Clearing Customs into Alaska along the Alaska Highway

Pilots flying into Alaska along the Alaska Highway this summer should pay close attention to details regarding Customs. For north bound aircraft entering Alaska from Whitehorse or Dawson, Northway has been a popular location to clear Customs, before proceeding on to other destinations in the state. Inspection services by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the Northway Airport are managed out of the Alcan highway station (http://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/alcan), situated about 50 road miles away from the airport. Pilots planning to clear in Northway need to call the Alcan station well in advance to arrange their arrival. According to CPB’s website, Customs operational hours at Northway Airport are currently 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week, however you can call the Alcan port any time as they are open 24 hours a day.

Recently CPB has in some cases offered pilots the option to make a technical stop for fuel in Tok (6K8), and proceed to either Fairbanks or Anchorage to clear Customs. This may be attractive, as currently there is no fuel available at the Northway Airport. If this option is offered, make sure that you contact the Fairbanks or Anchorage Port directly, PRIOR TO LEAVING CANADA, to arrange your arrival there. Pay attention to any other instructions the CBP official may provide. Canadian Flight Service has been authorized to accept flight plans with a fuel stop in Tok, if pre-approved by CBP.

Factors to consider in selecting a port of entry:

1)      My personal strategy when crossing international borders is to clear Customs as soon as possible after entering the new country, even if there isn’t fuel available at the airport of entry. From a risk management perspective, it removes the pressure to continue in the face of changing weather conditions to meet the ETA Customs is expecting me to keep. Having a careful look at the weather prior to accepting a plan to clear at a more distant location like Fairbanks or Anchorage would be prudent.

2)      If you are forced to land short of your planned port of entry due to weather, mechanical problems etc., make sure to call Customs immediately, and advise them of your situation. They do understand there are occasional “challenges” with general aviation operations, but need to be kept informed. Don’t forget to call them, or put it off till the following day…

3)      Remember that in addition to calling your intended port of entry, you must also file an eAPIS notification online. If you accept a different destination based on your telephone conversation with Customs, you may need to file a new eAPIS report for the new destination. This is another reason to call Customs while you still have internet access– well before you are ready to crawl in the airplane and take off.

Crossing international boundaries has certainly become more complicated than it used to be pre-911. While the eAPIS system is a bit of a pain to set up in the first place, it essentially provides in advance the information you used to supply upon arrival. In my experience, it has cut down on my time clearing Customs after arriving at the port of entry. If you have problems with Customs when flying into Alaska, please let AOPA know. Send me an email at tom.george@aopa.org if you encounter a problem that we should know about. But don’t let these procedures keep you from flying between Alaska and Canada. If that happens, the bad guys have won!

Help us advocate for you—Take the GA Survey!

Advocacy is the most important reason our members tell us they belong to organizations like AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. We expend considerable effort to defend your ability to fly, and protect the necessary infrastructure (airports, weather stations, navaids, etc.) needed for aviation safety and access. But to advocate effectively, we need to be able to quantify who we are: How many flight hours a year does GA account for? What equipment do we have in our aircraft? What types of uses do we make with our planes?

While the airlines may easily characterize the size and nature of their operations, this is a much more challenging thing to do for the GA “fleet,” dispersed over thousands of aircraft owners. We need your help to quantify our impact on the National Airspace System, to help protect or in some cases expand infrastructure. Here is a very current example in Alaska.

 

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed.  At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed. At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

FAA rolling out ADS-B
The FAA is finalizing installation plans for new ground radios to support ADS-B, one of the key elements of the NextGen Program.  (Note: If you are not familiar with ADS-B, the AOPA Air Safety Institute offers an online course that will explain the basics: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/ads-b/index.cfm)  In Alaska, the stations FAA has planned leave approximately 40 percent of the state without ADS-B coverage at the altitudes typical GA aircraft fly. We are advocating for additional ground radios along the most frequently traveled routes across the state, to provide Alaskan pilots with a “minimum operational network” of stations that will support air traffic services, the uplink of weather and other information to the cockpit of “equipped” aircraft. FAA is reluctant to invest in additional ground radios, if the aircraft flying in Alaska aren’t equipped to benefit. At the same time, aircraft owners are understandably reluctant to equip their airplanes, unless they will be able to obtain service. While we know that some aircraft owners are buying the new portable ADS-B In receivers, we don’t know how many. This is where we need your help.

