Utah’s Airports- A Strong GA Focus

headerIf you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to hear AOPA CEO Mark Baker speak, you know that he is incredibly passionate about making airports fun and accessible, noting that “all things aviation begin at an airport”.  Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Airport Operators Association (UAOA) annual conference in beautiful St. George, where coincidentally, the theme was “Fun and Function at Your Airport”.  Mid-March is a fantastic time of the year to enjoy the beautiful red rocks of southwest Utah, especially while hearing about the great things Utah airports are doing that are precisely in line with the vision Mark and all of us at AOPA have for general aviation airports.

Utah’s system of 47 public use airports is somewhat unique in that all of them, including commercial service airports like Salt Lake City International, have significant general aviation presence.  As such, the UAOA conference is always a great gathering of passionate and engaged general aviation airport operators, many of whom are pilots or owners of small FBO’s charged with managing their local airport.

At the conference, which was attended by over 150 airport managers, consultants, FAA and Utah Aeronautics Division staff and others, I had the pleasure of making the opening presentation, providing the group with an overview of AOPA’s current state, regional and national advocacy efforts.  I also briefed attendees on AOPA’s efforts to grow GA activity and the pilot community, including our new Flying Club Initiative, and federal legislation streamlining third class medical certification requirements.

Over the two days of the conference, there were some phenomenal presentations about great things going on with GA in Utah.  Scott Weaver, the President of Leading Edge Aviation at the South Valley Airport (U42) in Salt Lake City gave an excellent briefing about their efforts to revitalize what had been a struggling and negative GA environment at U42.  Through monthly pilot breakfasts, dinners and seminars, along with a strong customer-service focus and partnership with the Salt Lake City Department of Airports(which owns U42), the folks at Leading Edge have generated a whole new level of excitement and engagement at the airport, and GA activity there is on the rebound.

In keeping with the “Fun and Function” at your airport theme, Tom Herbert from the Delta Airport (KDTA) gave an excellent presentation on their 2013 airport open house, which featured not just aviation events, but classic cars, races, kids events and other attractions designed to get the local community as well as pilots out to the airport.

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Historic Airmail Route Arrow in Bloomington Hills, St. George, UT

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Airmail route airway beacon/arrow configuration

But it wasn’t all business!  Former Logan/Cache County airport manager Bill Francis gave a fascinating presentation about the history of the original lighted airway beacons and concrete directional arrows that guided early airmail pilots across the west.  Many of these beacon sites and arrrows can still be found today, and Bill had some excellent historical photos and information, along with some great shots of how these arrows appear today.  If you enjoy aviation, hiking and the thrill of a search, these relics of a bygone era await your discovery across the west.

Just as airmail pilots of the past relied on airway beacons and arrows, every one of us today relies on an airport as we pursue our aviation aspirations.  And of course, airports rely on us pursuing those aspirations to remain vibrant and sustainable.  So if you’re not familiar with your state’s airport management association, learn a little bit more about them, and consider attending one of their events-  it a great way to further the dialouge and communications between GA users and the airports we use.

 

 

AOPA and Aerial Applicators- Working Together to Improve Low Level Aviation Safety

13In late November, I had the privilege of attending my first aviation event focused on agricultural aviation and aerial application, known to fans of the movie “Planes” and most of the public as cropdusting.  While I’ve been around aviation and airports nearly all of my adult life, my exposure to agricultural aviation has been limited, and as I learned, my knowledge naïve.  And even though my wife grew up in northwest Kansas in a family that farmed and with a dad who owned a spray service, I never had the opportunity to meet him, or learn much about this small aviation niche during my days on the airport side of our industry. 

So with that background, I attended a day of the Colorado Aerial Applicators Association’s (CAAA) annual conference in Loveland, where about 150 ag pilots, vendors and their families had convened to talk all things ag.  And what did I learn?  That ag pilots are some of the most welcoming, passionate, entertaining and knowledgable pilots I’ve met.  During the course of my day, I spent time learning about the myriad of challenges faced by ag pilots- stringent rules on materials handling, complex EPA stormwater requirements at airports, continuing agricultural and aviation education demands, and of course, the constant threat posed by structures and obstructions like Meteorlogical Evaluation Towers (METs).

