Airport ‘open house’ shares aviation with the public

balloon sign sgeorgeIMG_0867 tallIt takes a lot of work to organize an event that will bring 1,500 people to see what aviation looks, sounds and feels like. That is exactly what a dedicated group of people from the businesses and aviation groups at Fairbanks International Airport did on May 16. Several months of planning went into the effort, but on that Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. the public got a glimpse of our world. The doors opened to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Facility, a hangar with class rooms and instructional facilities that houses an A&P program, and pilot ground school classes. Inside, EAA Chapter 1129 teamed up with NANA Management Services and other sponsors to host a pancake feed. Since the food supplies were all donated, the proceeds will go to aviation scholarships and safety events—about $1,800 dollars’ worth, this year. Seventeen exhibitors also were on hand to talk about summer air travel, what their organizations do, or how to learn to fly.

At 9 a.m. more activities kicked into high gear. The FAA opened the “Funbanks Airport”—a 70 foot long scale model of the general aviation runways at Fairbanks International Airport. Complete with paved and gravel runways, as well as a float pond. “Pilots” were equipped with a vest, assigned an N-number, given a radio and guided by real air traffic controllers, to taxi, take off and make a trip around the traffic pattern. Before the day was over, over 150 non-pilots had participated in this event.

Future pilot "takes off" from the scale model runway at the "Funbanks Airport."

Future pilots “takes off” from the scale model runway at the “Funbanks Airport” under the direction of Air Traffic Control. (Photo by Ron Dearborn)

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience.

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience. (Photo by Shari George)

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between.

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between. (Photo by Shari George)

Outside, thirty aircraft were on display. Organized by Delcourt Aviation, participants got to see everything from a kit-built Searey amphib to the Fed Ex 727 owned by UAF. A long line of kids could be found waiting their turn to sit in Andy Bibber’s North American AT6. Float planes and helicopters, graced the display, along with a Grumman Widgeon and Staggerwing Beech. Another outside attraction was the “inside the fence” airport tour. Organized by Fairbanks International Airport staff and Northern Alaska Tour Company, 78 people took advantage of the fifty minute tour which included stops at Alaska Aerofuel’s corporate FBO, and Everts Air Cargo’s ramp with DC-6 and other vintage aircraft. Something for everyone!

Weather is always a factor in aviation, and this event was no exception. While the sky was blue, and sunshine bright, a morning gusty wind caused EAA to cancel Young Eagles flights for the day. EAA is planning a “make up” day for later in the summer to get an estimated 60 kids a trip aloft, in what may be their first general aviation plane ride.

UAF's "riveting challenge" actively engaged participants.

UAF’s “riveting challenge” actively engaged participants.  (Photo by Shari George)

Weather didn’t limit another outside event. UAF’s Aviation Maintenance Program had a “riveting challenge” going on right outside the hangar. Anyone who wanted to could try their hand at driving a rivet into a wing section, which by the end of the day looked like it had a lot of attention. Fire trucks, also part of the airport scene, were also on display. And when the wind came up, blowing dust on the crowd (and the riveting station), one of the trucks was put to good use to dampen the gravel surface, that helped with dust control. All in a days work!

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day.

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day. (Photo by Shari George)

Fairbanks Aviation Day had lots of community competition to contend with. The planning team knew to expect that, and had raised something over $8,000 from airport related businesses and organizations to advertise in the newspaper, on radio and with flyers spread across town. A huge Thank You to the sponsors and exhibitors that provided the funding to make this event a success. Already organizers are talking about how they might make this event better next year, as a way to share the joy of aviation, and inspire the next generation of aviation pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and airport professionals.

Valdez Gears up for 12th Fly-In

Valdez Fly In logoOn the heels of another highly successful Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in Anchorage, it is time to load up camping gear and head to Valdez. Now in its 12th year, the Valdez Fly-In and Air Show kicks off the flying season with activities for pilots and spectators alike. With events starting on Friday May 8th and going through Sunday afternoon, there is something for everyone—from aerial demonstrations and a poker run to static aircraft displays and a balsa wood airplane contest for the kids. Stop in and say hi at the AOPA table.

