National Wind Turbine Map: A new Pilot Resource

As one of the fastest growing forms of renewable energy, wind turbines are sprouting up all over the country.  On a recent airline flight across the country, I was blown away to see areas in northern Texas with rows of wind-turbines that went on for miles—some of which included well over of a hundred turbines. Now I know why they call them wind farms!  This technology is increasingly popular in rural Alaska, where the cost of fuel to generate electricity is through the roof expensive.  As with all good things, they come with potential impacts.  As pilots, wind turbines provide several challenges: initially as obstructions we have to avoid during flight.  If located too close to airports, they interfere with instrument approaches resulting in higher minimums and reduced access.  Finally, when the wind  blows they represent a source of turbulence, which we still have much to learn about (more on that later).

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Locating individual wind turbines
Recently the US Geological Survey has given us a new tool to locate wind turbines, on a nation-wide basis.  A new interactive mapping application, provides access to a database that not only shows us where wind turbines are found, but records their height, blade length, and other information on a tower-by-tower basis. Prior to this, while some states captured the locations of individual wind turbines, there was no uniform database that provided this information across the country.  Starting with the FAA’s Digital Obstruction File (through July 22, 2013), a USGS team led by Dr. Jay Diffendorfer located over 47,000 turbine sites, verifying individual tower locations with high-resolution satellite imagery. This data base gives us a much better way to find individual tower locations, with a location accuracy estimated to be within 10 meters.

While fewer in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

While still few in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

Understanding impacts
This database is designed to support research into environmental effects on both critters that fly, and wildlife habitat.  But these data may also be useful in the future to project the impact of down-wind effects on general aviation airports, which is still an evolving research topic.  A recent study at the University of Kansas has shown that the turbulence from a wind turbine extends further as wind speed increases, up to 3 miles in some cases.  This and the potential increase in cross winds could be a significant impact for small aircraft at GA airports.  Hopefully, more work will be done to quantify these conditions, leading to improvements in the FAA’s obstruction review process, which today only takes into account the height of an obstruction above ground when air space reviews are conducted.

Provide feedback
All maps are only as current as the date used to make them.  This data set incorporated information from FAA’s obstruction file as of last July.  And if you come across wind turbines that aren’t in the database, please capture what information you can and send an email with the location to jediffendorfer@usgs.gov.

Thanks to this effort, we have a better way to learn where wind turbines are located in the areas where we fly!

California Dreamin’

I remember my first California Pilots Association (CalPilots) annual meeting, about 20 or so years ago. It consisted of a day-long business meeting with 20-25 people around a conference table in the conference room of the Hiller Museum on San Carlos Airport.

My, my, how times have changed! This year’s event, dubbed California Dreamin’, was conducted at the San Luis Jet Center, located on the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport. Held on a Friday night and most of Saturday, October 18-19, the event was a melange of networking, education, exhibits, food, and entertainment. And that was a combination that left me interested and involved throughout the event. Attendance was around 300.

The outstanding list of speakers included: Judy Phelps, CFI of the Year; Jamie Beckett, author of the monthly column “Politics for Pilots” in General Aviation News; Rod Machado, who needs no introduction (but just in case, CFI, author, motivational speaker and humorist); Mike Jesch, Fullerton Pilots Association; John Kounis, Editor-in-Chief of Pilot Getaways Magazine; AOPA’s own Bill Dunn, Vice President of Local Airports Advocacy. A recurring theme of many of the speakers was the need for local, statewide, and national involvement to develop and maintain support for aviation and airports.

AOPA was well represented with Bill Dunn, John Morrison, the AOPA Foundation Western Region Director of Development, and myself in attendance. Of course, most of the CalPilots in attendance were AOPA members also.

Many exhibitors were in attendance with a variety of wares and information.

Entertainment included bi-plane rides, a balloon glow, music by the San Luis Jazz Band, a raffle, and a silent auction. I have rarely participated in a silent auction, but this one got the best of me. So I came home with a 1990′s vintage Snoopy Sopwith Camel ceiling fan, still in its original packing. It was a pleasure to contribute to the event.