How the GA Survey helps
The General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey, conducted by independent research firm Terra Tech, gives us a way to quantify many aspects of GA operations, including how many aircraft are equipped to use ADS-B. The second mailing of the survey was recently sent to a sample of aircraft owners across the US, and 100% of aircraft owners in Alaska. You can greatly help our advocacy efforts by digging out your pilot log book and taking about 15 minutes to answer questions including how many hours your aircraft flew in 2013, what types of flights you made (business, recreational, instructional, etc.), and what equipment is in your airplane. Even if you DON’T have ADS-B equipment today we need to establish a baseline, to monitor how equipage changes over the next few years, as the cost of equipment drops and more owners decide they want to have free weather and traffic information in their cockpit. The survey may be taken online at www.aviationsurvey.org, using your N-number to log in. Even if you didn’t fly last year, please take the survey! Responses are confidential, with no individually identifiable information released to the FAA. If you have questions about the survey, contact Tetra Tech toll-free at 1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com.

Taking this survey helps us advocate for you, on a wide range of topics other than ADS-B. Thank you to those who have already responded! And to those who haven’t—please take the few minutes to do so today.

This article by Tom George, AOPA Alaska Regional Manager and Adam White, Government Affairs, Alaska Airmen’s Association

Runway Safety Action Teams- Coming Soon to An Airport Near You!

By now you’ve no doubt seen the video from Barcelona Spain, purporting to show a runway incursion that resulted in a Boeing 767 performing a low altitude go-around.  While the jury is apparently still out on whether that clip shows an actual incursion, here in the U.S. the FAA continues to press airports to minimize incursions and improve airfield safety.  One of the FAA’s primary mechanisms for helping airports do so are “Runway Safety Action Teams” (RSAT), and if you haven’t had an RSAT visit or meeting at your busy or complex airport, odds are you will in the near future.

So what, exactly is an incursion?  The FAA formally defines an incursion as “any occurrence at an airport involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.”  Incursions are further classified as operational incidents, pilot deviations or vehicle/pedestrian deviations:
2014-07-15 07_46_43-Runway Safety - Runway Incursions - Internet Explorer

 

 

 

 

In an effort to minimize these incursions, FAA RSAT teams are tasked with “uniting those individuals and organizations that are actively involved in air traffic operations and movement of aircraft, vehicles and equipment on the Airport Operations Area (AOA). We  [FAA] look for participation from all major airport interests including tenants, fixed base operators, airport operations and maintenance personnel. Participants are asked to help develop recommendations and solutions to enhance surface safety. Those recommendations serve as the foundation for a site-specific Runway Safety Action Plan.”

So as a GA aircraft owner/pilot, why should you care?  Quite simply, the recommendations of an RSAT team are formalized in a Runway Safety Action Plan, which carries great weight, particularly at federally obligated airports that have accepted FAA airport improvement grant funds.   Absent broad user input, the Runway Safety Action Plan may include restrictions, procedures or airfield configuration changes that could have a signifcant impact on how you operate at your airport.  Fortunately, one of the most common RSAT recommendations is relatively straightforward- the identification and publication of airport surface “hot spots” where incursions are most likely to occur or have occurred.  These “hot-spots” are identified on airfield diagrams with a red circle, number and description, and airports with “hot-spots” are identified by FAA region at this FAA webpage- is yours one of them?

Here’s a quick case study of how an RSAT team recommendation might have had a signficant impact.  In a previous life, I worked at a very busy and confined single runway commercial service airport with extensive GA activity.  At this particular airport, a large portion of the primary (and only) parallel taxiway, was a contiguous piece of pavement with the non-movement area aircraft ramp, a configuration necessary to meet FAA runway/taxiway separation standards.  The only separation and delineation between the taxiway/movement area and ramp/non-movement area were painted markings- a red line (which quickly faded to pink) and the movement area boundary (below).

DSC00042

GA ramp contiguous with and extremely close to an active taxiway/movement area.

