Finleyville Airport gets GPS approach

Katie Anderson

Bad weather conditions will be less of a deterrent for humanitarian and medical flight pilots who need to land at Finleyville Airport, now that it has a GPS approach for landing.

Tom Riemer of Virginia spent the last two years working to clear the approach with the Federal Aviation Administration, saying safety was his main concern.

“As weather gets bad, pilots lose visibility and it prohibits the aircrafts from getting in and out of the airport,” Riemer said.

With the GPS approach, Finleyville will now show up on navigation charts that pilots would need in order to fly in or out of the airport in fog, rain or other low-visibility weather, instead of simply eyeballing where the runway is.

“Before, it was just fly around and hope you didn’t hit anything, but we don’t have to do that anymore,” Riemer said.

Riemer is a retired airline pilot who’s logged more than 26,000 hours in the air. He said that though he lives in Virginia, he has ties to the Finleyville area and has a hangar at the airport. He said he took on the project of getting the approach from the FAA because he felt strongly about the importance of increasing safety at the airport.

“Now there’s no guesswork as to whether there are trees or cell towers out there,” he said. “The approach enhances the safety of the pilots and the safety of the neighborhood.”

While the airport is privately owned, it can be used for public services, such as medical and humanitarian flights like Medevac and LifeFlight, which are air ambulance services.

“When you need a helicopter or an air ambulance service, we have the capability now, but I hope nobody needs it,” Riemer said. “Time saves lives in an emergency situation.”

Riemer said before the approach was approved Oct. 12, Finleyville’s airport had about three medical flights per month. With the ability to land there in poor weather, he suspects that will increase by 100 percent.

Pilots involved with humanitarian efforts also will have an easier time utilizing the airport, including Angel Flights, a nonprofit coalition of pilots who donate their time and resources to transport emergency supplies, people in need and sometimes even organ donations.

Riemer, who is an Angel Flights pilot, said securing the approach didn’t cost taxpayers anything because “this was an endeavor that I took on myself.”

While there was no monetary cost for the GPS approach, it was a time-consuming process for Riemer.

“The larger airports got all of the attention and money to create approaches for when the weather’s bad,” Riemer said. “The smaller airports, like Finleyville, were always on the bottom of the list.”

While Riemer had to go through many different approvals for the upgrade, he said he received a great amount of support from local townships and emergency workers. Riemer held a reception last week to celebrate the new safety feature by inviting pilots and first responders to the airport to review the approach.

“The first responders loved it,” he said. “Everyone wants to improve safety.”