METIf you’re not familiar with METs, these are small towers used to evaluate wind power generation feasibility at a particular location.  METs are small, difficult to see, and often erected quickly with no notice, posing a significant hazard to low level aviation activities such as aerial application, firefighting and emergency medical service (EMS) operations.  Because most METs are less than 200’ tall and typically located in rural areas away from airports, they are not usually subject to obstruction review or approval by the Federal Aviation Administration under FAR Part 77.  In the Northwest Mountain region, legislation addressing the marking, lighting and reporting of such towers has recently been passed in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.  Such marking, lighting and reporting of METs significantly improves aviation safety.

Recognizing this, the National Transportation Safety Board weighed in last May, when it released a Safety Recommendation about the towers and how ideally they should be lit, marked and reported.  For those not familiar with METs, the Nebraska Aviation Trades Association has comprehensive MET information, along with an excellent five minute video.

Across the country, my fellow AOPA regional managers and I are working with aerial applicators and others to mitigate the impact of (METs) on aviation. In Colorado, through the initaitive of AOPA and the recently established Colorado General Aviation Alliance, discussions about legislation to require the marking and lighting of METs in the state began earlier this year.  At the CAAA convention in November, I had the opportunity to participate in a legislative forum led by State Represenative Jerry Sonnenberg, an AOPA member and active GA supporter from Sterling, who has agreed to sponsor a bill in the 2014 Colorado General Session addressing the hazards posed by METs. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with Colorado’s aerial applicators and learning more about this unique segment of general aviation.  I’m looking forward to collaborating with them and others to improve aviation safety in Colorado, and across the Northwest Mountain Region.  In fact, myself and AOPA are also already hard at work with our partners in Washington state on similar MET legislation in 2014, so stay tuned.

Oh, and the best part about hanging out with ag pilots?  Hands down, I think they have the best flying stories of any pilots I’ve encountered.  When was the last time you met a pilot who survived a mallard strike through the windscreen and into his chest at 140 knots while in a climbing turn at 50′ AGL?

 

 

 

Seaplanes as a Disaster Response Tool? Absolutely!

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Kenmore Air Beaver On Lake Washington During the October 27, 2013 ESRP Exercise

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my Regional Manager position with AOPA is meeting aviators who are passionate about flying, but also about using general aviation for their community’s wider benefit.  One such group that I’ve recently learned about is the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps, whose mission is to “promote and coordinate effective and useful additional General Aviation volunteer participation in emergency relief efforts, especially following disasters.”

In the Northwest Mountain region that I cover for AOPA, earthquakes are a significant potential natural disaster, as evidenced by the 2001 Nisqually earthquake in Seattle.  That quake injured 400 and resulted in signficant damage to highway and aviation infrastructure, including severe damage to the air traffic control tower at Seattle Tacoma International Airport (KSEA), and major airfield damage at Boeing Field/King County International (KBFI, where a large portion of the airport’s main runway was rendered unusable for weeks.

Recognizing the threat that earthquakes pose in this part of the country, a dedicated group of regional seaplane pilots that are part of EVAC have created an Emergency Seaplane Response Plan (ESRP), which aims to coordinate the response of trained seaplane pilots to a natural disaster such as an earthquake, which could render land-based emergency access such as roads and airports unusable.

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Disaster “victim” being unloaded from a Kenmore Air Otter During the ESRP Exercise

On October 27th, a group of dedicated and engaged Northwest seaplane pilots, coordinated by Sky Terry (what a great name!), EVAC’s Northwest Seaplane Regional Coordinator, converged on Lake Washington northeast of downtown Seattle for a full scale exercise of the ESRP to practice just such a scenario.  In this exercise, GA seaplane pilots actually transported casualties and supplies via seaplanes in a simulated “mass casualty incident” following a devasting earthquake in the Puget Sound.

While we tend to think that we will never be the victim of a horrible disaster or emergency, isn’t it comforting to know that our fellow GA pilots are ready to leap into action to help us in a time of need?  Unfortunately, many in non-aviation circles never know about programs like ESRP or EVAC or volunteers like Sky Terry until they’re needed.  In your community, please consider volunteering your time and aircraft, and be sure you share the story of those who do with a broader audience.

