The Port of Camas-Washougal is exploring the possibility of implementing instrument approach at the Grove Field airfield north of Camas. It’s an addition that local aviators say would provide a variety of benefits, including enhanced pilot safety.
Instrument approach “aligns the airplane with the runway at an altitude that hopefully will be clear of the clouds and gets you in,” Port Commissioner John Spencer said. “It’s a huge thing because it changes us from a two-season airport to a four-season airport. It makes it much, much more viable.”
An instrument approach is a series of predetermined maneuvers that pilots use, with the assistance of navigation devices, to land their aircraft when there is little or no visibility.
Grove Field currently operates with visual flight rules, according to Spencer.
“That means that you cannot land if the weather’s bad, effectively,” he said. “You can take off (from Grove Field) because you can call the Portland tower and they’ll clear the airspace for you, and you can get out, but you can’t get back in. Some pilots will do so anyway. They fly just below the clouds at 500 feet off the ground. It’s not a safe thing to do, especially with the hills around here.”
Having an instrument approach at Grove Field, Spencer said, would be “a big boon” for the FlyIt Academy at the local airfield, “because then they can teach their students on instruments at their own airport.”
“And, of course, business aviation (would benefit),” Spencer said. “There’s no reason to base a plane where you can only use it half the year.”
Port of Camas-Washougal Chief Executive Officer David Ripp and local pilot David Sinclair, Grove Field’s representative to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, met with Federal Aviation Association representatives earlier this year to discuss their options when it comes to implementing instrument approach at the local airfield.
The FAA requires airports to have a runway at least 3,080 feet long and 60 feet wide to deploy instrument approach. Grove Field’s runway is shy of that requirement at 2,710 feet long and 40 feet wide.
Spencer said the port might be able to implement instrument approach without increasing the size of the airfield’s runway.
“I keep hearing from Dave Sinclair that he thinks there may be a route to doing it by basically getting an exception from the FAA,” Spencer said. “And so my thought is, ‘Why not?’”
Longtime pilot Bob Martilla advocated strongly for the addition during the port’s most recent commission meeting, on June 21. He said having an instrument approach would improve pilot safety, increase business travel and boost the port’s chances of acquiring airport-related funding opportunities.
“It’s actually pretty important in a lot of ways,” Martilla said.
Rick Andersen, the owner of the Grove Field-based FlyIt Academy, said a lack of instrument approach has impacted his business.
“The amount of instrument training we can actually do is greatly reduced because, yeah, we can pop up and get an instrument clearance, but we can’t get back home,” he said.