PROVO — The Provo City Council authorized Mayor Lewis Billings on Tuesday to enter into a contract to outfit the municipal airport with a radar system by 2010.

The memorandum of agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration and Provo allows the two entities to begin planning, construction, installation and commission of an Air Traffic Control Beacon Interrogator Model 6 secondary surveillance radar system at the Provo Municipal Airport. Billings said the radar will vastly improve visibility conditions for Provo air traffic control as well as visibility over one of the major air highway lanes coming into Salt Lake International Airport.

"We believe there's a huge safety crisis," he said.

The radar project is estimated to cost around $4 million in initial expenses. The FAA has agreed to split that cost with Provo, paying $2 million, and it has also promised to cover the estimated $100,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs.

Provo received $1 million in one-time funding from the Utah Legislature in 2007 for the municipal radar system. Utah County and the Mountainland Association of Governments have also promised to front $500,000 each.

Provo is expected to make the first $500,000 payment two weeks after the agreement is signed. The next $1 million payment is due Sept. 30. The radar could be operational as soon as 2010.

Though the City Council unanimously approved the language of the MOA, Billings said he wouldn't move ahead with the agreement until the city has the cash in hand.

"I'm not willing to sign it until we have all the dollars to work with," he said.

Currently, Utah Valley is in a blind spot because it sits in a bowl, and planes taking off from the airport are undetectable by Salt Lake International Airport's radar system until they hit 8,500 feet. Provo air traffic control rely on binoculars and chalk boards to track planes, Provo airport director Steve Gleason said, and they have to wait until they have a 20-mile gap in traffic before giving the clearance for planes to take off. In inclement weather, they're forced to rely on the pilot's estimated location.

The ATCBI-6 will be able to pinpoint a plane's location, altitude and velocity to enhance air traffic control's "situational awareness," Gleason said.

"They'll know where the planes are rather than relying on the pilot's estimate," he said.

Gleason said between 160,000 and 180,000 operations take place at Provo's airport. A radar will make it a lot easier to get in and out.

"It will definitely increase the safety for those already flying," he said.

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