We know all the good GA does in our communities- let’s make sure everyone else does too.

 

 

Just How Is the Future of Small Community Air Service Linked to General Aviation?

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13-GT-0023 Regional Manager Map_NW Mountain     During the first week of October, I enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Northwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives’ (NWAAAE) annual conference.  This outstanding event brought together over 180 airport managers, public officials, aviation planners and advisors for three days of great discussion about issues facing airports in the Northwest Mountain Region, plus Alaska and Western Canada.  One of the most interesting discussions was a topic near and dear to my heart- the increasing reliance of future small community air service on a vibrant general aviation industry.  This is pretty interesting, and it’s a connection not many on the airport side have made, so stick with me…

     In the seven states in AOPA’s Northwest Mountain region (see graphic above), there are just four major hub airports- Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Denver.  As such, general aviation airports and small commercial service airports play a significant role in providing transportation access and economic development for our region’s smaller communities.

     At every one of the 66 other commercial service airports in the region, GA plays a significant role, right alongside the airline service that provides these communities with critical and economically important airline connections worldwide.  As you’ve seen at these airports, GA and airline operations coexist in separate worlds, physically and oftentimes existentially.  Of course this is born from the reality that GA and the airlines have vastly different security, operational and infrastructure requirements- usually the only portions of an airport shared by GA and the airlines are the runways and taxiways.  As such, many airport professionals, their tenants and their community think of GA and the airlines separately, and not just in a physical sense.  Well, in today’s new world, this approach may be at their peril.

     At the NWAAAE Conference, one of the most engaging sessions was about the future of small community air service.  One of the primary discussions centered around the FAA’s new “1,500 hour rule”, which in essence, requires most pilots flying in a commercial airliner to now have at least 1,500 hours of flying time before warming a seat in an airline cockpit.  In the past, a newly minted commercially rated multi-engine pilot with just a few hundred hours might land a job as a first officer with a regional airline.

     Well,  no more.

     Now, until most reach that 1,500 hour mark, pilots will have to find other ways to build flight time.  The result for the airlines?  A smaller pool of qualified pilots, which is exacerbating the existing and future airline pilot shortage.  Boeing, which annually forecasts future pilot demand worldwide, recently underscored this widening gap between pilot supply and demand by revising upward their Twenty Year New Pilot Outlook from their 2012 estimate of 460,000 to the current estimate of 498,000.

cancelled_flights1     And what happens when airlines don’t have enough flight crews for their aircraft?  As USA Today recently pointed out, they cancel flights.  And where are many of these flights most likely to be cancelled?  Often at smaller commercial service airports served by regional airlines, which are most dependent on relatively newer pilots, and thus more acutely impacted by the new rule.  In fact, according to the Regional Airline Association, regional airlines fly nearly 50% of all airline flights in the U.S., and provide almost 100% of air service to smaller communities.  In the Northwest Mountain region, 45 of the region’s 70 commercial service airports are served only  by regional airlines, so the potential impact of the new 1,500 hour rule could be quite widespread.  Air service to smaller communities is often financially tenuous for airlines, and when there is a limited pool of aircraft and pilots to fly them, service to these marginal markets will likely be the first to be reduced or even eliminated.

Jgaust how will communities get to keep their economically important and highly coveted commercial air service going forward?  Most certainly by supporting, encouraging and helping to grow a strong and vibrant GA system that will be the source of their airlines’ future flight crews.  With the military no longer a significant source of civilian aviators, most aspiring airline pilots will rely on GA flying to build time- whether it’s flight instruction, banner towing, aerial application or sightseeing flights.

     No longer can communities and airport managers think of GA and airlines separately… even as we continue to park our airplanes in different places on the airport.   So at your airport, be sure your elected officials, your community and your airport manager understand today’s powerful nexus between general aviation and their commercial air service:

     No new general aviation pilots?  No new airline pilots.

     No new airline pilots?  Fewer airline flights.

     Fewer airline flights?  Reduced or eliminated air service to smaller communities with financially marginal regional airline service.