This airfield configuration, combined with a congested ramp and limited space, frequently resulted in GA pilots and passengers losing situational awareness and driving or walking onto the movement area and taxiway-  yep, a vehicle/ pedestrian incursion, even if no aircraft was nearby on the taxiway.  After a rash of these in a very short period of time, our airport was the subject of a special RSAT team visit, and one of the FAA’s preferred solutions was a complete prohibition of private vehicles anywhere on the airport ramp- clearly an unfeasible and unworkable solution.

But thanks to a proactive effort by airport staff to engage airport tenants in our RSAT meetings, along with a very engaged airport/user tenant group, we were able to collaboratively develop alternatives to this draconian proposal, reducing incursions and improving airfield safety without compromising users’ ability to efficiently and conveniently access their aircraft.

So will an RSAT team be coming to your airport?  RSAT teams are deployed by FAA region, and will typically focus first on the busiest or most complex airports, or those with a documented history of incursions.  While the FAA does not apparently publish a list of airports slated for RSAT visits, check with your airport manager, who will be the first to know at your airport.  If an RSAT meeting is scheduled, be sure to attend so you can weigh in with your experiences, thoughts and suggestions to improve safety at your airport without compromising its utility.  Without airport tenant and user engagement and input, RSAT meetings will not be as effective, and could result in local operational or procedural changes that are unduly costly or burdensome, or unreasonably limit access to your airport.

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the Fun of Flight, Friends, and Family in Western Michigan

You can’t really argue with that title can you? The extended forecase is calling for severe clear July 5th and 6th at Watervliet Municipal Airport in Western Michigan and I will be making the trip to visit with AOPA members, airport visitors, and EAA Chapter 585.

A steak lunch will be served Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Starting bright and early on Sunday, Pancakes will be served from 7:00am to 12:00pm. So, take off those wheel pants, dust off your short and soft field landing techniques, and get out to 40C this weekend!

Watervliet Airport Fly-In

GA Survey: Your input needed to quantify general aviation activity

A group of government VIP's at Unalkleet during a 1928 Alaska tour.  Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

A group led by Gov. George Parks (light hat) at Unalakleet during a 1928 Alaska inspection tour. Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

1928 was an active year for aviation in Alaska. In only five years since the first commercial flight in the state, airplanes had grabbed the attention of the public, making trips that previously took several weeks possible to complete in a few hours. At the time, quantifying the number of pilots, airplanes and mechanics was easier than it is today. According to author Robert Steven’s Alaskan Aviation History, Vol. 1, that year there were only eight licensed pilots in the territory (Alaska wouldn’t be granted statehood until 1959). This spanned the spectrum from student to transport certificates. There were a total of seventeen airplanes, and twelve licensed mechanics. Those aircraft were getting a lot more hours than the average GA aircraft today, I can assure you. Reading Steven’s detailed accounts of this year alone, these aircraft were on the go whenever the weather allowed, and not just for short hops, either. They were covering routes three to four hundred miles in length, otherwise navigated by dog sleds or river boats. Before instrument airways had become a reality, this was a totally VFR operation, with a lot of time spent turning around, and waiting for better weather.

Quantifying GA today?
While the FAA has records describing how many aircraft are registered, determining how many are active and how much they fly is another matter, especially with activities as diverse as those that make up the universe of general aviation. To figure how many active aircraft we have, the FAA contracts with an independent research firm, Tetra Tech, to conduct the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey. The survey asks questions like: Was your aircraft flown last year? How is your aircraft equipped? What percentage of your flight hours were for recreation/instruction/business/etc.? While the survey is sent to a sample of aircraft owner’s nationwide, all Alaskan aircraft owners are asked to participate. I hope you will take the few minutes required to respond. AOPA and other aviation advocates rely on this data to help make our case when it comes to protecting your ability to fly. For example, one of the questions (What kind of fuel do you burn?) combined with information about the types of flying you do, helps us understand the potential impact of policy decisions involving 100LL fuel. The question about installed equipment lets us know how many (or few) aircraft owners have ADS-B capabilities installed.

