.m. EDT. Two ATP-rated pilots, the only occupants, were killed. The aircraft was operating in VMC after having canceled its IFR flight plan originating from Republic Airport (FRG) in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Piper PA-46 Meridian, San Antonio, Jan. 18, 2008–The instrument-rated pilot of the Meridian was killed and the aircraft destroyed when the pilot lost control on an instrument approach in IMC to San Antonio International Airport. The pilot reported that he was having trouble performing a “coupled” approach and that he was trying to “get control” of the airplane before the flight disappeared from radar.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced it will issue revised standards for helicopter navigation this fall that are intended to take advantage of GPS receiver technology and new types of instrument approach procedures.
The FAA last month approved GPS wide-area augmentation system (WAAS) LPV instrument approach criteria for helicopters, opening the floodgates for the new lateral precision/vertical guidance procedures at heliports and landing pads across the country.