Share your thoughts on PIREPs with AOPA

Pilot Reports remain one of the best sources of information for pilots to determine what is actually happening as we plan or conduct a flight.  Weather forecasters also greatly value them to confirm or discover conditions occurring in the atmosphere in places they don’t have a weather observation.  But the PIREP system is a complex beast with many moving parts: these include, pilots that file reports, Flight Service and ATC staff to receive them and multiple data systems to hold and route them.  We are also affected by the tools for pilots, briefers, controllers and forecasters to retrieve them. To explore some of the issues associated with this system, AOPA has launched a national survey to probe at some aspects of PIREPs.  Please invest a few minutes to take this online survey and contribute to this effort.

Click here to take AOPA PIREP Survey

Improvements are being made
Concerns raised at the Valdez Fly-In two years ago about the “almost” total lack of PIREPs during the biggest VFR fly-in in the Alaska led to a statewide effort to increase the number of PIREPs filed. The qualifier “almost” is because while the NWS website showed no pilot reports, Flight Service systems indicated they had one report.  It took a bit of detective work to figure out why the two systems had differing results, and changes were made to address the issue.  As a consequence of these efforts, the Alaska Flight Service Program has established a working group with the aviation associations (including AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association) and other government agencies to dig into these issues that appear to have a positive impacts on multiple fronts.

Initial efforts were simply encouraging pilots to file more reports, however other exciting developments have taken place which are making a difference.  A pilot report layer was added to the FAA Weather Camera website, allowing pilots to view PIREPs while they were checking weather cameras.  More recently, the National Weather Service’s popular Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website has re-designed their PIREP page, allowing users to zoom in on the portion of the state they are interested in and see the locations of PIREPs in much greater detail.  Finally, has added pilot reports as a layer on their flight planning website where the icon itself shows whether the report has to do with turbulence, ceiling or other conditions. To learn more about these developments, see New graphic tools to view PIREPs.

In parallel with these efforts, the National Transportation Safety Board has launched a nation-wide study regarding pilot reports, and are conducting interviews with stakeholders to learn more about the system.  A national meeting is being planned for late June in Washington DC as part of their program.

More to come
I believe we have a lot yet to learn about the PIREP system, and the potential to see it expanded beyond what we use today. Here are a few possibilities to consider:

Mapping Route Reports
Most pilot reports describe the conditions at a fixed point in space and time. PIREPs may also be filed as a “route report” that contains two or more locations.  Often I am looking for a PIREP to learn about the conditions through a mountain pass. There is a big difference between a “point” report on one side of a pass, versus a “route report” that tells me what conditions were like flying through the pass.  Currently these route reports are plotted as a point, which appears to represent the mid-point of the route.

A number of PIREPs were filed for conditions between Valdez and the Mat Su Valley during the Valdez Fly In. Most were plotted as a cluster of points near the College Fjord in Prince Williams Sound.

A number of PIREPs were filed for conditions between Valdez and the Mat Su Valley during the Valdez Fly In. Most were plotted as a cluster of points near the College Fjord in Prince Williams Sound.

In this day and age of graphic mapping tools, I would like to see a line or other symbol between those points, so one could tell at a glance the geographic extent of the report. Obviously there are lots of details to be worked out on how to plot these reports in ways that don’t obscure other map features.  Perhaps it is an option that may be toggled on and off.

An prototype example of how a Route PIREP might be depicted, with the lines connecting the locations included in the report, along with the direction of travel.

A prototype example of how a Route PIREP could be depicted, with the lines connecting the locations included in the report, and arrows indicating the direction of travel.

Soliciting PIREPs where needed
Today when FSS solicits a report, it is often a very generic statement, something along the lines that “pilot reports are requested along your route of flight for unforecast conditions.” I would much rather have FSS or ATC ask me for specific information another pilot or a forecaster really needs.  I have used this method in the past when I wanted to fly from Fairbanks to Point Barrow. North of  the Brooks Range, you can fly for about 200 nautical miles with virtually no weather reporting until nearing to the coastal communities.  In the past I would call Barrow Flight Service and ask them to solicit a report from the DC-6 that I knew flew the route on a daily basis.  And often an hour or so later, a report would appear in the system.  Why not extend that concept to the weather forecasters? I know at times they would kill to have a pilot report in some key areas to help validate their forecast.  How about defining a symbol that forecasters could post on a PIREP map so that pilots as well as FSS specialists, could see where a PIREP was needed? Now we could be responding to specific needs as opposed to generic requests. The new mapping tools could support such—again probably as a layer or feature that could be toggled on and off by the user.

