North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field will need to wait a little longer for radar services. Airport officials said Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration will not be moving forward with infrastructure upgrades that could bring radar service to the regional airport.
With the initial efforts to bring radar to NTRA, county officials pledged $400,000 for improvements with the mindset that these funds would be reimbursable in the future. With this project no longer viable, these funds will remain with the county, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said.
The decision by the FAA to not extend infrastructure comes as the agency plans for the next generation of radar technology to roll into major service in 2020. Local officials learned of the decision following a meeting with FAA representatives last month.
“The radar is not going to be an option for us,” Interim Airport Director Mike Livezey said Thursday.
Starting on Jan. 1, all aircraft will be required by the FAA to be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance -Broadcast technology. While the FAA plans to upkeep existing radar technology, future infrastructure spending will be focused on ADS-B capacity and coverage, Livezey said.
Whereas traditional radar is ground-based, ASD-B will utilize equipment on aircraft that will broadcast location information to satellites, who then beam that data to ground repeater stations.
“Instead of being based on ground radar, it is based on a satellite's ability to pinpoint where those aircraft are,” Livezey said.
Following the inclusion of NTRA into the FAA's contract tower program last year, airport and county officials turned their attention to getting radar service for the control tower. At the time, officials said the inclusion of radar at NTRA was both an economic boon and a safety issue.
While initially officials contemplated having radar services transmitted from stations closer to Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, it was determined that these sites could only provide limited coverage. The stations could provide readings from high altitudes, but did not cover lower areas, including those where most NTRA traffic flies in.
“There isn't enough infrastructure that reaches up here to give positioning of the different aircraft low enough down to the ground,” Livezey said.
In order for service to reach the area, new infrastructure would need to be constructed, but the FAA declined to pursue this, citing the upcoming transition to ADS-B.
“That is so close that it would not be a good use of taxpayer money to develop that,” Livezey said.
Much like traditional radar services, Livezey said current ADS-B coverage in Texoma is limited, and is primarily focused to the south near the Metroplex.
“There are already ground stations in place,” he said. “My understanding based on the meeting that I had is, currently if they are coming in from the south to land north, the coverage kinda hits the airport. Most of the of the time traffic is coming from the north for a south landing, and it doesn't quite reach far enough.”
Currently, the FAA is focusing its roll out of the new technology on major metropolitan airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Once that wave is completed, the FAA is expected to move on to a secondary group of airports, and this will be the region's best chance to get the new radar service, officials said.
“I agree that it (radar) is not in the cards right now and this is a much longer process than we originally thought,” Magers said, describing the project as a three to five-year goal. “This isn't going to be tomorrow; this is the long play.”
Magers said he plans to work with representatives in Washington to see what can be done to include NTRA and Texoma in this second phase of roll out. Meanwhile, Livezey said he plans to work alongside Durant, Oklahoma and Gainesville to increase the region's odds for getting included.
Even with approval by the FAA, Magers said the airport will still need to finance the improvements, which are estimated to cost about $800,000.
However, costs for the new ADS-B improvements would not be reimbursable, making the investment a harder investment for county leaders in the long term.
“We as county commissioners will still have to justify that expense,” Magers said.
Despite the initial estimates, Magers said he expects the cost to go down over time, making the prospect of being in the second phase more financially plausible.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter. He can be reached at MHutchins@HeraldDemocrat.com.