If you fly in, please file a PIREP or two for the folks coming along behind you. I hope to see you at the show!

Importance of GA to your State and Individual Airport

I often get e-mails from members asking if we can help them find information about general aviation’s importance to their state and/or individual airport. I thought I would share that information with y’all (as they like to say here in the south) via this blog.

In 2011, the FAA published a report titled “The Economic Impact of Civil Aviation on the U.S. Economy  – Economic Impact of Civil Aviation by State.” While this report covers all of civil aviation and it’s a bit out of date (since it mostly uses 2009 data, right after the 2008 recession), you may still find it helpful.

A February 11, 2015 report, with 2013 data, shows that general aviation adds up to 1.1 million jobs and has a significant contribution on the U.S. economy—$219 billion.

The AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) program also has great resources available for your usage. And, if your state does not have a current economic impact report for your airport, this ASN resource can help you prepare your own.

For your convenience, I have prepared a one-pager for each state in the AOPA Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE and IA) that you can share with your elected officials, boards, local organizations, etc and I will also provide you with other links in case you need more information, particularly as it relates to your based airport.

And, if you are having trouble with the above links, the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) has a library on their website with a compilation of state economic impact studies.

The Alliance for Aviation Across America, which is supported in part by AOPA, has a list of proclamations and resolutions passed by Governors and Mayors across the country. These show your state’s/city’s appreciation and recognition of general aviation as an asset with both quantitative and qualitative benefits.

Now go and spread the good word about our valuable industry! =)

FAA plans to eliminate instrument approaches in Alaska

As part of a national Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), FAA has announced it plans to eliminate “redundant or underutilized” VOR and NDB approaches. Reported in an AOPA news story, the proposal is linked to the national effort to define a VOR Minimum Operational Network, also known as the VOR MON. As WAAS approaches and GPS based T-Routes become the basis of NextGen, the idea is to keep a VOR network as a back-up. In the event of a GPS system failure, the network would allow an aircraft to tune in a VOR within 100 nautical miles, navigate to it and shoot an approach to get safely on the ground. In much of the country, this means the FAA can shut down a number of VOR’s, which will save funding and help keep the remaining network healthy.

The Alaska case
In briefings in Alaska, the FAA has repeatedly stressed they don’t plan to shut down ANY VORs in the state. That is good, as Alaska has never met the standard that the FAA is reducing the rest of the nation to. But it doesn’t mean that the FAA won’t reduce the number of instrument approaches.

In the national list of procedures the NPRM plans to decommission, there are 28 Alaskan approaches at 22 airports across the state that would go away. There is a cost to maintaining instrument procedures, so if these aren’t needed, it is good to save those resources, as we certainly have other areas still in need of IFR infrastructure.

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

Instrument pilots are encouraged to study the Alaska list carefully, and speak up if any procedures on the list are still needed. Comments are due by May 28, and may be submitted online, or by mail to: Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001. And please email me a copy of your comments, to help AOPA track this issue in Alaska.

Alaska weather forecast graphics updated

The Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) recently upgraded a number of their graphic weather products in ways which makes them easier to use. An arm of the National Weather Service, this unit generates the Area Forecasts, along with SIGMETS and AIRMETS for Alaska. These statewide products help us see the “big picture” regarding where icing, turbulence and poor weather are forecast for the next twelve hours or so, and are found under the GRAPHICAL FORECASTS tab at the AAWU home page: http://aawu.arh.noaa.gov/

Select the Icing Forecast, and you will notice something new!

In this 12 hour Icing Forecast Summary, major rivers have been added in blue to provide geographic reference.

In this 12 hour Icing Forecast Summary, major rivers have been added in blue to provide geographic reference.