A prototype image where forecasters identified areas they specifically wanted a PIREP, which could be seen both by FSS specialist and/or by pilots.

A prototype map allowing forecasters to identify areas they specifically wanted a PIREP, which could be seen by air traffic controllers, flight service specialist and by pilots.

Visual PIREPs
Flight Service in Alaska is already experimenting with the receipt of pictures provided by pilots, and using Twitter with the hash tag #GotWx as a way to add a visual element to a report. Not only is this helpful for weather, but during spring breakup, it provides valuable information to National Weather Service on the state of break-up of river ice, which poses a risk of flooding communities.

Screen shot of a visual pilot report from Twitter using the hash tag #GotWx.

Screen shot of a visual pilot report from Twitter using the hash tag #GotWx.










Voice your opinion
To help shape the future of the PIREP system, please take the time to respond to AOPA’s survey.  Help us understand how you use the system. Provide some of the information that may be used to improve one of the best weather sources available today, to help make that critical go/no-go decision before you fly.

AASF expands reach of Annual Seaplane Seminar

For the past thirty years, the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation (AASF) has organized a spring safety seminar for float plane pilots in Anchorage.  The day-long seminar is held in the spring normally before the ice goes out on the float ponds. It has always been well attended, and covers a variety of topics.  This year, AASF upped their game and decided to offer the event both in Anchorage and Fairbanks at the same time. The aviation programs at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) hosted the session, aided by the wonders of web-conferencing, with presentations conducted by speakers located at both sites.

The Seaplane Pilots Association provided patches for people attending the seminar.

The Seaplane Pilots Association provided patches for people attending the seminar.

Topics included presentations on aeronautical judgement and decision making, as well as engine troubleshooting, satellite tracking devices and seaplane maintenance.  But it wasn’t all safety lectures.  Participants were briefed on efforts to contain the invasive weed, Elodea and the safety foundation presented their Right Stuff Award to Missionary Aviation Repair Center in Soldotna.  The award recognized that in spite of challenging circumstances, an off-airport landing was executed without the benefit of engine power, yet every one made it safely home at the end of the day.  Eventually including the aircraft!

Harry Kieling, AASF, welcomes participants to the 31st Annual Seaplane Seminar, at the UAA Aviation Program’s auditorium.

Harry Kieling, AASF, welcomes participants to the 31st Annual Seaplane Seminar, at the UAA Aviation Program’s auditorium.

For the first time ever the seminar was shared with pilots in Fairbanks, at UAF’s Aviation Center.

For the first time ever the seminar was shared with pilots in Fairbanks, at UAF’s Aviation Center.

The highlight of the day for most participants was an aviation scenario, or “dinner theater” as AASF Chairman (and scenario pilot) Harry Kieling, termed it.  For the past several years AASF has presented a scenario where a pair of pilots sets out to go flying. The audience is given the nature of the mission, equipment and weather, and at key points along the way invited to vote for what they would have done, based on what they know so far, and their aeronautical comfort level.  Roger Motzko, with FAA’s Air Traffic Organization’s Safety and Technical Training group, creates animations of these flights including terrain and weather, to visually bring the participant along on the flight.  This year, through the use of an online polling tool, participants with a smart phone in both Anchorage and Fairbanks could text their votes as to whether to take off, or wait for better conditions, and when to turn around.  The results were shared on the screen for all to see. That was pretty impressive!

Weather coming down survey response

Participants from both locations were able to vote via text message on options from the float plane scenario, and see how where their answers fell relative to the entire group.

Feedback desired:
As with any new innovation or change in the paradigm, there were some challenges. Audio quality for some sessions was poor in Fairbanks. We also found that it was difficult to ask a question if the person asking was not at the presenter’s site.  AASF will be reviewing the sessions, and figuring out if this “meeting architecture” is a good way to expand the reach of the seminar. This year, in addition to the 100+ attendees at UAA there were over 30 people that participated at UAF’s facility in Fairbanks.  If you were a participant at either location, AASF would like to hear from you. What did you like? What wasn’t effective?  How did you like the mix of topics?  What would you like to see or hear about in the future? Any recommendations for future formats? Please share your thoughts by email with the foundation.  Please help them shape the future of aviation education in Alaska!

