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On Saturday, November 9, I had the privilege of being on board a Skywest Embraer E-175 Regional Jet flying from Boise to SUN. Skywest Airlines proudly operates for both Delta and United Airlines here at SUN. What was so special about this flight you might ask? The aircraft was conducting a flight test of a new instrument approach for the E-175 aircraft into SUN. The new procedure provides enhanced vertical and lateral guidance to the runway allowing the plane to fly through lower clouds levels that would have previously caused it to divert. This is similar technology to that being used successfully by Alaska Airlines the past few winters here at SUN.

The test was an overwhelming success and was the result of nearly a year’s worth of hard work by our approach designer, Flight Tech Engineering, and a great partnership with Skywest Airlines. Advancements in technology, combined with the outside-the-box thinking of our approach designer and strong support by Skywest Airlines, and the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Board made it possible.

There are still many steps that need to be completed before the new approach is fully implemented. Unfortunately, it is not expected to be ready to go this winter, more likely by spring of 2020. A significant action item requires the airlines to upgrade their fleets to fly the new approach. This is a costly endeavor so timeframe for the upgrades will be up to the air carriers. However, we are anticipating the approach will be in use by the carriers next winter. For our general aviation users, there is applicability of this technology to a portion of the general aviation aircraft fleet as well. That will be a next step in the development process in the future.

Lastly, this will mean a whole new world for our airport operations activities when it comes to snow removal. The need for additional snow removal equipment and manpower to keep the runway operational during big snow events will become a necessity and something we’ve not had to deal with before on this scale. I continue to work with Todd Emerick (Airport Operations Manager) and the Airport Board to ensure we are prepared.

The term “game changer” has been used to describe the positive impact this approach will have on the airport and air service here at SUN, and I believe the term is accurate. When implemented, this new procedure will greatly increase reliability at the airport and reduce diversions for our customers.

More to come.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone can enjoy the holiday with family and friends. For those who are on the front lines and will be at work, thank you for your commitment and sacrifice – it is appreciated.