New RNAV RNP Procedure Enables Safer Approaches and Landings at Eagle County Airport

Post by Alyce Shingler on October 27, 2022

By Woodrow Bellamy III | October 26, 2022

In August 2021, I participated in an inspection flight of a new approach procedure at one of the most challenging airports to land at in the U.S., Colorado’s Eagle County (KEGE) with Hughes Aerospace CEO Chris Baur in a TBM 850 equipped with Garmin avionics. Using the RNP and point-in-space landing capabilities of the aircraft’s advanced navigation systems, Hughes was able to deploy a new RNP AR approach into Eagle County that went live earlier this year.

Equipped with one runway measuring 9,000 feet, the approach to land at Eagle County is challenging because the mountainous terrain and nearby airports that surrounds it making the missed approach procedure challenging for even the most skilled professional pilots. In 2010 as the most famous example, Eagle was ranked as the world’s eighth most extreme airport in a special feature broadcasted by The History Channel.

The airport is situated within a valley inside the Rocky Mountains, with an elevation of more than 6,500 feet above sea level.

The cockpit of the Hughes Aerospace TBM 850.

Located 37 miles from Vail, the lone runway at Eagle County is surrounded by mountainous terrain with publicly available procedures that require pilots to use decision heights of more than 1,700 feet and three miles of visibility. Using RNAV RNP, Baur and Hughes Aerospace have established a new approach procedure with a decision height altitude of 282 feet and a half a mile of visibility.

“This approach has the lowest minimums of any published instrument procedure at Vail/Eagle County Airport. The other instrument procedures have significantly higher ceiling & visibility minimums, lack runway alignment, may position the aircraft closer to terrain, and have a challenging missed approach,” Baur told Avionics International.

Flying the approach in the TBM showed how much easier its descent angles and better avoidance of the terrain. The runway is situated within a valley area of the Rocky Mountains, where the mountainous terrain can range from 11-12,000 feet or more.

Pilots must fly over and through a gap in the mountains and slowly descend down into the valley where the lone runway sits to land at Eagle. Visibility can be quickly reduced by surprise snow storms or squalls. Lateral movement of the aircraft is also limited as you descend down into the valley because of the surrounding mountains and terrain.

Hughes Aerospace’s newly deployed RNAV (RNP) Q approach procedure to Runway 25 at Eagle County takes advantage of advanced navigation systems featured in modern cockpits, such as the Hughes TBM 850. It means smoother descent angles for pilots, allowing them to smoothly coast in between the mountains surrounding the downward glide slope into the runway, landing a few hundred over the runway center line.

According to reports on the use of the new approach several airline pilots on the first day of its becoming available through special FAA authorization, Baur said, it prevented several aircraft from diverting.

“Many aircraft today are equipped with contemporary avionics capable of supporting Performance Based Navigation (PBN). Extracting the value of these avionics is achieved through the extensive use of PBN, reducing pilot-controller workload, mitigating terrain & obstacles in a trajectory vs linear based lateral navigation as well as vertical navigation,” Baur adds.

Furthermore, the new approach features the strategic use of radius to fix legs to overfly the lowest possible terrain path from the initial approach fix to the runway. For RNP AR qualified pilots, it becomes a much smoother approach with shallower bank angles into the RF leg turns.

The RNAV RNP approach developed by Hughes Aerospace.

Lowering the landing minimums from decision height in the previously available approaches at KEGE are the clear star of the near approach though. Eagle County is located in the state that receives the fourth-highest amount of snowfall annually in the U.S., often causing lower ceilings enforced by air traffic control at the airport.

According to an article published by the Eagle County airport’s authority in February, the airport set monthly passenger record numbers in 2021, recording its highest number of enplanements from the airport’s lone runway since 2008. Some of the factors the airport attributes traffic growth to include the addition for summer service to Atlanta and Chicago, long with year-round service to Denver.

In 2022, the airport is experiencing continued growth in traffic. American Airlines, United and Delta Airlines conduct the most airline operations of all U.S. carriers to Eagle County, according to the article.

“The automation allows the pilots to focus on monitoring the performance, detecting and reacting to an undesired aircraft state immediately. This is in contrast to ‘being the performance’ potentially becoming task saturated while flying & navigating a legacy process,” Baur said.

HAI Member Spotlight: Hughes Aerospace Corp., Texas, USA

Post by Alyce Shingler on October 5, 2022

ICAO-endorsed air navigation services provider offers IFP and PBN services worldwide.

Air navigation services provider Hughes Aerospace Corp. offers performance-based navigation (PBN) for regulators, airports and heliports, and air traffic management organizations, as well as conventional instrument flight procedure (IFP) design, validation, and maintenance services.

IFP and PBN Services
As a fully credentialed non-FAA air navigation services provider, Hughes designs, implements, and maintains IFPs worldwide. Its team is experienced in developing and maintaining Part 97 public and special IFPs. Hughes is also endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as an air navigation service provider. The company, based in Houston, Texas, has participated in airspace projects that involve PBN throughout North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Hughes’s FAA-approved program includes validation services involving simulator, flight, and obstacle validation for both public and special navigation procedures. The company owns and operates its own aircraft and equipment, allowing it to advertise efficient and timely turnkey responsiveness for both new and existing procedures, including IFP maintenance and NOTAM service for clients.

In addition to holding an ICAO endorsement as an approved air navigation services provider outside of the United States, the company is part of the ICAO PBN Go Team and has worked with ICAO member states on PBN implementations.

The company also holds licenses for IFP design in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), from the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA); from Oman for implementation in that country; and from the director general of the CAA in the Philippines.

Helicopter and UAS Services
Hughes is approved by the FAA to perform heliport evaluations. The company also provides heliport design, implementation, and certification and offers helicopters and uncrewed aircraft systems (UASs) with certification and imagery that can be used in safety and training.