PIREPs make the news

Pilot Reports (PIREPs) are an important source of aviation weather information for pilots and weather forecasters alike. Recently a TV news story was aired across Alaska explaining the role PIREPs play, and encouraging pilots to take the time to file—even if just to confirm good flying conditions.

Take a minute, and check out the story, which aired on Your Alaska Aviation Link

AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association and other aviation stakeholders are working with FAA to improve the PIREP system, and increase its utilization. Flight Service reported a 32% increase in PIREPs filed in Alaska in 2015 over the previous year. Please help continue that trend!


For more info on Alaska PIREPs, see:

or take the AOPA SkySpotter online course. skyspotter graphic

Book Review: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

If you have any interest in aviation history, pick up a copy of David McCullough’s latest book: The Wright Brothers, published earlier this year. Having read other books about this famous duo, it was with some apprehension that I opened this latest work.   It didn’t take more than a few pages to become captivated by the story, masterfully woven by McCullough. More so than the other books I am familiar with, this account made it feel like I knew Wilbur and Orville, as well as their sister, Katharine, another key member of the team. How these individuals from a seemingly “normal” middle class family in Dayton, Ohio managed to succeed over others better equipped and financed, is a fascinating tale that goes beyond the mechanics of aviation. This is why McCullough found it a worth story to research and share with the world.

coverThe first part of the book introduces the Wright family in some detail. Much of the foundation that set the course for the Wright Brothers is found there in the form of a rich home environment that provided a well-rounded education. Even though neither brother finished high school, there was “much encouragement to intellectual curiosity” that extended beyond the classroom. Their father, a bishop in his church who spent months at a time away from home, provided a role model that demonstrated both a strong work ethic, and that it was OK to be focused on a mission—even one that might not be popular. Conquering the problem of manned flight was not something that the brothers grew up with, as their interests and talents were quite broad including athletics, music, reading, even cooking.

An event that most likely did lead them to the “aviation question” was of a different nature. During his senior year in high school, Wilbur was struck in the face with a hockey stick, resulting in the loss of most of his upper teeth. This incident and the three-year convalescence that followed changed the direction of his life, causing him to drop plans of attending college. As largely a home-bound recluse, he began to read widely which brought Otto Lilienthal, the German glider enthusiast, to his attention. There are many twists and turns along the way, which McCullough does a masterful job of weaving into the story, making it hard to put down.

Wilbur Wright at the controls over Le Mans, France. This was the location of the first public demonstration of the Wright Flyer aircraft, which made the Wright Brothers famous overnight.

Wilbur Wright at the controls over Le Mans, France. This was the location of the first public demonstration of the Wright Flyer aircraft, which made the Wright brothers famous overnight.

The book fully describes the events leading to the famous 12 second flight in 1903 we celebrate as the “take off” of powered flight at Kitty Hawk. While a significant milestone, it was almost another five years of pain-staking trial and error development that followed before the real public roll-out of aviation. That occurred in Le Mans, France on August 8, 1908. On the track that was used for horse races, Wilbur made the first public demonstration of the Flyer. The French, at the time, were more active in aviation development than the United States, and considered themselves the leaders in this arena. Many believed that the Wright brothers were bluffing with regard to their accomplishments of “controlled flight.” Toward the end of that day, after long and careful preparations, Wilbur took off, flew a simple race-track pattern and landed almost exactly on the spot he had departed. It lasted only about two minutes, but the crowd went wild. Pilots in the audience, including Louis Bleriot, were stunned by the control that had been demonstrated. Overnight, Wilbur’s flight made worldwide headlines. Why this took place in France and not in the US is a fascinating part of the story, which I won’t risk spoiling.

Last week, I heard David McCullough speak about the Wright brothers, and some of the elements that most intrigued him about this story. He credited the home environment, created by their parents as providing the brothers an exposure to the world beyond their hometown. He pointed out that Dayton was the source of many patents at the time, including the invention of the cash register, which became a huge business there. McCullough noted that pre-1903 most of the population believed that manned flight was impossible. Consequently, people that pursued that goal were by definition suspect, if not outright wackos. He also observed that the brothers were able to learn from their failures, yet were not deterred from their quest.