In the past, other than the outline of the state, pilots have relied on the forecast zone boundaries as the sole means to “navigate” the charts. At least in my experience, at times it has been a challenge to figure out where weather relative to my intended route of flight. While the forecast zones (slightly subdued) are still there, the AAWU added major rivers to the products. For my money, that is a lot more useful feature for geographic reference. Kudos to the AAWU staff for adding these to the Forecast Weather, Icing and Turbulence forecasts! The Surface Chart and Prog Charts remain unchanged.

Better time resolution too!
Not as new, but worth mentioning is that a little more than a year ago the AAWU made a few other changes that make these charts easier to interpret. Instead of a single static map, the graphics now cover twelve hours, and show changes as often as every three hours, when conditions are expected to develop through the forecast period. On a Windows based system, just hover the mouse over the time intervals shown at the top of the frame, and watch the forecast areas change. On my iPad, I have to select each image individually, but the extra information showing how conditions are expected to develop is just what I am looking for. Also notice, the times on at the top of the product are local, as opposed to UTC.

This example product shows forecast icing for the 3 hour period starting at 15:00 local (yellow oval).  Other selections on that status bar would show how conditions were forecast the change during the 12 hour period.

This example product shows forecast icing for the 3 hour period starting at 15:00 local (yellow oval). Other selections on that status bar would show how conditions were forecast to change during the 12 hour period.

For more information on how the graphic products were revised see this earlier article, but for now focus on the addition of the river boundaries. If you have comments, feel free to share them with the AAWU at the following email address: nws.ar.aawu.webauthors@noaa.gov NWS appreciates hearing from pilots, as they continue to refine the products we use to figure out when it is safe to fly.

GA Survey time: It must be spring!

After what has been a long, and whacky winter, the arrival of a post card from the FAA inviting me to participate in the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey means it must be spring!

Each year the FAA, through an independent survey firm, conducts this survey to quantify different aspects of GA activity. While one may be reluctant to divulge how many hours they flew last year (calendar 2014), taking the fifteen minutes to complete the survey REALLY helps organizations like AOPA when it comes to advocating for our community. Unlike the airlines, which can spout passenger miles, number of flights ,etc. it is very difficult to put numbers on something as rich and diverse as GA. Yet this is exactly the type of information we count on to build the case for our needs when it comes to evaluating proposed policies, arguing for infrastructure, knowing how much of the fleet is equipped with ADS-B, and so forth. To see the data from past surveys, go here and look at the results for yourself.

In most of the country, only a small percentage of aircraft owners are invited to participate. In Alaska, however, all owners are sent a post card, based on the N-number of your aircraft. A few things to consider:

  • Individual survey results do NOT go to FAA, only the summary totals.
  • Even if you didn’t fly last year, please respond.
  • If you sold your airplane or (hopefully not) damaged your airplane— please respond.

If you have a fleet aircraft, or want to ask a question, contact Tetra Tech at 1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com.

And, just like National Public Radio—we Thank You for your support!

Glenn Highway Corridor focus of Working Group

Following the successful changes to Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) in the Mat-Su Valley last May, the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer is now the focus of the industry/government working group established to explore ways of reducing mid-air collisions. In previous working group meetings, issues were identified in the Glenn Highway corridor regarding the flow of VFR traffic, which is constrained by Restricted Areas and Class D airspace on the west, and mountainous terrain to the east. In addition, there are potential inconsistencies with altitudes and frequencies recommended by charts, the AIM, and the Alaska Supplement. The group is now undertaking an examination of flight routes, CTAF assignments and use patterns along the Glenn Highway, to see if changes might be recommended to improve aviation safety along this busy flight corridor.

Background
The Mat Su working group is comprised of pilots, flight instructors, Part 135 operators, and representatives from aviation organization and government agencies, including the FAA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the military. The working group was established on late 2011, following a number mid-air collisions that occurred that summer. After examining how airspace is used by civil as well as military users, learning what FAA services are provided, and considering a variety of alternatives, the ad hoc group made recommendations to government and industry groups encouraging use of anti-collision lighting, and changes to the distribution of CTAF frequencies. A major milestone was achieved last May with the re-allocation of individual airport CTAFs, and the creation of new CTAF Areas in the Mat Su Valley. The new CTAF areas in use are now documented in airport facility directories, diagrams in the Notices section of the Alaska Supplement, an insert on the Anchorage/Fairbanks Terminal Area Chart and through the creation of a color Google Earth based map that was widely distributed last spring and summer.