I offer my congratulations and thanks to Jolie Lucas and Mitch Latting, Co-Vice Presidents of CalPilots Region 3, who were the leading organizers of the event, as well as the CalPilots Board of Directors and all the volunteers who made the event possible.

On the way home Sunday thinking about my travel planning for 2014, I thought the whatever the event is called in 2014 and wherever it is held, it needs to be on my calendar. You might want to put it on your calendar, too. Date and place to be announced in the coming months.

And a postscript. When Jamie Beckett gave his first presentation on Friday night, he asked the audience of about 300 how many read General Aviation News. Three hands went up, mine being one. I was amazed, having previously assumed that everyone in GA reads GA News. I find it a great source of information.

17th Annual Association of California Airports Fall Conference

shutt awardThe Association of California Airports (ACA) held its 17th annual Fall Conference at South Lake Tahoe September 11-13. For the 11th consecutive year, the conference venue was the Inn by the Lake, with beautiful accommodations and a terrific view of Lake Tahoe.

Attendance at the conference was about 140, down a few from last year but with many first time attendees. As always, the program was a mix of basic instruction sessions and discussions of current issues and topics. Some of the topics included: Airfield Safety, Phasing, and Keys to Construction; Landing Safely with Storm Water Compliance; Airport Compliance; Establishing General Aviation Rents and Fees; NEPA/CEQA Update. Current Issues included General Aviation Drug Trafficking and Security Threats; UAVs/FAA Test Sites and the Risk and Rewards; Open Discussion of Current California Airport Issues.

I found the Department of Homeland Security presentation on drug trafficking and security very interesting. Hearing the DHS Agent describe what they do and give examples of the threats and drugs the interdict, I felt disconnected from the aviation media stories I have read about abusive and unauthorized searches of GA pilots and aircraft. I came away not knowing what to think!

The session I led on Current California Issues stimulated discussion of a recent Airport Cooperative Research Program report entitled “Impact of Regulatory Compliance on Small Airports.” In addition, we talked about leaded avgas replacement, impacts of sequestration, and the declining pilot population.

We were honored to have Wayne Handley as our Keynote Speaker. Wayne is a former naval aviator, ag pilot, aerobatic champion, and preeminent air show performer. Since beginning his aviation career in 1957, he has amassed over 31,000 hours of flight time, reportedly with very little of it spent in straight, level, and upright flight. He told fascinating stories of his career.

The highlight of the General Membership Meeting was the presentation of ACA’s second annual Michael A. Shutt Award. Michael Shutt was known in the airport industry as a leader, consummate aviation professional, and problem solver. He was a consulting engineer, experienced pilot, long term AOPA member, founding member of ACA, and served many years on the ACA Board of Directors. The Michael A. Shutt Award was created in 2012 in his memory to recognize the efforts of individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to the growth and development of California airports. I had the privilege of presenting this year’s award to Mary Hansen, Manager of the Yuba County Airport and long term ACA Secretary/Treasurer. She was recognized for her dedicated service on the Board of Directors, calmly handling all manner of complex issues, and she is a valued leader in the air show industry. We all thank Mary for her dedicated service to California aviation.

It was a wonderful and rewarding conference. I came home exhausted and pleased, and am already looking forward to the 18th Fall Conference, to again be held at the Inn by the Lake, September 10-12, 2014.

A note to air race fans. The ACA conference runs Wednesday through Friday and is the week of the National Championship Air Races, held Thursday through Sunday at Reno Stead Airport, only an hour and a half from South Lake Tahoe.

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.

June is Aviation Appreciation Month in Nevada

On May 17, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval issued a proclamation declaring June to be Aviation Appreciation Month in Nevada. The Governor’s proclamation states, in part, “The continued vitality of aviation, aerospace, aircraft manufacturing, educational institutions and aviation organizations is important to the daily function of our society,” and, “The aviation industry will continue to play a vital role in the economic and social well being of the State of Nevada.”
AOPA supports these goals. We actively worked for passage of two bills introduced in the Nevada Legislature. Senate Bill 270 would have provided an appropriation to the Nevada Fund for Aviation to be used to match federal Airport Improvement Program grants at general aviation airports. Senate Bill 385 would have provided personal property and sales and use tax abatements for qualifying aviation businesses.
AOPA supported these bills by letters, email, and in person. I testified in support of SB 385 during a Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development hearing on April 2. The following day I testified in support of SB 270 during a Senate Committee on Finance hearing.
Unfortunately, the 2013 Nevada legislative session ended the evening of June 3 without the legislature taking final action on either bill. We are already discussing strategy about bringing these measures back in the next session, which convenes in February 2015.