The magnitude of their accomplishments went well beyond figuring out the design of an airplane. Wilbur and Orville taught themselves how to fly—a task that even today is no small undertaking. They realized that aviation was a potentially dangerous activity, which had killed earlier experimenters including German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal. Consequently, they implemented risk management practices. The brothers didn’t fly together, so that if a fatal crash occurred one would remain to continue the mission. It wasn’t until a celebration in 1910 that the two brothers flew together, for the first and only time, which McCullough cites as a recognition that they had accomplished their goal.

The Wright Brothers runs to over 250 pages, richly illustrated with photographs, diagrams and documents. It topped the New York Times Best Seller list for multiple months, which suggests that more than pilots are finding this piece of American history worth reading.  If you pick up a copy, be prepared to strap in and enjoy the ride!

 For a brief glimpse of Wilbur Wright flying in Le Mans, France in 1908, check out this short video.

Mat Su Floatplane Facility Survey Underway

Update: Survey deadline extended through November 15.

A user survey is being conducted to evaluate the magnitude of the demand for a new airport/floatplane facility in the Mat Su Borough. As part of a larger Regional Aviation System Plan, the survey is designed to obtain feedback from pilots and aviation business owners regarding the need for a new facility that would support both float and wheel aircraft operations. As follow on to an earlier study, the survey seeks input on three candidate locations under consideration in the southern part of the Mat Su Valley. Questions also ask aircraft owners to rank the importance of different factors to their selection of a place to base their aircraft or business.

The larger aviation system plan looks at other issues such as the economic impact of aviation at state operated airports, the relationship between public and private airports, compatible land use and airports needing master plans. An information sheet lists an overview of the project.

Pilots, aircraft owners and aviation business owners are asked to take the online survey by November 8th.

Fact Sheet 61440 Mat Su RASP – 10_22_2015 matsu rasp phase 2 graphic

KNIK CTAF Area Redesign

Pilots flying in the Knik Glacier/Lake George area have used a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) for many years, described in a Flight Advisory in the Alaska Supplement. As of October 15, the design of that CTAF area changed in ways that are expected to improve communications in this area. At the same time there are some small changes made to the existing CTAF boundaries around Palmer. This is a result of a continuing effort of a government/industry working group to improve communications and reduce the potential for mid-air collisions in the Mat Su Valley.

The Knik Glacier, northeast of Anchorage, is a popular area for the aviation community to take advantage of the mountains and glacier scenery for flight seeing–and the gravel bars to land on–providing access to this spectacular landscape. Surrounded by mountains, it lacks radar coverage from ATC, or other infrastructure making it like much of Alaska; pilots must look out the window to see other traffic. A number of years ago, FAA assigned 122.7 MHz as the CTAF frequency for pilots flying in the area. Now that the FAA has formally defined the use of CTAF frequencies to discrete areas (in Alaska only), as opposed to just individual airports and landing areas, it made sense to re-look at this popular area and define a specific boundary, especially given the other CTAF areas in use in the Mat Su Valley. A revised CTAF map for the Knik has replaced the old Flight Advisory area in the October 15, 2015 edition of the Alaska Supplement (see Notices section page 412).

Knik High Traffic Areas Defined
The working group also received input from Flight Service and seasoned pilots that fly in this area both for business and for pleasure to define a set of commonly used reporting points, to improve situational awareness for pilots using the CTAF frequency. A rich set of commonly used points was identified, and are incorporated in a joint industry/FAA color map, in addition to the notice in the Alaska Supplement.

The newly defined Knik CTAF Area is shown, along with a set of high traffic locations to help pilots communicate their location relative to this set of landmarks and popular locations.  This map is on the opposite side of the revised Mat Su CTAF map.

The newly defined Knik CTAF Area is shown, along with a set of high traffic locations to help pilots communicate their location relative to local landmarks and popular locations. This map is on the opposite side of the revised Mat Su CTAF map, circulated by FAA and aviation associations.

