It’s the latest in airplane navigation equipment and it could play a big role in helping Melbourne International Airport’s commercial development. The airport unveiled its new ground-based electronic system – known as a Doppler VOR/DME – in September.

The Doppler Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range (VOR), acts as a directional tool for short and medium range aircraft by sending out a series of electronic signals. “Aircrafts are equipped with equipment that receive the VOR signal,” said Cliff Graham, director of operations and maintenance at the airport. “Basically, what it does is it helps them navigate. The VOR itself, it relates the aircraft like a compass heading to the VOR. That technology will tell the pilot where, on the compass, the VOR is.

“The Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) tells you the distance. Those two working hand-in-hand, (provide) orientation, space and distance from that particular piece of equipment.”

Pre GPS, Beyond GPS

If it sounds something like a GPS system for aircraft, well, it is. Only this technology was actually developed before GPS and, naturally, it has been continually upgraded to provide pilots and airports a very valuable tool.

With approximately 900 VORs around the country, pilots can not only find their destination airport, they can also track their flight path as they head up and down the east coast or toward other locations. For instance, the equipment can alert a pilot if he or she is flying to the left or the right of the preselected flight course or if flying directly on the position line.

W&J Construction, which built the MidAir USA hangar at Melbourne International Airport, won the bid to build the new Doppler system and further extend its portfolio of impressive structures. With a project cost of $3.5 million, the new system offers a significant upgrade for the Melbourne Airport in several ways.

The new system features 48 stationary antennas that each cover approximately 7.5 degrees which equals complete 360-degree coverage. Each antenna transmits for 694 microseconds in counterclockwise succession for 30 full cycles per second.

The DVOR’s operating principal is based on the measurement of the phase angle difference between two 30 Hz signals radiated from the station at the same time. One signal is radiated with the same phase from all directions, while the phase of the second signal can vary.

Those phase angles are measured by the aircraft’s on-board equipment to identify the azimuth, or bearing angle, which then appears on the DVOR indicator inside the cockpit.

Transmissions can be read from 300 km, or approximately 186 miles, which should give pilots plenty of time to make any kind of necessary flight adjustments.

Building Future Opportunities

“It’s very accurate,” Graham said. “It’s strong. It’s precise. It’s consistent.” So not only is the Melbourne Airport getting a new, state-of-the-art piece of equipment, it’s also getting a major piece in what it hopes will continue the trend of commercially developing its surrounding property for aviation and aerospace companies.

Because the system relies on electronic signals, tall buildings can potentially be an impediment. The old system was approximately 20 feet high, which represented a potential problem if there was a chance to build a new hanger at the airport. The new DVOR is approximately 50 feet tall, which will give the airport plenty of room to develop other aspects of its property without having to worry about the navigation system.

Melbourne International Airport is undergoing a $70 million capital improvement program which includes refurbishing the main terminal, replacing the air traffic control tower and resurfacing one of its three runways as it continues toward its goal of handling 500,000 passengers for 2015.

As the closest airport to Port Canaveral and all of its cruise ships, and within an hour-long drive to Orlando and all of its theme parks, the Melbourne International Airport is in a great position to attract more business, and more passengers. Having a new Doppler VOR/DME system in place is a step in that direction.

“What that’s going to enable us to do is commercially develop the airfield, airside and landside without having any negative impact on the VOR signal,” Graham said. “We’re in a growth mode. That’s a big deal to us right now.”

This article appears in the October 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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