Air Traffic Control System Complete, Operational at Western Colorado Airports

August 9, 2013 - Statewide Transportation Plan - DENVER, COLORADO - The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Aeronautics Division announced that a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation (NextGen) ground and satellite-based air traffic control system that expands radar coverage of the airspace serving major western Colorado airports at Gunnison, Telluride, and Durango became operational on July 31.

The new system, utilizing Wide Area Multilateration (WAM) technology, allows air traffic controllers based in Longmont, CO, to track and separate flights at the three airports which receive heavy visitor traffic throughout the year and especially during ski season due to their proximity to major winter resorts.

The three airports now join a system previously activated for Montrose (2012) and Rifle/Garfield County, Craig, Steamboat Springs, and Hayden (2010).

“This is great news for aviation safety in Colorado,” noted CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt.  “This completed system will help deliver more on-time flights, reduce fuel consumption, and will help boost tourism and economic development.  This system is consistent with the goals of Governor Hickenlooper and CDOT to deliver the most efficient and safest transportation system for Colorado.”

Prior to implementation of the new WAM technology, tracking of flights at these airports was very limited via traditional radar and was not possible at altitudes below 17,000 feet.  As a result there were frequent flight delays and diversions, especially during bad weather.

WAM technology works by utilizing a network of sensors deployed around each of the airports which receive and send aircraft transponder signals.  System computers immediately analyze the signals, allowing air traffic controllers to determine precise aircraft location for the purposes of keeping air traffic safely separated and providing vital flight guidance in the event of inclement weather.

The technology also allows pilots to fly search and rescue missions in weather conditions that would previously have kept them grounded and improves their ability to located downed aircraft more quickly.  The system helps reduce weather-related flight diversions and delays.

“CDOT’s Aeronautics Division has been involved with this system for the past eight years,” explained Aeronautics Division Director David Gordon.  “This has been a great partnership with the FAA.  The technology which was first used in western Colorado is now being installed across the United States to help our aviation system stay safe, on-time, and dependable.”

CDOT’s Aeronautics Division paid for WAM system development, which for the first time is integrated with NextGen technologies, at Montrose, Durango, Telluride, and Gunnison.  The (FAA) maintains and operates the system.