California Senator Jean Fuller Receives AOPA Award

Presenting AOPA Award to Senator Fuller

Presenting AOPA Award to Senator Fuller

On April 24, I had the privilege of presenting California State Senator Jean Fuller (R-18) an AOPA “Friend of Aviation Award” in her office at the Capitol. Senator Fuller and her husband Russ are pilots and own a Bonanza.
Senator Fuller has been a strong supporter of general aviation. In 2010 she was the Keynote Speaker at the Association of California Airports Fall Conference. She tells fascinating stories about when she and Russ were newlyweds and chose to buy a Cessna 172 instead of a second car.
Many of the readers will recall the potentially disastrous AB 48 legislation passed in 2009 with no notice to or input from the aviation community. AB 48 would have subjected all flight training professionals in California to regulation by the state’s Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education. It is widely believed that the fees and processes specified in AB 48 would have put most California flight instructors out of business. In 2011, Senator Fuller, in collaboration with AOPA and NATA, authored SB 619. SB 619 provided a specific exemption from the AB 48 provisions for FAA certified flight instructors. The bill passed both houses of the legislature with overwhelming majorities and was signed by the Governor. It became effective January 1, 2012.
We heartily thank Senator Fuller and her staff for their continued support of general aviation.

California Aviation Awareness Day

Aviation Awareness Day Underway

Aviation Awareness Day Underway

Aviation organizations, especially the Association of California Airports (ACA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), for years have discussed the possibility of holding an aviation day at the State Capitol. After the ACA Fall Conference in September, an informal organizing committee was formed to seriously plan for such an event.

After a number of meetings, details began to coalesce. And on April 24, 2013, the first annual California Aviation Awareness Day at the Capitol became a reality. This is the first time that a broad spectrum of aviation organizations have come together to host an event to inform California legislators, legislative staffs, and the general public about the importance of aviation to the welfare of the California economy and to raise the level of awareness of the benefits of aviation to all Californians.

The event began with a by-invitation reception on the evening of April 23 at a local restaurant. The reception was well attended by event organizers, sponsors, legislators, and legislative staff members.

The next day the main event was conducted on the north lawn of the Capitol in a large tent enclosing displays and educational materials. Approximately 20 aviation organizations participated and interacted with visitors. There were many interesting exhibits to attract attention.

The event kicked off with a welcome and remarks by Senator Jean Fuller, a strong supported of aviation. In the afternoon after the lawn event, many of the organizers visited their legislators’ offices, and small teams distributed educational materials to the offices of all 120 legislators.

We feel that the event was a complete success. It was estimated that the event had at least 500 visitors. It was covered on local television news.

The Association of California Airports was the official sponsor. I representated AOPA on the organizing committee and also served as the event spokesperson. Other collaborating organizations, in no particular order of mention, included: Alliance for Aviation Across America; California Airports Council; California Department of Transportation; California Pilots Association; National Business Aviation Association; Seaplane Pilots Association; Southwest Chapter American Association of Airport Executives; California State University Los Angeles AAAE Chapter; Sacramento City College Department of Aviation; McClellan Air Museum; Experimental Aircraft Association; Aeroplex/Aerolease Group; Reach Air Medical; Napa Valley Balloons; Northern California Business Aviation Association; Paramount Citrus; Mead and Hunt; Parsons Brinkerhoff; Tartaglia Engineering: Southern California Aviation Association; National Association of Flight Instructors; C&S Engineering; Truckee Tahoe Airport District; and others.

We have already begun planning for second annual California Aviation Day at the Capitol, tentatively scheduled for April 24, 2014.