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.



Learning about Flying in Alaska

No matter how many certificates or ratings a pilot has in their pocket, when planning to fly in a part of the world you’re not familiar with, it has always been good advice to talk with a local pilot to get the “lay of the land.” But who do you ask?

A number of years ago members of the Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association, based in Fairbanks, partnered with the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and the Fairbanks FAA Flight Standards District Office to create a program for pilots who flew themselves to the state. During the summer months of June to August, pilots camped in the Air Park (a camp ground for airplanes) at Fairbanks International Airport may take advantage of this program. Three nights a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 6 p.m. a member of the CFI group drops by to chat with visitors in the Air Park, and answer questions about flying in Alaska. They are armed with a full case of charts, pamphlets, special maps and information specific to Alaska aviation.

An aerial view of the Air Park during an aviation event.

An aerial view of the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport during an aviation event.

Why Fairbanks?
Fairbanks is a popular destination for pilots who fly up the Alaska Highway, along the historic Northwest Staging Route from Montana that was established during World War II for the Lend Lease program. Being centrally located in the state, Fairbanks makes a good jump-off location for visitors wishing to explore the state, whether planning to venture north into the Brooks Range and more arctic environs, west to the gold-rich beaches of Nome, or south to Mt. McKinley and southcentral Alaska. Many of the visitors that arrive in Fairbanks are looking for ideas on places to go, things to see and what to watch out for.

What is different about Alaska?
Yes, the laws of physics are the same when it comes to lift and drag—but Alaskan infrastructure is perhaps different, depending on what you may be familiar with at home. Most communities in Alaska have airports, however very few have gas, maintenance facilities or even a phone to call Flight Service for a weather briefing. In fact, 82% of Alaskan communities are not connected to the state’s road system. While they represent the primary access to those communities, many consist of a 3,000 foot plus gravel runway, a small pad for aircraft parking and a road to town. No FBO, no fuel, no airport loaner car, no phone. You are on your own, which is fine so long as you planned for those conditions.

Another difference is the density of our aviation facilities. Weather reporting stations, NEXRAD weather radar, RCO’s, and nav aids are all in very short supply in contrast to the rest of the country.  Let’s dig into weather just a bit. According to the FAA’s listing, there are 133 AWOS and ASOS stations in Alaska. We would need 183 more stations to have the same average density that is enjoyed by the “lower 48 states.” This not only limits the most basic information pilots use for planning and conducting flights, it also impacts the weather models that are used by the National Weather Service to create aviation forecasts. While our products (METARs, TAFs, Area Forecasts, winds aloft forecasts) LOOK the same as what you may be used to, they are much less ‘informationally rich’ in nature. [More info on this is available at “Alaska is a weather-poor state.”] The upshot: the weather you see out the window is what you need to deal with.

Alaska specific infrastructure
The FAA recognizes some of these differences, and has made accommodations to address certain issues. Alaska has a network of web cameras that, during daylight hours, provide an additional source of information on weather conditions. At over 220 locations across the state, you may actually look at the weather to get a better idea of conditions along a given route of flight.

Weather is just one topic. Alaska also has an incredibly large Special Use Airspace complex, with special services to make it easier to navigate; FAA still operates a network of Flight Service Stations to help pilots obtain information; and the National Weather Service has a dedicated web site for aviation weather. These services are all summarized in a document developed by the flight instructors group which is now available on AOPA’s Flight Planning website on the Alaska Info tab, in Guide to Aviation Visitors to Alaska. A second document in that section lists a number of websites with Alaskan aviation references, including the aviation weather cams, Flight Service Station map, NWS aviation weather site and a lot more.

But if you would like to learn about Alaska flying in the old fashioned way— stop by the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday summer evening around 6 p.m. and talk with a local flight instructor, to get the low-down on flying in Alaska.