CTAF Area defined in the AIM
Another result from this initiative has been a change in definition for Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). Previously, a CTAF was only defined as a 10 mile radius around an airport or landing area, without an operating control tower. The definition has been modified to recognize, in Alaska only, that a CTAF Area may be designated for the purpose of carrying out advisory practices while operating in designated areas with a high volume of VFR traffic. Pilots are encouraged to use the appropriate common frequency throughout the area, if they are not in contact with Air Traffic Control. Alaska has had a number of CTAF areas created where concentrations of traffic exist in areas that otherwise lack ATC Services. In addition to the Anchorage area, CTAF areas are found in locations such as Juneau, in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks and in oil fields on the North Slope. See Section 4-1-9 and Table 4-1-1 in the AIM for a complete description of the new definitions.

Glenn Highway Corridor

The yellow arrow depicts the Glenn Highway corridor to be examined by the working group.

The yellow arrow depicts the Glenn Highway corridor to be examined by the working group.

The current focus of the working group is to examine the Glenn Highway corridor, between Palmer and the Anchorage airports, continuing down to Cook Inlet. Already the group has reviewed the existing CTAF frequencies in use in the area. They also heard presentations by Air Force and Army representatives describing typical flight routes and traffic patterns used during training missions, including use of unmanned aircraft and artillery practice. In future meetings, presentations by Air Traffic Control, civil flight training (fixed wing and helicopter), tour operators and other local users are planned. The group will also review the results of a 2012 pilot survey and other feedback before considering possible changes. If you would like more information on the activities of the working group, please contact me at tom.george@aopa.org.

Combining Flight Training with Tourism… a Trip to the Big Bend Area in Texas

Joey Colleran, AOPA’s Director of the Airport Support Network (ASN) program, and I recently embarked on a training flight to the Big Bend area in “Far West Texas.” Joey is a private pilot who was looking to get current and proficient while learning about mountain and instrument flying. I was her lucky flight instructor for the trip. The Big Bend area and forecasted weather provided us with all the characteristics we were looking for, it is a jewel of a place, and it’s hard to get to any other way. And, yes, it also allowed us to do some sightseeing by joining a river trip down the Rio Grande, separating the U.S. and Mexico.

I guess we can say that the Big Bend area spans from Presidio, north to Marfa and Alpine, and east to Marathon before heading south to the east edge of the national park that borders Mexico. The area is home to Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, one of only two national parks in Texas (and one of only 15 Texas areas recognized by the NPS – National Park System). The area offers many exciting activities, from simple sightseeing to more adventurous activities like rafting or horseback riding.

The Brewster County Tourism Council says that getting to the area “can be half the fun” and I happen to agree 100% if you fly GA. =) The closest commercial airports are in Midland/Odessa (235 miles from the national park) and El Paso (330 miles away) and services (such as hospitals, full groceries stores, etc) are also considerably far so general aviation is the best way to get around. General Aviation has also been creating jobs and saving lives in this remote area. TxDOT-Aviation’s recent article explains what airport improvements to the Presidio Lely International Airport (KPRS) are doing for the region.

So, the day after Christmas, we departed Austin (where she currently resides) heading west, then southwest. A cold front was moving in from New Mexico which created strong headwinds for us, preventing us from seeing anything over 80 kts groundspeed and forcing us to stop at Kimble County Airport (KJCT) in Junction for fuel. However, that same weather did provide us with some good IFR/IMC training conditions for half the trip and great VFR and aerial sightseeing conditions for the last part of the route.