Hughes released its own app, available for iOS and Android devices, in 2020. The app offers weather, NOTAMs, risk assessment, safety management system (SMS) reporting, safety or chart inaccuracy reporting, and the ability to file, activate, and cancel FAA flight plans, among other capabilities.


Post by Alyce Shingler on October 20, 2019, updated on May 14, 2020

You are cleared for the RNAV RWY 19R approach at Dulles (KIAD) flying the LPV. At LAUGH waypoint, you are at 3,000 MSL and start your descent on the glide path. The METAR shows a ceiling of 300 AGL, just above minimums. You break out of the clouds just before the DA of 478 and land. As pilots, we know of the work it takes for ATC to help us land safely, but are mostly unaware of what it takes to create the instrument procedures themselves. The United States alone has 12,000 instrument approaches, 7,200 of them based upon GPS. Each one goes through a detailed design, test, implementation and maintenance process.

GPS-based approaches are increasing at a rapid rate due to the lower cost and relative ease of design and certification in comparison with VOR or localizer-based approaches. Even with a large number of approaches available, we can always use more, especially at smaller airports, heliports and private landing facilities. As capabilities of satellite-based navigation increase, so do the possibilities for pilots. One of the newest options are curved Radius-to-Fix (RF) approaches, with each leg defined by a radius, arc length and fix. These approaches offer pilots the capability to maintain very precise tracking along curved paths when using approved GPS navigation systems. The first such approach was established at the Ronald Regan Washington Airport (KDCA) in 2003. Another example is the RNAV (RNP) RWY 31 at Palm Springs (KPSP). In order to utilize these approaches, both aircraft and aircrew must be authorized.

The complicated designs are created by the FAA and other government agencies worldwide, along with a small group of private companies. Hughes Aerospace, based in Houston, falls into the latter group. Hughes possesses certifications from the FAA as a Public Part 97 Air Navigation Service Provider, certificated to design, implement and maintain a wide variety of Instrument Flight Procedures (IFR) – particularly satellite-based navigation such as LPV approaches, RNAV SIDs and STARs. Additionally, Hughes Aerospace is certificated by ICAO and several other government regulators worldwide. Hughes not only designs instrument procedures for public airports but they develop and maintain them for private airports and heliports as well.

I reached out to Chris Baur, president and CEO of Hughes Aerospace, to discuss instrument procedure design. Chris, an experienced pilot with both fixed-wing and rotorcraft flight time in the military and civilian arenas, has been designing instrument procedures for more than 10 years around the world.

Chris Baur with Hughes Aerospace was instrumental in the design of a public complex RF approach at Pohnpei International (PTPN) in the Federated States of Micronesia that includes radial-to-fix segments on both the final and missed approach portions of the RNP RWY 9 procedure.

Approaches for Private Airports and Heliports

For private landing facilities such as residential airparks or medical heliports, an instrument procedure dramatically increases the utility and safety. In many cases, a satellite-based procedure is the only solution, especially in environments where terrain and obstacles prevent the development of other approaches. Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) procedures can be designed with either linear or non-linear (also called trajectory-based) flight paths that can provide lower minimums.

With increasing population density surrounding airports and heliports, custom procedures can also help mitigate the noise impact on the surrounding community. Hughes Aerospace has worked on a number of these solutions over the last 10 years.

The design and implementation processes are complex, starting with remote site analysis, which uses a variety of data sources from topographical and aerial surveys to local planning documents. All procedure designs then require a detailed on-site survey. After the initial design, and coordination with the FAA and other agencies, the procedures must then be test flown. Hughes Aerospace uses their own Piper Meridian and Robinson R66 as the test platforms, flying the approaches to verify they meet requirements. Once the testing is complete and the procedure approved, Hughes coordinates the publication of the data in the databases, and in the case of private operators, the issuance of the full-color geo-referenced procedure.

In order for the procedures to be active, they must be monitored daily, including managing the NOTAM service for any changes or variation in service levels. For the majority of approaches that are managed by the FAA, it is their responsibility. For those custom designed for private operators, Hughes Aerospace provides these services.

A 3-D map from a site inspection in Calexico, California.
Image Courtesy of Hughes Aerospace

Behind the Scenes Look

I recently accompanied Chris on a site inspection for a heliport in Calexico, California – only a few miles from the airport (KCXL) and a stone’s throw from the United States/Mexico border. Chris and his team already completed initial design work remotely, and the mission this visit was to confirm obstacles and obtain the most accurate data on the helipad and surrounding area.

We flew from Montgomery Field (KMYF) to Calexico in my Eclipse 500 for the site evaluation. The initial ground survey included mapping the obstructions in the local area with high precision, including their latitude and longitude as well as height. Next was the inspection of the landing site itself. Chris made precise measurements of the helipad, then proceeded to use a small UAV to map the location in detail.

I previously owned a photogrammetry company and it was fascinating to see Chris utilize the latest generation of high-resolution technology. The UAV was the perfect aerial platform for this work, flying a precise pattern to assist Chris and his team with creating an accurate 3-D map of the heliport and surrounding areas. This data can then be combined with their other sources to develop the precise paths for the instrument procedures. Each site offers new challenges. This one, in particular, had the Mexico border, large communications towers, as well as buildings near the helipad.

Hughes Aerospace will take this data to design the instrument approach and departure procedures for their customer. And the work won’t stop after the FAA approval since they must monitor and maintain the procedures for as long as they are active.

The next time you are briefing for your instrument approach, or reviewing a departure or arrival procedure, remember that aviation professionals created each one of those altitudes, headings, speeds and notes with an attention to detail – and one focus – safety.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2019