Pilot's tip of the week

The VOR Phase-Out


Subscriber question:

"I heard that the FAA is still phasing out VORs. How many will eventually disappear and what does that mean for us GA pilots?" — Richard P.



“In 2012,  FAA released a proposed rule for phasing out some of the 967 VORs in the National Airspace System. Citing the increased costs of maintaining a network, the plan would leave about 500 VORs located at what the FAA calls the Core 30 airports around the country. Those are larger airports served primarily by Air Carriers. This remaining VOR network is called the Minimum Operational Network, or MON.

The MON is meant as a backup navigation system for IFR aircraft in the event of a widespread GPS outage and is an operational contingency. It’s not the robust network of current VORs. The transition would be slow to allow users time to equip with new avionics for RNAV and RNP.

The planned MON VOR coverage would enable airplanes in the conterminous United States to proceed safely to a destination with a GPS-independent approach within 100 NM. “MON” in bold letters above airport names on the low altitude charts indicates that the airport has at least one ground-based approach that can be flown without GPS or DME. However, the ground-based approaches might not be precision approaches (with a glideslope) or afford the lowest minimums. A pilot may have only a circling approach available.

To complement the transition to MON, FAA has increased the service volume of the remaining legacy VORs. Above 5,000 feet AGL, the service volume has been increased from 40 nm to 70 nm. MON coverage would only be guaranteed above 5,000 feet AGL. In other words, you will have to be above 5,000 AGL to get guaranteed VOR reception.

When a VOR is decommissioned, it is replaced with a GPS-based intersection and GPS-based airways. Sometimes the DME is retained even if the VOR is removed.

The original plan called for decommissioning 470 VORs starting in 2014 and completing the project by 2020. As with most things in the FAA, the project has slipped. As of February 2022 (the last data available), the agency had decommissioned 117 VORs, with 187 VORs on the Discontinuance (Removal) Candidate List.”

Here’s a video where the instructor (Ryan) shows the student (Mike) the best use of automation to fly a VOR approach.

How will the reduction of VORs impact you?

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