Other Refinements to the Mat-Su CTAF Areas
Based on feedback from pilots and airport owners, additional changes were made to CTAFs along the Matanuska River. The boundary of the Palmer CTAF Area, which uses 123.6 MHz, was expanded slightly to the north east, to incorporate the Crag Mountain airstrip (52AK). As they were not inside a defined CTAF area, the airports upstream from Crag Mountain were re-assigned to 122.9. A revised version of the Mat Su CTAF Area maps will also become effective on October 15, reflecting the Palmer boundary change.

This image map depicts the revised Mat Su CTAF Areas that went into effect on October 15. The boundaries of the newly defined Knik CTAF Area are also included.

This image map depicts the revised Mat Su CTAF Areas that went into effect on October 15. The boundaries of the newly defined Knik CTAF Area are also included, along with minor revisions northeast of Palmer.

Updated Maps
A revised version of the FAA/industry google earth map has been printed, in both 11 x 17 inch and 8 ½ x 11 inch sizes. One side shows the overall Mat Su CTAF boundaries, and the other side has a larger scale map of just the Knik Glacier area, and high traffic reporting points. Copies should be available from Flight Service, the FAA FAAST Team, Medallion Foundation and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. You may also download your own copy from . The Alaska Supplement has revised charts and descriptions in the Notices Section, and eventually we expect the Anchorage/Fairbanks Terminal Area Chart to be updated with these revisions.

Please pick up a copy of the new map, and help spread the word to your fellow aviators. In addition to these aids, fly with your lights on, and remember that “eyes out the window” is our primary tool to see-and-avoid other aircraft!

Alaska Supplement Notices:

knik supplement notice














Mat Su CTAF revised 2015 10 15


PIREPs: More Needed…

We need more Pilot Reports! Alaska has the lowest density of aviation weather stations in the country. It would take 2.4 times as many stations as we have today to equal the average density of AWOS and ASOS stations that cover the contiguous 48 states. While the FAA Weather Cameras help, they too are limited in some of the places we need information the most—at choke points on VFR routes. A Pilot Report (PIREP) is a tool in our kit to help fill the holes in our observation network. They only take a little of our time for a brief conversation with ATC or Flight Service as we go about our normal flying activities.

Why so scarce?
During the last two years, several people noticed the lack of PIREPs filed by pilots trying to get to the Valdez Fly In. This is probably the largest VFR fly-in in the state, and both years the weather was challenging. Yet on the Friday and Saturday leading up to the event the number of PIREPs filed was almost zero. I say almost zero, as I counted no reports displayed on the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s PIREP page, while Flight Service indicated that they had one in their system. This obviously raised other questions about how reports are distributed, and if filtering is taking place that might limit what a pilot receives, depending on how these reports are obtained. I am pleased to report that the Alaska Flight Service Program not only distributed a questionnaire on PIREPs, but has established a working group with the aviation community and weather forecasters to dig deeper into some of the technical questions surrounding this topic.

Why file a PIREP?
During pre-flight planning, we are trained to look at current weather reports, forecasts, weather cameras, radar and satellite data—where available. While I am instrument rated, my airplane is not equipped for serious IFR operations, so my planning is for a VFR flight. Can I make it through the mountain pass? Will an alternate low-terrain route be open, if I need it? There have been numerous times it came down to a single PIREP that either convinced me to take off—or to bag it. A big thank you to the pilots who filed those reports!

The PIREP you file helps in more than one way. The National Weather Service (NWS) uses them to validate their forecasts. They would like to see reports even if there is not a threatening condition. The lack of turbulence, unforecast precipitation, ceilings and tops reports are all things that would help refine their forecats, as they too are hampered by our sparse weather reporting network.

To learn more about PIREPs, I took the AOPA’s Air Safety Institute online course, SkySpotter: PIREPs made easy (go to: This is an updated version of their original program, which gave me a new set of expectations regarding filing a report. It is free to anyone, and qualifies for FAA Wings Program credits. Consequently the course requires logging into an AOPA account, if you are a member– or setting up a free account (name, address and email) on the Air Safety Institute site. The account allows you to get a transcript of this and other courses you might take in the future.

Historically we have obtained PIREPs during pre-flight briefings or inflight from FSS or ATC. Today they are also available in graphic form, which is handy for those of us not familiar with every airport code in the system. In Alaska, the NWS Alaska Aviation Weather Unit and the FAA Weather Camera website both have graphic displays of PIREPs that are convenient to see at a glance where you might get some additional weather information.

