The Value of an Airport: Lake Hood Seaplane Base

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Those of us lucky enough to fly airplanes know the value of an airport: priceless!  Some of our non-aviation friends and neighbors may not have the same warm, fuzzy feeling.  Across the country  population centers have expanded, and started to encroach on our airports—even though the airport has been there decades ahead of the subdivisions, schools, and other community infrastructure.  One of the tools the aviation community uses to help communicate the value an airport brings to the community is to quantify its economic benefits.  This was recently done for the seaplane base at Lake Hood.  And the numbers are impressive!

Based on a September, 2013 study, the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD) is responsible for an overall economic impact estimated at $42 million for 2012.  Employment associated with the facility is estimated at 230 jobs during the same time period.  With approaching 800 aircraft based at the facility, Lake Hood not only supports a world-class crop of seaplanes, the 2,200 gravel runway is heavily used by a host of wheel planes. During the winter, many of the aircraft trade wheels and floats for skis, making good use of the lake surface after the water is firmly frozen.

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think "230 jobs and $42 million economic impact."

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think “230 jobs and $42 million economic impact.”

Like many other general aviation airports, Lake Hood is home to a variety of aviation related businesses: air taxis that take residents and tourists to remote locations, maintenance and repair facilities, flight schools, etc.  Government agencies base aircraft and maintenance facilities at LHD (state and federal), in addition to the Civil Air Patrol. Other aviation related tenants include the Alaska Airmen’s Association and the Alaska Aviation Museum.  Seasonally, the Iditarod Air Force uses the lake as a base of operations in support of the famous 1,049 mile race to Nome.

The recently released report, authored by the McDowell Group, acknowledges that there are additional economic benefits not captured in their study. Jobs and income associated with remote businesses that rely on Lake Hood operations are not included in their estimates.  The numbers also don’t take into account the jobs that result from capital projects, funded principally by the FAA. Those projects totaled almost $35 million over the past twenty years or so.  There were more than a few jobs and supplies purchased to make those improvements happen!

So in addition to the benefit we pilots get either from keeping our airplane at Lake Hood, or flying in for business or pleasure, the base adds a significant number of jobs and dollars to the economy of the local area. Don’t hesitate to point that out to your non-aviation friends and neighbors when they ask how the airport might matter to them.

Seaplane pilots need to speak up to preserve access in Whitehorse

Seaplane base at Whitehorse on Schwatka Lake, a section of the Yukon River.

Seaplane base at Whitehorse on Schwatka Lake, a section of the Yukon River.

Seaplane pilots who fly to and from Alaska through Canada need to speak up if they want to continue to use Schwatka Lake, the seaplane base at Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  While the facility directory indicates there are tiedowns and fuel available, pilots often have a difficult time getting access to either one.

The City of Whitehorse is conducting an Area Plan for Schwatka Lake that will impact the future of the lake for aviation as well as marine users.  Planners are conducting an online survey, which only runs through November 5th.  Pilots who have, or plan to use this facility need to speak up, to counter non-aviation interests.

The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association’s Yukon Chapter is asking Alaskan and other U.S. seaplane pilots to participate in the survey to help the planners understand the importance of this facility—the only suitable float plane lake in the city.  COPA Yukon Chapter Director Jean-Michel Sauve says that support from pilots outside Whitehorse is critical to helping them explain the value of the seaplane base to pilots transiting along the Alaska Highway.  Sauve was one of the organizers of the highly successful Atlin Flyin in 2012, which attracted pilots from across Canada, Alaska and even a few western US states.  If seaplane pilots need more information on the Whitehorse Seaplane Base, they may contact him directly.

Please take the survey today to help protect this seaplane facility!

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!

Heads up Lake Hood Users: Z41 is going away!

Now that I have your attention, let me clarify: the Z41 Identifier is going away, not the Lake Hood Strip.

Airport diagram for Lake Hood, including the Lake Hood Strip. Pilots will no longer file flight plans to Z41 when flying to or from the gravel runway associated with the float plane facility.

Airport diagram for Lake Hood, including the Lake Hood Strip. Pilots will no longer file flight plans using Z41 when flying to or from the gravel runway associated with the float plane facility.

For as long as I can remember, Z41 has been the identifier for the 2,200 foot gravel runway on the north side of Lake Hood.  But as of 0901 Z, October 17, 2013, that identifier is being retired, and the strip will just be runway 14/32 at LHD (or PALH if you prefer the four digit ICAO designation).  This cleans up an administrative detail, as having a unique identifier it was treated in certain FAA publications as a separate airport.  While the Lake Hood Strip entry in the Alaska Supplement is gone, the detailed maps of the seaplane base and the gravel strip in Section C, Notices (pages 344-345 in the Oct. 17 edition) will remain.

When I fly to Anchorage International Airport, Z41—I mean the Lake Hood Strip— is my favorite destination.  Generally quicker and easier to get into than the paved runways on the “big airplane” side of the airport.  Less worry about wake turbulence with the heavy jet traffic that is the lion’s share of ANC’s business.

If you have questions about this change, get in touch with the Lake Hood Seaplane Base Manager, Tim Coons at 907-266-2741 or via email: tim.coons@alaska.gov

So long, Z41. But long live the Lake Hood Strip!