Your response is needed
The survey only covers flight time during calendar year 2013. Even if you DIDN’T fly, sold your aircraft, or were waiting for your mechanic to finish a repair— checking the appropriate box and returning the survey helps. If you have three or more aircraft, contact Tetra Tech to obtain a short forum of the survey (1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com). If you would rather take the survey online, go to www.aviationsurvey.org, and use your N –number to log in. The information in the survey is kept confidential, with only aggregate data provided to the FAA.

We know Alaska has a lot more airplanes than the seventeen that were present in 1928. Please take the few minutes with your pilot and aircraft log books to help quantify the magnitude of general aviation in 2013!

Alaska Flight Service adds InReach to satellite tracking program

A little over a year ago Flight Service offered a new service to Alaskan pilots, allowing them to incorporate satellite tracking devices into their VFR flight plans.  Named eSRS for Enhanced Special Reporting Service, pilots sign up for (or update) a Master Flight Plan to identify the satellite tracking device they use, and obtain contact information so that a distress signal will be received by FSS—along with your GPS location. (For a more complete description of the service see http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=396)

The Delorme InReach has been added to the list of satellite devices used by the Alaska FSS to receive distress messages.

The Delorme InReach has been added to the list of satellite devices used by the Alaska FSS to receive distress messages.

While this was initially restricted to SPOT and Spidertracks devices, starting on March 10, 2014, FAA has added Delorme InReach to the list of supported devices.  The InReach has some features worth noting.  Its purchase price, in the $300 range, is attractive.  Like the other devices in this class, the user has to subscribe to a messaging or tracking service—which ranges between $10 – $25 per month.  Flight Service has already been paid for— so no added cost there.  And they operate 24/7, with someone always on duty to receive a distress call.  FSS already knows your aircraft type, number of people on board and other detail from your flight plan, and is poised to expedite getting help on the way during an emergency. Add to that the GPS coordinates with your location. This service could take hours off the time required to summon help, when you need it the most!

The InReach has some attractive features in addition to price.  It uses the Iridium satellite constellation, which provides excellent coverage in Alaska.  The unit also supports two-way texting, so in addition sending a HELP message, you may be able to communicate with rescuers to let them know exactly what assistance is needed. It is portable and can go with you outside the airplane.  The only down side, from an aviation perspective, is that it lacks the automatic tracking feature used in the Spidertracks system, which automatically sends a distress in an emergency—even if the unit is destroyed in the crash. That is a powerful feature that trumps a 406 MHz ELT, from my perspective.

AOPA and the Alaska Airmen have worked closely with the FAA in support of this service.  In a little over a year’s time 55 pilots have signed up and, almost 1,000 flights have been conducted under the program.  Hopefully more people will consider participating with the addition of the InReach unit to the program.  For more details on eSRS and information on how to sign up, see: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/systemops/fs/alaskan/alaska/esrs-ak/

Aerial photography: a time machine

Cameras and airplanes have been used together for many years.  The vantage point that an airplane provides—the ability to look down from above—is a powerful perspective when it comes to seeing patterns in the landscape.  One simply can’t get this view from standing on the ground.  While exciting to experience in flight, it is even more powerful to capture with a camera and bring this view back to earth.  Now one can examine the landscape in detail, take measurements, create maps and make all kinds of interpretations.  Geologists use them to help prospect for oil. Foresters determine the volume and location of wood resources. Biologists map animal habitat. The list goes on…

A fundamental property of a photograph is time.  The fraction of a second the shutter is open freezes a little slice of time, which turns a photograph into a record of the past from the instant the shutter closes.  So it was with much interest that I recently opened the August 25th edition of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner to discover an oblique aerial photograph taken over my home city (Fairbanks) some 70+ years ago.

A few days later, I was contacted by the Fairbanks metropolitan transportation planning organization, who had also seen the photograph, and wanted to locate a recent image from a similar vantage point for comparison.  A couple weeks later the weather cooperated, and I managed to bring camera and airplane together to orbit over Fairbanks and attempt to replicate the photo from the late 1940’s.  Then the real fun began, in comparing features from the two images.

Viewing 74 years of change

Aerial photograph of Fairbanks, taken June 17, 1393.

Aerial photograph of Fairbanks, taken June 17, 1939. Sources: Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Archive Source: Aerometric.