VFR on top during the first part of the trip, giving us the opportunity for an actual GPS approach into KJCT for fuel

VFR on top during the first part of the trip, giving us the opportunity for an actual GPS approach into KJCT for fuel

The clouds started to break around the Del Rio area, giving us great views of the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico

The clouds started to break around the Del Rio area, giving us great views of the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico

The U.S.-Mexico border, easily identified by the Rio Grande

The U.S.-Mexico border, easily identified by the Rio Grande

We then hugged the U.S-Mexico border before heading southwest, where we also lost contact with ATC controllers (Albuquerque Center), cancelled our IFR flight plan, and continued VFR. If you want to use navigation equipment in addition to piloting and good-ole dead reckoning to help you stay out of Mexican airspace, Terrell County Airport (6R6) is a good one to use.

Getting closer to the Big Bend area and starting to see pretty mountainous terrain, including the Chisos Mountains. At this point, we started to discuss the risks of mountain flying, high terrain, high density altitude, etc.

Getting closer to the Big Bend area and starting to see pretty mountainous terrain, including the Chisos Mountains. At this point, we started to discuss the risks of mountain flying, high terrain, high density altitude, etc.

We soon started to see those remote, private, backcountry strips we had identified on the sectional as potential emergency landing fields. Some of those were dirt, gravel, or a combination of things.

This one here is Stovall Ranch Nr 4 Airport (6TX9).

This is a picture of Persimmon Gap Ranch Airport (TA64) in the distance. Notice it is a bit uphill.

This is a picture of Persimmon Gap Ranch Airport (TA64) in the distance. Notice it is a bit uphill.

The picture above shows Terlingua Ranch Airport (1E2) although it is very far from the town of Terlingua itself. This looks like a fun and challenging place to fly in and out of.

The dirt strip C. Fulcher Ranch Airport (3TE8) is in the picture above.

The dirt strip C. Fulcher Ranch Airport (3TE8) is in the picture above.

Since we only stayed in the area one night given our busy schedules, we decided it was best for us to stay in Lajitas, located between the two parks. The Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort has its own private airport with fuel called Lajitas International Airport (89TE) and offers complementary transportation to and from the hotel and airport. They also have a few rental Jeeps for their customers.

Crossing over the town of Terlingua, just east of Lajitas

Crossing over the town of Terlingua, just east of Lajitas

Entering left downwind for 7 at 89TE

Entering left downwind for 7 at 89TE

Turning final for runway 7, which was shortened recently (we initially thought it was being lengthened)

Turning final for runway 7, which was shortened recently (we initially thought it was being lengthened)

We had a very pleasant experience at 89TE; Clayton Choate, the airport manager, was very nice and helpful. He can be reached at (432) 424-3544. However, if you enjoy camping, hiking, etc, Big Bend Ranch State Park Airport (3T9), which is less than 20 NM away, may be a better option for you. Joey and I love that kind of thing but this trip’s mission was more about flight training for us than tourism and adventure. The state owned airport also offers complementary transportation to and from their park and the airport but they do not have fuel onsite. Barrett Durst is the person in charge of 3T9 and he can be reached at (432) 358-4444, ext. 224.

Both of these airports are “private use only” so pilots are required to call ahead and receive permission to land from the respective airport managers. During that time, they will advise you of operational procedures, frequencies, airport notams, fuel availability, etc.

Our flight back was mostly overcast once we left the Big Bend area so we could not do too much aerial sightseeing.

Our flight back was mostly overcast once we left the Big Bend area so we could not do too much aerial sightseeing.

However, our scenery was still beautiful…

However, our scenery was still beautiful…

A lot of people, including native Texas and longtime Texas residents, have never been to Big Bend due to its remote location and inaccessibility and several pilots and AOPA members looking to do for some backcountry/mountain/recreational flying have asked me about this trip so I thought I’d write a blog about it. I encourage all of you to try it for yourself.

If you are looking for other places to visit in different parts of Texas or the Central Southwest Region, the “friendly airports” blog I wrote about a year ago may also be helpful to you.