The National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website’s statewide display of PIREPs, which you may filter to cover different time periods.

The National Weather Service Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website’s statewide display of PIREPs, which you may filter to cover different time periods.

The FAA Weather Camera website now allows users to display PIREPs, in addition to camera location and other aviation information. PIREPs are depicted as yellow circles outlined in red.

The FAA Weather Camera website now allows users to display PIREPs, in addition to camera location and other aviation information. PIREPs are depicted as yellow circles outlined in red.

Please make it a habit to routinely file pilot reports as you fly. It is particularly helpful if you are the first person out along a popular route, or are experiencing a changing weather situation. But also consider filing when you are half way in between surface weather reporting stations. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the exact format—just tell FSS or ATC the weather elements most important to the situation. Those of us still on the ground, or following behind you, will appreciate your efforts!

Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska

Recognizing the vital role aviation plays in Alaska, Governor Walker declared September as Aviation Appreciation Month. The State of Alaska plays a major part in that it operates about 250 airports that comprise the Rural Airport system. Along with a number of municipally operated airports, these provide the basic transportation network that connects Alaskan communities.

Not included in the 737 registered airports are many back-country airports and landing areas that allow Alaskans and visitors alike to access state and federal lands to recreate, explore, study, manage and enjoy the vast landscapes of the 49th state. Thank you, Governor Walker, for recognizing the importance of aviation!

gov walker press cover

Aviation Appreciation Month

Effective Date: Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

WHEREAS, aviation plays a critical role in everyday life of Alaska’s people and economy; citizens, businesses, industries, and government agencies depend on aviation, often as a primary mode of transportation for travel, medical services, shipment of goods, and tourism; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has more private planes per capita than any other state in the union and, on average, Alaskans fly more than eight times as often as residents of other states; and

WHEREAS, currently there are 737 registered airports and seaplane bases, housing 9,347 registered aircraft utilized by 8,032 active pilots; and

WHEREAS, the aviation industry generates $3.5 billion and over 47,000 Alaskan jobs annually, accounting for ten percent of the jobs in the state;

WHEREAS, the aviation industry in Anchorage generates over 15,000 jobs, or one in ten jobs annually, and over 1,900 jobs, or one in twenty jobs in Fairbanks, having a combined direct annual payroll of nearly $1 billion; and

WHEREAS, Alaska’s airports have over 4,681,000 passenger enplanements annually; and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is ranked number two in North America for landed weight of cargo; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has significant and vested interest in the continued vitality of aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance, flight training, community airports, and aviation organizations across our great state.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Bill Walker, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF ALASKA, do hereby proclaim September 2015 as:

Aviation Appreciation Month

in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to celebrate aviation as an important aspect of our the Alaskan lifestyle and to recognize the achievements of those who make aviation possible in the Last Frontier..

Dated: August 18, 2015

North Slope exercise planned for July 12-17, 2015

If you fly in the vicinity of Deadhorse and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields or in waters to the north, heads-up for an upcoming Search and Rescue exercise, scheduled for July 12-17. Unmanned aircraft will be operated within the Restricted Area R-2204 at Oliktok Point, and in the newly created Warning Area, W-220 which is located offshore to the north. This is part of a joint exercise involving the Coast Guard, Sandia and industry participants.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles nortwest of the Deadhorse Airport.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles northwest of the Deadhorse Airport. ( map segment)

While civil flight operations are precluded from the Restricted Area, the Warning Area does not restrict VFR operations. Sandia National Laboratories, the agency that manages the restricted and warning areas for the Department of Energy, has put out a notice about the exercise, including points of contact so that you may coordinate directly with them.

New Warning Area
W-220 is a new airspace feature, designed to support climate research, and allow the occasional use of exotic equipment such as tethered balloons, sounding rockets, or other equipment to understand arctic clouds and their influence on sea ice. Since charting won’t occur until the 2016 publication date of the Barrow Sectional, a notice has been issued with the details. The diagram below shows the southern part of the area.

Warning Area chart

The southern segment of Warning Area 220, a new airspace feature on the North Slope.