Post Script:  The Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport has 15 camp spaces, along with two covered pavilions complete with a BBQ pit, and a restroom with shower facility. That’s right—during summer months it has running water! A few bicycles are available (first come, first serve) if you want to make a quick ride to town or down the ramp to one of the airport businesses or the Flight Service Station.

Practice Runway at FAI ready for use

The “practice runway” at Fairbanks International Airport is open, and ready for summer use. Last night a group of volunteers, organized by AOPA ASN Volunteer Ron Dearborn, assembled at the appointed staging area, and waited for confirmation that the “ski strip” (our gravel runway used for ski planes during the winter) had been NOTAMed closed. Promptly at 6:30 p.m. the marking crew started down the freshly rolled gravel surface, armed with a surveyors tape to lay out the 800 foot long by 25 foot wide “super cub strip” inside the confines of the 2,900 foot by 75 foot gravel runway.

Rain showers threatened, but didn't stop the crew from marking the runway.

Rain showers threatened, but didn’t stop the crew from marking the runway.

A pick-up truck towing a trailer followed, with a generator and paint sprayer on board. Alongside, two plywood templates were carefully placed on the marks so that the two foot by four foot panels of white paint could be sprayed on the gravel surface. With over a dozen volunteers helping, this process went very smoothly—inspired by threatening rain showers in the area. A short 42 minutes later, the job is done. Practice runways have been marked on both ends of the ski strip in 42 minutes. A new record for the team.

The well organized paint crew managed to mark and paint the runway in 42 minutes!

The well organized paint crew managed to mark and paint the runway in 42 minutes!

This is the fifth year that the community has turned out to create this practice runway, providing a place for pilots to sharpen their short-field skills in the safety of a conventional runway environment. The volunteers came from the Fairbanks General Aviation Association (a local airport user group), the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Technology Program, the DOT Northern Region and the Fairbanks International Airport operations staff. After the painting was done, those that could take a little more time enjoyed hot soup and fresh bread—a good fit for a cool, rainy evening’s work.

There are five other airports in Alaska that have been approved by FAA to establish similar markings. I hope pilots will consider volunteering their time at these locations to participate in this program!

Airport ‘open house’ shares aviation with the public

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UAF's "riveting challenge" actively engaged participants.

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

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

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

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

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

Valdez Gears up for 12th Fly-In

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

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

FAA plans to eliminate instrument approaches in Alaska

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

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

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

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

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

Alaska weather forecast graphics updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GA Survey time: It must be spring!

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

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

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

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

If you have a fleet aircraft, or want to ask a question, contact Tetra Tech at 1-800-826-1797 or email [email protected].

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

Glenn Highway Corridor focus of Working Group

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

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

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

Glenn Highway Corridor

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

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

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

Mat Su CTAF Areas on Terminal Area Chart

As of May 29, 2014 the FAA made a significant change to how Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) were allocated in the Mat Su Valley, north of Anchorage. In addition to changing the CTAF assignments of almost 80 individual airports and assigning them to 36 airports that previously didn’t have one designated, they defined specific geographic areas along the bulk of the Matanuska and Susitna River valleys. Initially this information was officially released as a diagram in the Notices section of the Alaska Supplement. Recently, it got easier to see the areas assigned to specific radio frequencies.  In the November 13th edition of the Anchorage/Fairbanks Terminal Area Chart (TAC), an inset was added just below the IFR Traffic Flow map.

This inset if found under the IFR traffic flow diagram on the ANC/FAI Terminal Area Chart.

This inset is found under the IFR traffic flow diagram on the ANC/FAI Terminal Area Chart.

When not in contact with ATC, pilots are encouraged to use these frequencies to increase situational awareness in the areas depicted on this chart.  Pilots should use CTAF frequencies specifically to communicate aircraft location and intentions to other aircraft or to a Flight Service Station. Other air-to-air communications should be conducted on 122.75 or a company frequency to avoid congestion.
For more on the Mat Su CTAF Areas, see AOPA’s blog, with links to a Google Earth map and other information.