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BAA CEO: flight diversions were about weather not tech

The Bermuda Airport Authority has confirmed that an instrument landing system used at LF Wade International Airport is only partially working but said this is not why a number of flights were forced to divert Saturday.

Lester Nelson: chief executive, Bermuda Airport Authority (Photograph supplied)

The BAA finances, owns, operates and maintains the ILS, and maintains and operates most of the communications, navigation and surveillance equipment at Bermuda’s only airport. It has used the US Federal Aviation Administration for inspections of the ILS.

An ILS is a radio navigation system installed at airports that guides planes in for landing. It has two major components — one that provides horizontal course guidance and one that provides vertical course guidance.

The airport in Bermuda has one runway with landings in two directions — known as runways 12 and 30 — and ILS is available on runway 30 only.

Lester Nelson, the chief executive of BAA, said the vertical guidance component of the ILS, the glideslope, is “unserviceable” in Bermuda.

Mr Nelson said: “A Notice to Air Missions or Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was issued 10 days ago to notify the public of the status of the ILS glideslope.

Can major flight disruptions be avoided in the future?

Lester Nelson, chief executive of the Bermuda Airport Authority, said there are no options to ensure disruption of service on yesterday’s scale does not happen again.

Asked if measures could be put into place, he said there are two options: “Install an ILS on runway 12 after excavating the Ferry Reach area under the runway 12 approach path to a lower level, as was recently done with the high terrain on airport land to the north of runway 12. This would be prohibitively expensive.

“Or relocate the touchdown point on runway 12 to the east, which would mean there would be less landing distance available thus affecting safety.

“The runway could be extended on the eastern end, but this would cost tens of millions of dollars. This would also be prohibitively expensive.”

“The ILS continues to be in use with the horizontal guidance function only. The parts to repair the ILS glideslope have been ordered, and the full ILS functionality will return shortly.

“The ILS’s status did not affect yesterday’s flight operations.

“Yesterday’s diversions were due to weather and unavoidable. It had nothing to do with the ILS serviceability, which only affects operations on runway 30, whereas landings were on runway 12.”

Mr Nelson said that runway 12, used for landings towards the south-east, does not, and has never had, an ILS installation owing to the proximity of high terrain at Ferry Reach.

He added: “The active runway for landings yesterday was runway 12, so the status of the ILS had zero effect on aircraft operations yesterday.

Nelson explained that clouds were too low at certain times of the day on Saturday for safe landings. Cloud cover can be no lower than 460 feet for a safe approach on runway 12, though later in the day, conditions improved.

“The cloud height increased last evening, so British Airways and Delta Air Lines were able to safely arrive and depart from Bermuda.”

“Pilots may have considered landing on runway 30 as an option, but as stated earlier, the wind direction favoured runway 12 landings, which was the safest landing direction.”

Mr Nelson said yesterday’s disruption was unavoidable as weather conditions cannot be controlled.

He added: “Most of the major airports with direct connections to Bermuda have multiple runways due to much higher aircraft operations than Bermuda’s.

BAA is exploring the use of space-based technologies to allow for landings when cloud cover is too low.

“BAA’s 15-year old ILS will be replaced in early 2024, and several meetings in Bermuda and overseas have taken place with the manufacturer.

“Finally, the BAA team continues to protect the public’s interest by providing safe and efficient operations.

“Yesterday’s flight diversions were due to the weather and unavoidable as aviation safety always comes first. It is unfortunate that yesterday’s weather conditions resulted in travel disruptions for many passengers and for aircraft operators. However, this type of weather event in Bermuda [low visibility] is very rare.“

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Published June 05, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated June 05, 2023 at 7:56 am)

BAA CEO: flight diversions were about weather not tech

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