AOPA participated in the Safety Risk Management Panel that evaluated the impact of the warning area. While at first glance this may appear to be a remote area away from civil aviation activities, a surprising amount of flight operations take place over these waters in support of marine mammal surveys, resource exploration, aerial data collection as well as the occasional recreational trip to the north pole. Renewed interest in the Arctic may see further increases in these areas in years to come.

We are pleased that Sandia is providing advance notice of the upcoming activities, and providing phone and email contacts for the aviation community to coordinate with them, in case they need to share this airspace.

The July exercise only plans to use W-220A LOW. As always, check NOTAMs for specific information before you fly.



The Magic of First GA Flights

If you’ve been reading our AOPA eBrief messages here in early November, you’ve no doubt seen our informal poll asking pilots if they’ve ever given someone their first flight in a general aviation aircraft.  As did about 96% of other respondents, I too was able to answer “yes”.  And as I did, I recalled with fondness both the first and latest GA flights I’ve shared with someone else.

Like many newly minted private pilots, my first passenger was a family member- in my case it was my dad, on the very same day I took my checkride.  To that day, he had never before flown in an aircraft without a flight attendant.  Yet bravely, he joined me, his low time, twenty year old son, in the right seat of a well-worn Cessna 172 that I had just been checked out in literally minutes before.  On that December day in 1988, my logbook shows a whopping total of 5.7 hours of flying on my first day as a private pilot- 1.5 for my private pilot checkride, 1.3 hours for a checkout in “Nancy Tango”, our flight school’s venerable Cessna 172, and 2.9 hours of flying with my dad.

IMG_0798Although I don’t recall much about that flight, we flew cross country from Erie/Tri-County Airport, northeast of Denver (then 48V, now KEIK) through what was then the Denver TCA to Pueblo, Colorado and back.  I remember how proud I was to finally be a pilot and ecstatic that my dad was with me on this first flight.  I remember how proud my dad was that he flew with me first, and how cool flying over downtown Denver in a GA aircraft was.  In new pilot cool, however, all I thought to note was “First flight after checkride- dad’s first flight”.  In today’s world,where even the most mundane daily events seem to be relentlessly documented and shared, it seems strange that I didn’t think to take at least a couple of pictures that momentous day.

Fast forward over 23 years.  This past May, I again was able to again relish the joy of giving someone their first flight in a GA aircraft-  in this case five year old Aidan from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Aidan’s dad works with my wife, and Aidan’s family was soon headed for Disney World via the airlines.  Aidan had never been on an airplane, and his parents wanted him to see one up close first, even if it wasn’t a brand new 737.

IMG_0803So on that beautiful Sunday morning last May, my wife and I headed from Felts Field (KSFF) in Spokane over to Coeur d’Alene (KCOE) in a Cessna 172 (ironcially of the exact same vintage as the one I flew my dad) to provide young Aidan and his family (right) with their first glimpse of general aviation, his family’s first flights in a general aviation aircraft, and Aidan’s first flight in an aircraft- ever.

IMG_0787First, I flew Aidan’s mom and his ten year old sister around the Coeur d’Alene area, enjoying views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Mount Spokane and the beauty that is northern Idaho.  It was smooth and clear- a perfect spring day for flying in the northern Rockies.  Next up was Aidan and his dad.  As much as I wanted Aidan to be able to sit up front, the 172’s weight and balance (and comfort) dictated that his 6’4″ dad occupy the right seat.  With Aidan sitting up on his booster seat and buckled into the back, the incessant happy chatter over the intercom was

Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever...
Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever…


infectious.  He giggled and shrieked and pointed out everything he saw as we taxiied out and took off, finding his house and school in short order.  As we flew over Lake Coeur d’Alene, he marveled incessantly about the lake and the boats and the interstate and the bridges and the houses.  And then, for a few startling seconds, he abuptly became quiet.


Aidan’s View of Lake Coeur d’Alene

Concerned that he was suddenly not enjoying himself, I started to turn around to look at him, when he stated quite enthusiastically, but in a somewhat deeper and reverent tone “I think I can see the future from up here!”

And that, from a five year old who had never been in an airplane before, is probably the most prophetic comment I’ve ever heard from anyone about the joys of general aviation.

So help spread that joy, and introduce someone to GA.  Take that person for their first flight so that they too can see the future from up here.