Installation of the system itself was finished last week and a specialised calibration aircraft from New Zealand arrived last Thursday to carry out final testing – after completing a similar job at Aitutaki Airport on Friday.
When CINews spoke to Ngamata on Monday morning the testing aircraft was still at work, flying in and out over the runway with an engineer onboard checking that the landing system was transmitting accurate data to the plane.
“We’ve been waiting for this for years,” Ngamata said of the new system, which he anticipated would be fully calibrated within the day.
“It’s a milestone for us, this instrument landing system – we consider this part of an achievement for this airport. Keeping up with technology and the best theories in technology for this type of thing.
“It’s the biggest project we’ve had in a while – the last one we had in 2010 was the terminal.”
The total cost of the project was just a touch over $2million, paid out of the Airport Authority budget. The Authority also managed to keep total costs down by waiting until the calibration aircraft from New Zealand was making a round of routine annual inspections throughout the Pacific, instead of bringing it in specifically just for the new system testing.
Once testing is complete, the calibration flight and its crew will return to New Zealand.
Replacing one that was more than 30 years old, the new instrument landing system has an expected lifespan of 15 years and will be regularly recalibrated each year.
At the end of its lifetime, Ngamata says the new landing system will almost certainly be replaced by satellite-based technology.
“We actually thought that the new satellite systems would have already overtaken this and we wouldn’t have to install it – but they’re still using these all around the place,” he explained.
“These are old technology, but the latest models of the older technology. The new ones that are just starting to come out, just starting to be put in some places, are a thing called GBAS (Ground-Based Augmentation System). It’s all satellite-based.
“But once we’ve got this calibrated, we basically don’t touch it again for the next 15 years.”
The next upcoming project for the airport involves the upgrade of the old runway edge lighting from bulbs to LEDs, which will cost in the vicinity of $250,000.
“It’s a fairly expensive exercise to do,” said Ngamata. “But once you’ve changed them, the LEDs are much cheaper to run. And they last longer.”
Ngamata added that he expected the change to LED lighting would put a reasonable dent in the airport’s $36,000-a-month power bill.