Modern view of Fairbanks, acquired September 24, 2013.

Modern view of Fairbanks, acquired September 24, 2013.

Fairbanks, Alaska in 1939.  Some research helped put a more precise date on the old aerial.  It was taken on June 17, 1939, and the negative of this image (frame 3224) is still in the archives at Aerometric in Anchorage.  [Coincidentally, this image was taken just a month after AOPA was incorporated. AOPA will be celebrating it’s 75th anniversary next year.]

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two images is the Chena River, which bisects down town Fairbanks. In the 1939 photo it much larger than today.  Even though the old image is black and white, the light tone of the river is because it was filled with water laden with glacial silt. At the time, this stretch of the river was a slough of the much larger Tanana River, whose main channel flows a few miles south of town (see map below).  Modern flood control structures upstream today (hopefully) keep the glacier fed Tanana river water out of the Chena, leaving it a smaller, but clearer river. And making the town to be less susceptible to flooding.

Then sporting a population of something over 3,000 people, Fairbanks has obviously grown with houses and buildings filling in where fields or undisturbed land once prevailed.  Today downtown Fairbanks has a population over 30,000 and the surrounding metro area is just shy of 100,000.  In the background of the 1939 picture, just on the southern edge of town is Weeks Field, the city airstrip.  As with airports at many communities then and now, the town grew up around the airport, eventually forcing it to move.  Today, the stretch of land that was Weeks Field is occupied by Lathrop High School and the Noel Wien Library on one end, extending to Growden Memorial Park, other ball fields, and the Carlson Community Activity Center on the other.

Looking ahead
In the upper right corner of the modern photograph—barely visible—is the northern edge of Fairbanks International Airport.   The map (below) is part of a 1952 USGS topographic map which at that time depicts Weeks Field as well as the newly constructed “Fairbanks Airport” that would grow to become a major transportation hub for Fairbanks and interior Alaska, responsible for over 2,000 jobs and a total economic impact of about $225 M annually to Fairbanks and the State of Alaska.

Portion of the 1952 USGS topo map of Fairbanks. White arrow shows location and direction of the aerial photos above. The map shows both the location of Weeks Field and the location of the modern Fairbanks International Airport.

Portion of the 1952 USGS topo map of Fairbanks. White arrow shows location and direction of the aerial photos above. The map shows both the location of Weeks Field and the location of the modern Fairbanks International Airport.

Comparing these two pictures certainly made me appreciate some of the changes that have taken place over time.  Photographs and images taken from the “aerial perspective” can be powerful tools to study the present and appreciate change through time.  In thinking about the next 75 years, we will need to remain vigilant to ensure that future growth at Fairbanks doesn’t threaten the viability of the airport, which fortunately has a good buffer of land around it today.  I hope someone acquiring an aerial image 75 years from now will be able to report that we were good stewards of our towns and airports for the generations to follow!

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

Image

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.

California Senate Holds Hearing on Avgas Transition

On September 18, the California Senate Select Committee on Air Quality held an informational hearing on the transition of leaded avgas to an unleaded replacement fuel. The hearing, chaired by Senator Ted Lieu, from Torrance, was held in Westchester, just north of Los Angeles International Airport. Assembly Member Steven Bradford, from Gardena, also participated in the hearing.

The purpose of the hearing was to examine the environmental risks of leaded avgas and the status of current efforts to develop an unleaded alternative. The list of invited speakers was impressive and covered a cross section of interests. Included were: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; the South Coast Air Quality Management District; the University of California Los Angeles, Dept. of Environmental Health Sciences; the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and the Environment; the University of Southern California, Dept. of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering; the California Air Resources Board; Torrance Airport; Santa Monica Airport; a community representative; a pilot community representative. Although the FAA was not represented, Senator Lieu presented a letter from the FAA describing the current efforts to replace leaded avgas.

AOPA submitted a comprehensive statement for the record, describing the need for leaded avgas at this time, the importance of general aviation to the nation and state, recent efforts of the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, and the status of the current Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative. In my testimony as AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager, I highlighted these important facts and emphasized that the AOPA continues to be committed to safely transitioning the general aviation fleet to an unleaded fuel. Along with our industry partners, we have been and will continue to be active in pressing for timely action on the search for a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative to 100LL avgas.