Advocacy: The Road to Anywhere

Runway 5_23bWhat is Advocacy?  OxfordDictionaries.com defines Advocacy as: “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” While accurate, I tend think of AOPA’s form of advocacy as more than that.  For those of us advocating for General Aviation specifically, it is a great deal more.  At AOPA effective advocacy starts with education, and requires patience, research, and support from you, our constituents.

Patience

Indulge me as I use an example from tutoring my nephew to make my point.

As my nephew quickly discovered at the start of his 7th grade school year when he turned to me for help with his math homework, I like math though I am by no means an expert.  I do, however, enjoy regular-old, every-day algebra and geometry!  Helping him with his homework not only gives me a chance to bond with him but allows me the opportunity to teach him something. This brings life full circle as I watch him make the same mental mistakes (ignoring the negative sign) that my father used to watch me make time and time again.

As for extracting life lessons, I’ve learned that teaching math teaches patience; a necessary trait for any passionate advocate!  Those of us who regularly work in policy be it state or federal knows it is rare that anything happens quickly.

Research

A lack of action is often the result of a difference of opinion, of which, in GA’s case is usually based in a lack of understanding.  Because of that, proper research becomes key for a successful lobbyist, not only to learn what makes a given legislator or gaggle of them—a term often reserved for Turkeys—tick, but also to find the right data to present to them regarding GA.

I believe the majority of our elected officials enter the legislative arena with the intention of improving the world around them.  Unfortunately our world spins so quickly these days there is simply too much information for our representatives to be familiar with to adequately act and respond independently on every issue, so this is where effective advocates come in with guidance and education.

Concise communication aided by statistical data serves as the only real catalyst for moving sensible legislation forward.  As for sensible, I am referring to a legislative policy that makes sense for a set of problems or issues affecting a state—call it the big picture.  As I discussed in my American East – Aviation – Division blog, a direct comparison of states becomes a conversation of apples and oranges.  For example, while one of AOPA’s core initiatives is to reduce the cost of flying, we do not insist on a one-size fits all policy for achieving it.  For example, we regularly support the Aviation Jobs Act which would provide for a targeted sales tax exemption on aircraft purchases in New York State.  Conversely, we opted to forgo doing so in neighboring Pennsylvania in 2014 when political tensions revolved around property tax reform leading to public scrutiny of long-standing tax exemptions—in other words, a bad time to highlight a new exemption!.  Therefore as a regional manager, I spend a great deal of time studying my region’s state economic conditions while working with industry to produce the all-important numerical data.

Support from constituents

Unfortunately, as one individual representing GA in 13 states, it is unrealistic to have all boards nailed down all of the time so we rely on an age old staple of politics—constituency; yes YOU!  How can you, a GA supporter, impact GA policy in your state?

First and foremost, maintain your membership in AOPAIf you don’t have one, get one because a membership in AOPA is a vote for GA and allows us to continue to do the work we do at the local level.  Second, know your elected officials.  Not just who they are, but get to know them.  As constituents, they are far more interested in what you have to say than any of the alphabet groups because you vote.  Third, know your local aviation factoids and the industry’s economic impact.  AOPA can help with this as can airport managers, state aviation associations, and/or your state’s department of transportation.  The Alliance for Aviation Across America is another great resource. Lastly, though it may seem silly, advocate from the heart.  Communication occurs with the successful transfer of information to your audience.  It will be much easier for strangers of aviation to receive the message once they recognize your love for aviation is genuine—remember no one likes a Krampus!

Think you’re the best? Visit the AOPA at the Great Lakes Aviation Conference and Test your Skill!

I’m really looking forward to the next iteration of the Great Lakes International Aviation Conference being held in Lansing, Michigan on January 23 and 24 because of a new addition to the AOPA booth this year!

AOPA will be hosting a spot landing content on a brand new AOPA Jay Simulator. It may end up being a bit too cold in Michigan to do too much flying, but in the warmth of the Lansing Convention Center you can test your chops against your fellow pilot! Stop by the booth, register for a time, and test your skill!

And, remember, AOPA members are offered a $10 admission discount this year! Visit the AOPA.org to find the discount form.