Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden revealed its Wide Area Multilateration system, a plane-tracking system, Thursday. YVRA employee Bonnie Steele asks senior system engineer Rick Castaldo to explain the flights appearing on a screen.

Photo by Blythe Terrell

Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden revealed its Wide Area Multilateration system, a plane-tracking system, Thursday. YVRA employee Bonnie Steele asks senior system engineer Rick Castaldo to explain the flights appearing on a screen.

YVRA to launch $4.7M tracking system

Aeronautics directors says the system is the 1st in nation

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Ski Corp.'s worth talk airport upgrades

What is a Wide Area Multilateration system? Andy Wirth, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., stops by the Steamboat Today morning show to discuss the unique technology and how it's being employed at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

What is a Wide Area Multilateration system? Andy Wirth, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., stops by the Steamboat Today morning show to discuss the unique technology and how it's being employed at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

— New technology could more than quadruple the number of flights that can enter or exit the valley each hour.

The Wide Area Multilateration system is scheduled to launch Sept. 12. The system uses ground sensors to detect transponders in airplanes. Computers perform complex equations to triangulate the data and calculate planes' altitude, speed and location. The system has been in the works for more than four years and has earned approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Dignitaries including U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., attended what Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger called a "philosophical ribbon cutting" Thursday at Yampa Valley Regional Airport. No ribbons were involved, but participants celebrated with cake and brief speeches.

"For us, the single biggest benefit is just the efficiency it gives to our commercial jets in winter," Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said after the ceremony.

As of now, about four takeoffs or landings can happen safely across the Yampa Valley during one hour, Ruppel said. The Wide Area Multilateration system could increase that to nearly 20 flights an hour, he said.

Under the current system, air-traffic controllers in the Denver area track flights to the Yampa Valley. Those controllers can't see planes on radar once their altitude drops below 11,000 feet, Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith said. The new system allows trackers to watch planes to the ground.

"It is a safety blessing that will benefit everybody in this area," said Don Kaplan, regional manager for Galaxy Aviation, the fixed-base operator at YVRA.

The new system is the first of its kind in the country, said Travis Vallin, aeronautics director for the Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics. The system also serves Rifle. Plans are in the works to add the tracking program in Montrose, Telluride, Durango, Gunnison, Alamosa and possibly Cortez, Vallin said.

Alaska plans to use the same system, but its project won't come online until November, Vallin said. He's worked from the beginning to add the Wide Area Multilateration system in the Yampa Valley and Rifle.

"It's a very robust system," Vallin said. "There's a lot of redundancies in the system."

Several entities joined to fund the $4.7 million project. The money came from the Colorado Aeronautical Board; the Colorado Department of Transportation; the Colorado Department of Local Affairs; Routt, Moffat and Garfield counties; Steamboat Springs; Craig; Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.; and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Adding one radar in the area would cost $6 million to $8 million, Vallin said.

The FAA will own and maintain the system, he said. It also could help searchers find plane crash sites.

The tracking system helped rescuers find a crash site in December, YVRA Public Safety Director Tyler Whitmore said. Controllers and organizers were watching planes using the system during the testing phase.

When Joseph and Suzette Brumleve's plane went down Dec. 22, controllers could see where it had been.

That narrowed the search area to a 1.5- to 2-mile area, Whitmore said. Although the Brumleves died in the crash, the system could save lives, said Rick Castaldo, a senior systems engineer with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"The search and rescue, especially in bad weather, mountainous areas, the faster you get there, the faster you can save them," Castaldo said.

The new Wide Area Multilateration will smooth operations at the airports in Hayden, Steamboat and Craig, Ruppel said.

"It's not just a little bit of a jump," he said. "It's a quantum leap."

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