Avi­a­tion struc­ture in port’s way

FAA open to mov­ing cru­cial plane nav­i­ga­tion sta­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - NOEL OMAN

An ag­ing but still crit­i­cal aid to nav­i­ga­tion in the air is block­ing the Lit­tle Rock Port from nav­i­gat­ing its own fu­ture on land.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which op­er­ates and main­tains the na­tion’s net­work of VHF Omni Direc­tional Ra­dio Range sta­tions — known by the acro­nym VORs — has agreed to take a look at mov­ing the VOR sta­tion, a process that Bryan Day, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Lit­tle Rock Port Au­thor­ity, ac­knowl­edged last week could take sev­eral years.

The sta­tion is in a re­mote area be­tween the port and David D. Terry Lock and Dam and south­east of Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton Na­tional Air­port/

Adams Field.

Dick Hol­bert, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Cen­tral Fly­ing Ser­vice, said he re­mem­bers the sta­tion from

when he flew with his dad, Claud Hol­bert, the founder of Cen­tral, in the 1950s. He be­gan for­mal in­struc­tion at 16 and got his pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cense at 17 in 1960.

“It’s been there for a long time,” said Hol­bert.


The VOR tech­nol­ogy was de­vel­oped af­ter World War II, was widely in­stalled in the 1950s and be­came the ma­jor nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem for air­craft in the 1960s.

About 1,000 VOR sta­tions with vary­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties dot the United States, cre­at­ing a series of VOR high­ways in the sky for pi­lots to fly cross coun­try from VOR sta­tion to VOR sta­tion if their air­craft is equipped to use the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

In re­cent years, the tech­nol­ogy has been sup­planted by newer nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems

based on satel­lites, pop­u­larly known as GPS.

The FAA, cit­ing the $110 mil­lion an­nual cost to main­tain the VOR nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, has em­barked on a pro­gram to phase out about 30 per­cent of the VOR sta­tions over the next few years. Enough will be kept, the agency said, to have a ro­bust enough VOR sys­tem in place as a backup to satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

The Lit­tle Rock VOR sta­tion will re­main un­der the FAA plan.

Day is quick to point out, the port doesn’t want to do any­thing to jeop­ar­dize it, ei­ther.

“It’s crit­i­cal for the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem,” he said. “What­ever we end up do­ing, it’s im­por­tant we do no harm to any­one. We’re not go­ing to do any­thing to [af­fect] nav­i­ga­tion for the lit­tle guy or the big guy.”

But its lo­ca­tion is prob­lem­atic for a port run­ning out of land to of­fer to the big com­pa­nies that like its lo­ca­tion with ready ac­cess to the river, rail lines and in­ter­state. It is down to one 165-acre tract avail­able for prospect ten­ants.

“The chal­lenge for us is we’re out of land,” Day said. “Land ac­qui­si­tion is crit­i­cal to our suc­cess, it’s crit­i­cal to our fu­ture and it’s very im­por­tant we pur­sue this.”

The VOR sta­tion sits on 50 acres of land owned by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The port owns land sur­round­ing that plot to­tal­ing nearly 400 acres.

But noth­ing as­so­ci­ated with heavy man­u­fac­tur­ing can be built within 5,000 feet of the VOR sta­tion. That build­ing lim­i­ta­tion en­sures the VOR sta­tion sig­nal can be emit­ted with­out be­ing blocked.

“You can’t do any­thing within a 1,000 feet of it ex­cept cut grass,” Day said. “Be­tween 1,000 and 2,000 feet, you can only build to 21 feet tall. Be­tween 2,000 and 3,000 feet, you can build to 42 feet tall. Be­tween 3,000 and 4,000 feet you can build to 84 feet.”

Given that the stan­dard ware­house is 50 feet tall, “you still can’t do any­thing within 3,000 feet of the cone,” he said.

“We need the big heavy lifts, the big tall steam tow­ers, we need to be able to of­fer that land to any­body who would want to come.”

The port has few other op­tions.

There are some parcels within the port that are avail­able.

In March, the Amer­i­can sub­sidiary of the Chi­nese gar­ment man­u­fac­turer, Suzhou Tianyuan Gar­ments Co., an­nounced its pur­chase of a 101,000-square foot build­ing within the port for $1.85 mil­lion with plans to in­vest $20 mil­lion to equip the build­ing and hire 400 full-time em­ploy­ees to pro­duce cloth­ing for Adi­das.

Be­yond that, pick­ings are slim for the port. To the east is the river, to the west is en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive wet­land and neigh­bor­hoods and to the north are neigh­bor­hoods and other devel­op­ment.

The land to the south is “high, dry, it’s along the river,” Day said. “Our only di­rec­tion is south. But that cone is block­ing our abil­ity to ex­pand.”


The FAA is open to look­ing at mov­ing the VOR sta­tion, an in­ten­sive process to find a re­mote lo­ca­tion free from in­ter­fer­ence to its care­fully cal­i­brated in­stru­ments but still within range of the air­port with ready ac­cess to roads and elec­tric­ity.

“These are typ­i­cally lo­cated in a spe­cific place for nav­i­ga­tional pre­ci­sion, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean they can­not be re­lo­cated,” said Lynn Lunsford, an agency spokesman. “Our en­gi­neers will de­ter­mine if an al­ter­nate lo­ca­tion will work.”

Day said he rec­og­nizes the chal­lenges.

“It’s not easy, it’s not in­ex­pen­sive,” he said. “There are a lot of chal­lenges to hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion. But there’s a will­ing­ness on both sides. Now we need to fig­ure out how to do that.”

Mov­ing the sta­tion might also give the FAA an op­por­tu­nity to up­grade the sta­tion as well, Day said. And there are pos­si­bil­i­ties short of mov­ing the sta­tion. Some sta­tions are el­e­vated in place to be clear of ob­sta­cles.

He said it could take sev­eral years to make it hap­pen, but the pay­off will en­sure the port’s long-term vi­a­bil­ity.

“This first piece of land was bought in the early 1970s,” he said. “They had the vi­sion 50 years ago to come out and buy land. There was no in­ter­state, the air­port was small, just old gravel roads to get here. They had the vi­sion to do that.

“We need to now have the vi­sion 50 years from now when you and I are gone — that the port is set up to ac­com­mo­date growth. We have 4,000 peo­ple who work here and 40 busi­nesses. Wouldn’t it be nice in 20 to 30 years to have 8,000 peo­ple who worked here and 80 busi­nesses?

“To do that, we have to have land. To do that, our only di­rec­tion is to move south.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHEL PE MASILUN

An FAA ra­dio nav­i­ga­tion struc­ture is in a field — near Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton Na­tional Air­port/Adams Field — that the Lit­tle Rock Port Au­thor­ity would like to use in an ex­pan­sion.

SOURCE: Lit­tle Rock Port Au­thor­ity Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHEL PE MASILUN

The FAA’s ra­dio nav­i­ga­tion sturcture is in a large field sur­rounded by Lit­tle Rock Port prop­erty.

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