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Valley fog still interrupts landings

From late fall to early spring, the Medford airport is socked in during many mornings and late afternoons as the fog blankets the valley floor. This causes flight delays and cancellations as, apparently, the airport can only operate under visual flight rules. How much would it cost the airport (and, if appropriate, the city of Medford and Jackson County) to install a system that would allow departures and arrivals despite the fog? How much of a surcharge would need to be added to ticket prices — and for how many years — to pay for state-of-the-art equipment?

— Tom "Flyboy" Davis, Jacksonville

Well Flyboy, turns out the airport already has a system set up that allows for instrument flight rules. The problem, as we're sure you're aware, is that in order to land a plane, you have to be able to see the ground, which can sometimes be a bit tricky when our Medford fog gets too soupy.

"We have an instrument runway that is in use," said Jeanie Stark, airport operations coordinator at the Medford airport. "So we can do IFR traffic ... The way that our instrument landing system is laid out, we have radar here, but it only works down to a certain elevation."

Stark explained that the airport operates on instrument flight rules when visibility drops below three miles. In order to land, however, pilots need to be able to see the landing lights — otherwise they must call off the landing and initiate a missed approach procedure. Stark said the runway visual range for the Medford airport is 2,000 feet; if the pilots can't see that far, they can't land.

Stark said that while the airport hasn't done any official studies, a full system overhaul would cost several million dollars — if it were even possible, given the geography of the area around the airport.

Stark pointed out that the majority of flights in and out of Medford are unhindered by the fog, and that usually weather conditions don't impact airport operations.

"We do have fog," she said. "But the majority of the time, it's not a factor in keeping airplanes from landing ... when it gets really, really dense, that's when it becomes a problem."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.