MERLIN — The Grants Pass Airport will begin work in the fall that will see its runway lengthened from 4,000 feet to at least 5,500 feet over the next five years. But pilots won't have to wait that long for improved instrument access to the airport north of the city.

On Aug. 17 a new instrument approach to the airport will be published, allowing pilots to use instrument approaches down to 600 feet, said Larry Graves, manager of both the Grants Pass and Illinois Valley airports. It doesn't require new equipment at the airport, but uses GPS in the airplanes.

"It's extremely important to the future of the airport," Graves said. "It's a huge improvement for everyone. It will make our instrument approach actually usable, where it's currently not very usable at all."

That's because for much of the winter the cloud ceiling is at about 1,000 feet, rendering the current 1,800-foot allowed floor for instrument approaches unusable.

The new instrument approach also required removal of hundreds of trees, near Flaming Road on the southeast end and Denver Avenue on the northwest, which drew criticism from neighbors.

"I readily admit it's an eyesore and it's been an inconvenience — for which I apologize," Graves said. "We couldn't start clearing it off until last week. There's been nothing but mud out there until last week."

Graves said there was little choice but to remove the trees. Last fall, the Federal Aviation Administration told Graves the airport had to provide a 20-to-1 glide slope, free of obstructions, on all four corners of the airport runway, and extending 10,000 feet from the ends.

Here's the formula: For every 20 horizontal feet, the landing approach needed 1 vertical foot. And that space had to extend to the sides to allow lower circle approaches.

Graves sent up a drone programmed to match that minimum requirement earlier this year.

"It ran right into an oak tree," he said.

Some of the conifers were over 100 feet tall, and the contractor sold them to a mill. The hardwoods, including madrone and oak were made available as firewood.