Panama City Beach — Thanks to the News Herald for the following story…Just after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Beechcraft King Air BE-300 aircraft swooped low over the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), running tests on equipment that could make the difference between a smooth landing and a crash.
An FAA pilot, co-pilot and specialized technician flew above the airport to calibrate and check navigational equipment. “It’s all safety-related,” said Bill Holman, airport relocation manager. “It’s a very exhaustive process.” The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began testing flight operations equipment at the new airport Tuesday and will spend 13 hours in the air over a two-day period. About nine FAA employees are making sure what Holman calls an “electronic road map” for airplanes works perfectly.
The FAA inspection is among several certifications the new airport needs before opening May 23, officials said. “This is just one inspection of one component of many more to come,” Holman said. On Tuesday, FAA officials looked at components such as vertical and horizontal landing indicators and Precision Approach Path Indicator lights that show pilots whether they are coming in too low or high, Holman said.
This week’s tests are important, officials said, but the FAA also runs these tests routinely. FAA has 28 aircrafts used to monitor flight equipment at airports nationwide. Teams evaluate more than 5,500 facilities worldwide, averaging 20,000 flight hours annually, according to the FAA Web site. The cost for the new airport’s inspection is part of the FAA’s budget, Bergen said.
As of Tuesday morning, FAA had found no problems, Holman said. If everything goes well, results would be published in April. The next major certification will happen when the airport turns over the control tower to the FAA in February, Holman said. Certifications are required for multiple aspects of the airport, Curtis said over the phone. The FAA is involved in everything from broadband frequencies to final questions about the runway, Holman said. Tests this week do not look at the runway, only the flight navigation equipment, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Holman said the FAA can ask for touchdown tests, but none are planned so far. Bergen wrote in an e-mail Tuesday the Airport Authority is required to meet certain engineering design standards on a runway and run an acceptance test upon completion. Tests on Tuesday did not require an actual touchdown.
Meanwhile, construction crews moved dirt and equipment, installed lights and worked on final touch ups on the runway. Officials expect the airport to open as scheduled. Moving an entire airport is complex, but Holman believes the plan will work. “We’re at a point in time where a lot of things will happen and happen rapidly,” Holman said. “Are we in good shape to make May 23? Absolutely. We are very confident.”
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