PROVO -- A turbulent effort to bring radar to the Provo Municipal Airport might enjoy a soft landing now that the Salt Lake International Airport plans to help and new U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is planning a visit.
The Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly turned down requests by city leaders and Utah's senators to put radar in Provo because the FAA doesn't believe the airport is busy enough. Salt Lake City's support is conditioned on basing the radar at the Point of the Mountain, and the plan could get a boost when Peters visits for a personal inspection at the invitation of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Salt Lake City is interested in radar at the Point of the Mountain because it would act as backup for its operations and would solve the problem of a radar shadow in Utah Valley.
The mountains make it impossible for radar operators in Salt Lake City to see anything below 8,000 feet in Utah Valley. The shadow created a problem in January when air traffic controllers diverted six flights bound for Salt Lake City to Provo because of bad weather. The radar shadow made it difficult for the planes to take off after the weather improved.
"The Salt Lake International Airport has agreed to submit the request in its name," Billings told the Provo City Council. "In exchange, we agreed to put it at the Point of the Mountain, where it can serve all of Utah County and as a backup for Salt Lake."
The radar could help operations at the Spanish Fork airport, as well as Provo, Salt Lake International and Salt Lake City Airport No. 2 in West Jordan.
"The Salt Lake City Department of Airports does support the radar because of its regional benefit," department spokeswoman Barbara Gann said. "So we are working with the Provo airport and will pursue a group effort to entice a radar system to the area."
The radar would cost the FAA about $12 million. Hatch is lobbying to pave the way for the funding.
"It is crucial that the Provo Airport receive adequate radar coverage for the safety and future of air travel along the Wasatch Front," Hatch said. "I encouraged Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to take a look at this very important safety initiative, and I was pleased she accepted my offer to visit Utah to see firsthand the airport site. Improving radar coverage in Utah County is a high priority for me, and it's high time something is done about it.
"The partnership between the Salt Lake City International Airport and the Provo Airport is a very important step forward in getting the radar installed and operational. I commend these two entities for working together for the good of both communities."
Peters hasn't determined the date of her visit.
The FAA temporarily installed radar in Provo for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, but lobbying efforts to keep it by Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, were unsuccessful.
"The FAA continually scores us too low to get radar," Billings said.
A new radar system could be the state-of-the-art ASR-11 radar. ASR stands for automated surveillance radar. The system deployed in Provo during the Olympics was ASR-9. Salt Lake International operates with ASR-9, Gann said.
Radar could open the door to bringing commercial service to Provo. E-mail:
The FAA has reiterated its stance that the cost of additional radar outweighs the benefits.
The radar system, known as the ASR-11, is needed to overcome a 'radar shadow' that makes it impossible for controllers to view air traffic below 8,000 feet in Utah Valley.
The state's largest airport also ranked No. 2 in on-time departures, just .06 percent behind No. 1 Houston.
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