     Reduced or eliminated airline service?  Not a pleasant prospect for smaller communities.

     The solution for these communities?  Work to support GA, so you can support the future of your commercial air service.

The Unsung Generosity of the GA Community

WPA Spokane Chapter President Terry Newcomb, Past WPA President Dave Lucke, and WPA member Charlie Cleanthous get ready to load kids

WPA Spokane Chapter President Terry Newcomb, Past WPA President Dave Lucke, and WPA member Charlie Cleanthous ready to load kids in Dave’s 182.

Having transplanted from Denver to the Spokane, Washington area just a couple of weeks ago, I’m already enjoying the opportunity to meet fellow pilots and AOPA members in the state, most of whom also belong to the Washington Pilots Association (WPA).  WPA is one of the strongest and most well organized state pilots associations in the country, and like many such groups, its members generously contribute their time, resources, aircraft and passion for aviation to help others who are less fortunate.

Hutton Settlement kids ready to go fly!

Hutton Settlement kids ready to go fly!

This past weekend, I was able to see this generosity first hand as Spokane members of the WPA volunteered their aircraft to fly 26 children from the Hutton Settlement in Spokane to Priest Lake, Idaho for a day of fun on the water, including swimming, jet skiing, water skiing and more.  Until moving here, I had not heard of the Hutton Settlement, which is an historic children’s home in Spokane, that for nearly 100 years has nurtured, educated and prepared children who are in need of a safe and healthy home.  Each year, WPA members in Spokane fly a group of kids from the Settlement (ranging in age from 7-18) up to Priest Lake.  And each year, according to Settlement staff, this event is one of the most eagerly awaited and memorable days for these kids, all made possible by the Spokane GA community.

Pilot and crew ready to board!

Pilot and crew ready to board!

While full airplanes and my own current lack of aircraft access precluded my travel to Priest Lake, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the smiling faces of all these kids as we loaded them up and watched them take off for a day on the water, a take off that for most, was their first airplane ride ever.  There’s nothing like being around airplanes, fellow pilots and an enthusiastic group of excited kids to even further fuel one’s passion for flying!

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This young lady scored arguably the best seat to Priest Lake in Kyle Kinyon’s beautiful RV-4.

It’s unfortunate that the general public can’t see more of this side of our community, and the commitment that so many of us have for using GA for the benefit of others.  While the media has covered this event previously, there was no fanfare, adulation or coverage of this great story this year-  just a group of pilots doing what they love to do: flying and providing others with exciting and memorable opportunities they might not have otherwise experienced.

So as you and your fellow aviators share your love of flying and contribute your time and aircraft for the benefit of others, be sure to share your story.  Our airport neighbors need to know that the impact of GA in our communities extends far beyond their usually narrow percepetions.

Airport User/Tenant Associations- You Probably Don’t Know How Much You Need One!

Admit it-  attending public-meetingscity council, county commission, airport board or other public meetings has the same allure for you as preparing a federal tax return by hand.  Lengthy agendas, droll topics about non-pertinent issues and a litany of more enjoyable things to do with your time all conspire to make attending public meetings low on most everyone’s priority list.

But what about when something significant at your publicly-owned airport suddenly impacts you and your fellow users… in a big way?  Have you been engaged?  Are you up to speed?  Do you know the key decision makers and the information and drivers behind their proposals or actions?  If something is planned that you don’t support, can you influence a different course?  Too often, the answer for most aircraft owners, pilots and airport users is “no”.

Prior to joining AOPA, I was fortunate to have enjoyed an airport management career that spanned more than two decades at large and small airports owned by cities, counties and independent airport authorities (“airport sponsors”, in the industry parlance).  As a public official charged with effectively and efficiently managing a publicly owned asset, I always strived to operate the public’s airport in a transparent, informative, engaging and collaborative manner.  I can tell you firsthand that the vast majority of airport professionals endeavor to do the same, and take great pride in providing a safe, efficient and well-planned community airport asset.

Unfortunately that is not universally true, and some airport sponsors and the staff they employ don’t always take the effort to engage their constituents on issues, proposals and plans that affect them and the airport they use.  So what is an aircraft owner, pilot or airport tenant to do?

