Do GPS approaches make an airport safer? Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Recently, VASI shot the Venice Municipal Airport (VNC) GPS approaches to demonstrate the safety of arrival operations using GPS Instrument Approach Procedures (IAPs). Most importantly, the video demonstrates the impacts of having and not having the approved procedures on the neighborhoods surrounding the airport. GPS approaches are safe, cheap to maintain and require no ground-based avionics equipment to support them. In fact, the Federal air transportation system is transitioning to GPS approaches as a part of the next generation of technology implementation.

The IAP approach plates are included as annotated PDF files and may be accessed for detailed information using the following links.

RNAV GPS 13 Approach

RNAV GPS 31 Approach


Aside from the Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) 13 approach, where VNC's NDB is presently out of service and likely to be decommissioned in the coming months, Venice does not have any other approaches besides GPS to support the fleet of IFR-capable, Venice-based aircraft. Presently the RNAV GPS 13 and RNAV GPS 31 provide the only FAA-approved means of arrival under Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). Therefore, as this video will demonstrate, it is imperative that these approaches be maintained at their present or improved configuration.

This video was shot under Visual Meteorological Conditions (VFR), enabling the viewer to see the entire approach. Under IMC, visibility would be zero until the airport environment becomes visible.

In the first segment of the video, the pilot is executing the RNAV GPS 13 approach. This approach initiates 10.9 nautical miles to the north, approximately due west of the Sarasota Bradenton Internationa Airport (SRQ) over the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on the direction of travel, pilots cross the RETVE or WONLO Initial Approach Fixes, or proceed straight to the FOVTA Initial Fix (shown in the red circles on the approach plates).

The video begins with the approach already in progress. A short segement was edited out for brevity and picks up when the pilot crosses the final approach fix. Superimposed brackets show the runway environment clearly in sight from a distance of nearly five miles. Note that the entire approach, except for the last fifteen seconds, is conducted over the Gulf. Only a handful of homes at the approach end of RWY 13 are impacted by the overflight.

In the second segment, the pilot conducts the RNAV GPS 31 approach with a Circle To Land maneuver. This is the instrument procedure that would be used to land on RWY 13 should the RNAV GPS 13 approach be decommissioned or unavailable. In the beginning, the pilot is established on the 31 approach, with the runway environment in sight. Once in sight, the pilot can safely conduct a landing. But in this scenario, winds favor the RWY 13 approach. So under RNAV 31 Circle To Land minima (see GPS 31 approach plate), the pilot is authorized to a Minimum Decent Altitiude of 500 feet with one mile of visibility to circle around to the other end of the runway and execute the landing. At the point where the pilot has acquired the runway environment, he terminates that portion of the approach and begins the Circle To Land portion. The video is again edited for brevity and picks up during the circling maneuver and his final approach.

Note that the Circle To Land procedure crosses over a major swath of residences on the Island of Venice, presumably under deteriorated weather conditions. While the Circle To Land approach is safe, it clearly exposes more of the community to overflight than the existing RNAV GPS 13 straight in approach.

Safer? You decide.