With the given current Federal budget stalemate that threatens funding for research in 2014, I urged the Committee to work with members of the California Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation to ensure that the FAA has the funding needed to continue the transition process.

While talking to Senator Lieu after the conclusion of the hearing, I once again assured him that the general aviation community supports the transition to unleaded fuel once it can be safely, reliably, and affordably accomplished. Boarding a commercial flight back to Sacramento late in the evening, I ran into Assembly Member Bradford, who complemented the AOPA presentation. I think we got our message across.

Alaska Aviation Weather Forecast Changes and Enhancements

Update:  Due to the government shutdown, the changes described below have been delayed, and are planned to go into effect on November 12.

The weather is still one of the most important factors we need to evaluate before each flight.  Whether you fly VFR or IFR, knowing the current conditions and how they are expected to change is critical to that all important GO/NO GO decision,  figuring out which route to take, and what to watch for inflight.  On October 15th, the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) will make changes that should help you make those decisions, as you plan to fly.  Here are some of the changes.

Area Forecast/Airmets
Starting in mid-October, new Area Forecasts (FA’s) will be issued three times a day—at 4:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., local Alaska time.  Updates will come out at 12:15 a.m., 6:15 a.m. and 6:15 p.m.—or as needed if things are changing faster than anticipated.  AIRMETs will be either issued or updated using a similar schedule, the details of which may be found on the AAWU website at: aawu.arh.noaa.gov/changes/

Icing and Turbulence Graphics
In a trend which I find helpful, more information is being presented in graphic form.  Starting on Oct 15, the AAWU will issue new icing and turbulence graphics, showing the forecast in three-hour time slices, as opposed to the 6 hour charts we have been using.  Found under the Graphical Forecast tab on their home page, in the sample Icing Forecast product below, the user has a choice of viewing a single 12 hour summary, or on the bar immediately above the product, selecting one of the three-hour charts to see how the forecasters expect conditions to develop during the day.

Sample Icing Forecast Product summarizes over the entire 12 hour period. Individual charts showing 3 hour intervals show how conditions are expected to develop.

Sample Icing Forecast Product summarizes over the entire 12 hour period. Users can select individual charts showing 3 hour intervals to see how conditions are expected to develop.

Another change is that the Turbulence Forecast will be split into separate low and high altitude products.  Along the top, in the sample image below, the user again has the option to look at the 12 hour summary— showing the entire forecast period—or can mouse-over a progression of graphics to see how the turbulence is expected to develop during the forecast period.  Note that while the products are split at Flight Level 180, if conditions span that flight level, they will be depicted on both sets of products.  A little time spent examining the legend to become familiar with the new conventions will help become accustomed to these products.

sample turbulence lo level

Sample low altitude turbulence product, covering a 3 hour period. Users may also select the 12 hour summary chart to get the “big picture.”

A more subtle difference in the product to note:  An additional turbulence category, “Isolated Moderate” is being added. Previously the products only depicted “Occasional Moderate” and “Isolated Moderate to Severe” conditions.

table 2 issuance times

Table showing when both graphic and text products will be updated. Helpful if the weather is bad and you are waiting for the next forecast!

Other graphic products, such as the Surface Map and IFR/MVFR Chart won’t change, however the issuance and update times will.  The AAWU has provided a table (above) summarizing the timing of both text and graphic product which provide a roadmap to the new scheme.

These are significant enhancements to the products available to Alaskan pilots, and a downloadable document summarizing them is available online that contains examples and a more complete description of the schedules and changes.  If you have feedback on products, the National Weather Service would like to hear it. An easy way to reach them is to shoot an email to mailto:nws.ar.aawu.webauthors@noaa.gov.

As pilots we need to remember that the accuracy of these products is influenced by the PIREPs we file, either confirming forecast conditions, or alerting forecasters when conditions are changing faster than expected. Please take time to file an extra PIREP or two as you fly.

So a modification to an old adage might be… “If you don’t like the weather you see at the moment, just wait for the new forecast.”  Thanks to these changes, the new forecasts will be showing up more graphically and more frequently than before.