Nov. 4, 2015

Knoxville, TN’s McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) faced a big challenge in 2013. The facility’s only runway with an instrument landing system (ILS) approach – Runway 5L/23R – was in desperate need of replacement, which could take up to five years. During reconstruction of the runway there would be no ILS approach capability at the airport.

TYS Airport Engineer Eric Williamson, along with Scott Crimmins with CHA Consulting, Inc., asked the FAA to install an ILS on the airport’s alternate runway – Runway 5R/23L – but they found the agency unwilling to invest in older, non-GPS-based technology.

Williamson and Crimmins then reached out to the FAA’s Non-Federal Program (NFP), which oversees certain types of non-federally owned navigation systems and employees. These systems are funded and maintained by an airport, an individual or other non-federal government entity.

“This type of project requires a cooperative partnership with the FAA and, in our case, with a consultant familiar with the process,” said Williamson. “Tennessee has a well-funded Division of Aeronautics under the state’s Department of Transportation, so we were able to get a matching grant from the Tennessee Transportation Equity Fund, which is funded by users of the aviation system, to purchase necessary equipment and prepare the ILS site.”

The non-federal ILS became operational on Runway 23L last August, and construction began immediately to replace Runway 5L/23R.

“Commissioning a non-federal navigation system can be an expensive and complicated process,” said Michael Schoen, the NFP’s management analyst contractor. “Non-Federal Program liaisons act as ‘trail guides.’ They’ll outline the roadmap and then guide you through the process. Bottom line: to avoid making costly mistakes, contact your local NFP liaison before planning your airport project.”

Williamson said the non-federal ILS is essential to maintaining operations at TYS. Unusual weather in the area results in higher reliance on the ILS at TYS than at some other airports.

“Airports are multi-million-dollar economic hubs that generate revenue and jobs for their regions,” said Schoen. “The Non-Federal Program helps airports grow their capacity, which helps ensure financial stability for everyday people.”

Williamson and Crimmins credit the TYS ILS project’s success in part to the dedication of NFP Inspector Layne Shaw and his supervisor Mike Brown. “They really bent over backwards to ensure this project was completed on time,” said Williamson.

Review the list of Non-Federal Program liaisons. (PDF)