The answer is simple.  If you don’t have an airport users/tenants/pilots association, start one.  And do so even if you have the best airport manager you could wish for, and certainly before a significant issue affects you and your fellow aviators.  A well-organized, consistently engaged users association is well worth your investment in time and resources, and will provide many benefits:

  • A voice.  The ability to weigh in proactively on key airport decisions with the organized voice of many is critically important.  Remember-  if you’re based at a public airport, you have a say in how it’s managed, operated and improved.
  • Education.  Airports, like aircraft, are complex machines driven by a multitude of unique requirements, standards and FAA regulations often not familiar to pilots and airport tenants.  Knowledge is power, and being engaged is a great way to learn about the unique vagaries, constraints and opportunities at your airport, and how they affect you as an airport user.
  • Collaboration.  Collaboration and cooperation between the airport sponsor and airport users is a powerful tool.  Trust me on this- it’s much easier for an airport to accomplish great things when users and the airport are working together.
  • Weight.  A unified voice can provide airport users with significant influence when weighing in with airport sponsors and elected officials on airport issues.  While some airport managers are pilots, many are not, and a pilot perspective on airport issues is always valuable.
  • Communication.  Creation of a proactive, defined and inclusive communication channel between the airport sponsor and airport users allows for effective dialogue on issues before  they become critical.
  • Community Engagement.  The ability to proactively engage the surrounding community on pressures against the airport that arise from noise, overflights, emissions and other airport impacts.  Having a group of well-organized pilots weigh in at a public hearing on a new housing development right off a runway end can be far more impactful than one airport manager reciting FAA land use recommendations.
  • Fun!  Lastly, a users association can be fun!  Many airport user/pilot/tenant associations have refined into social, pilot-centric communities as well.  Is there a more enjoyable way to discuss your airport’s future than in a hangar over a beer and burger?

So if your airport does not have a users/tenants/pilots association- I would strongly encourage you to connect with your fellow pilots and organize one.   There are many great examples out there, including the Reno-Stead (Nevada) Airport Association, and the Grand Junction (Colorado) Airport Users and Tenants Association.  And whether you have one or not, stay engaged at your airport.  Take the time to get to know your airport manager and elected officials.  Attend key public meetings, workshops and design charrettes that affect your airport’s future.  Help host an airport open house.  Get out and talk to the non-aviation groups in your community about the value of the airport and the importance of general aviation.

And above all, insist that elected officials, airport board members and airport staff at your airport are consistently transparent, engaged and communicative with you and your fellow users, pilots and tenants.  Remember-  it’s a public airport and it belongs to you.

Colorado Pilots Association Seeks Scholarship Applicants!

The Colorado Pilots Association (CPA) is accepting applications for its annual scholarship program, which awards one more $2,000 scholarships to Colorado high school graduates interested in pursuing an aviation related career.  Applications are due May 15, 2013.

The program is designed to recognize and assist high school graduates who have demonstrated ability and dedication and who have a strong interest in pursuing an aviation related career. The program is funded primarily from donations by individual CPA members and revenues derived from the organization’s nationally recognized Mountain Flying Ground School.

Four Participating Academic Institutions. The scholarships will be awarded in support of ground training and academics at one of four public academic institutions with aviation based programs in the State of Colorado; Metropolitan State University of Denver, Aims Community College, Colorado Northwestern Community College, and Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Funds will be applied towards tuition in an aviation-related program, not including flight training, and will be paid directly to the educational institution.Eligibility is limited to students planning to enroll as full time students at one of the four institutions and is further limited to United States citizens who are full-time Colorado residents.

Basis of Award. The selection of scholarship recipients will be based on academic accomplishment, work experience, community and school related activities, a personal application statement, and interview by the scholarship committee.

Applications. Application must be submitted on the attached application form, postmarked no later than May 15, 2013, and submitted to:

Colorado Pilots Association Scholarship Committee

P.O. Box 200911

Denver, CO 80220-0911

Contact: Walt Barbo, Scholarship Committee, 303-367-0670, WaltBarbo@comcast.net

Web site: www.ColoradoPilots.org