PS. Concurrent with this change is a revision to the Chickaloon VFR Departure.  Pilots who use this procedure should examine these changes.

Changes coming to Lake Hood Chickaloon Departure

Pilots who fly to and from Lake Hood should take note: On October 17th the Chickaloon VFR Departure will change.  This is one of the half dozen VFR arrival and departure procedures that help GA traffic navigate the Part 93 airspace segments providing access to the airports, airstrips and water landing areas in the Anchorage Bowl.

In the revised procedure below, aircraft departing Lake Hood that used to fly over the old Kulis Alaska National Guard Base will now head directly to the east shore of Campbell Lake before turning south to depart the area.  This change addresses conflicts between Lake Hood traffic and the ANC Runway 15 departures, resulting in TCAS alerts and close calls when winds or other factors complicated flight paths.

While the new procedure is expected to address these issues, at times when ANC Runway 15 is in use, controllers send Lake Hood traffic that is inbound from the south to the east shore of Campbell Lake– before turning them in toward Lake Hood.  This may on occasion put them in a “head to head” situation.  According to the FAA Alaska Terminal District, this is an infrequent occurrence, and the controllers have been thoroughly briefed on this situation.

Note: This diagram becomes effective on October 17, 2013

Note: This diagram becomes effective on October 17, 2013

This plate will go into effect with the publication of the October 17 edition of the Alaska Supplement, and may be found in the NOTICES section at the back of the salmon-colored book. If you have comments or feedback on this change, please contact FAA ATC Support Manager, Dave Chilson  david.chilson@faa.gov.

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.

General Aviation Month in Alaska

It is an honor to have Governor Parnell recognize the importance of aviation in Alaska!  Below is the proclamation, in its full wording, which outlines not only our dependence on aviation, but some of the challenges as well.  The final whereas also recognizes the centennial of flight.

In spite of the many challenges, it is exciting to see how far we have come in a hundred years!

governor parnell sealGeneral Aviation Appreciation Month

Effective Date: Sunday, September 1st, 2013

WHEREAS, 82 percent of Alaska’s communities are without roads and depend on aviation as a lifeline to provide year-round access for commerce, transportation, emergency medical service, and tourism; and

WHEREAS, Alaskan residents fly more than eight times as often as residents of other states on average; and

WHEREAS, Alaska has more private planes per capita than any other state. There are 855 registered airports and seaplane bases, including 405 public use facilities and 450 private airports in Alaska, housing 10,423 aircraft utilized by 8,202 registered pilots; and

WHEREAS, our state’s extreme climate and formidable terrain requires the highest vigilance of volatile conditions, training, resourcefulness, and maintenance of equipment; 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; and

WHEREAS, this year, Alaska celebrates a century of aviation history that began on July 3, 1913 in Fairbanks and which, against overwhelming odds, has steadfastly become the largest aviation system in the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sean Parnell, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim September 2013 as:

General Aviation Appreciation Month

in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to honor the achievements of general aviation in Alaska during the past one hundred years.

Dated: August 30, 2013

Volunteers re-paint practice runway

Last night saw a group of volunteers in action on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.  A dozen people assembled at 6:15 p.m., along with a pick-up with trailer, painting equipment, small Honda generator, a rake and a broom. The mission: to repaint the markings on the gravel runway.  The goal of the project is to improve aviation safety by providing a place to practice precision landings—before heading to the more challenging back-country strips.

Judging from the fact that a lot of the initial marks, painted in early June, had been completely obliterated, I would say the “practice runway” has been getting lots of use.  The volunteer paint crew waited just off the runway for a few minutes so a Champ could do some last minute touch-and-go’s before the NOTAM closing the runway went into effect.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2' by 4 ' rectangle, while

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2′ by 4 ‘ rectangle, while Tim Berg looks on. In the background, Ron Dearborn and Janet Daley move the second template to the next mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an hour, two 800' by 24' practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

In an hour, two 800′ by 24′ practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since this crew had worked together previously,  painting progressed at a rapid pace. A small team armed with a tape measure, can of marking paint, the rake and broom led the way, to re-establish the locations for marks that were totally gone.  We learned that raking and sweeping the loose gravel away from the area to be painted gets the paint on the hard-pack surface of the strip, which lasts longer than just spray painting loose rocks.

The paint crew has two plywood templates (designed and build by Kevin Alexander, with UAF’s Aviation Program), which they leap-frog down the runway to mark the 800’ long by 25’ wide practice runway.

With a full crew working on the project, we only spent an hour on the runway.  It took a little longer to clean up, but still left time to enjoy some cold beverages and fresh baked goods at the Air Park before heading home, or on to the next evening project.

Other Practice Runways?

FAA has approved six airports in Alaska to paint markings on their ski-strips. So far this summer in addition to Fairbanks, runways at Wasilla (IYS), and Goose Bay (Z40) have been painted and Palmer (PAQ) plans to mark theirs soon. Soldotna (SXQ) markings survived the winter.  If you are within range of one of these airports, go check it out and see how precise your landings are…
[Update Aug 21: Palmer marked their runway last week, Soldotna is planning to repaint soon.]

Who does these projects, anyway??

What does it take to have a dozen people show up on a Monday evening and work for a couple hours? This project is absolutely a partnership between the airport staff and numerous pilot groups.  The airport files the NOTAM to close the runway, provides a safety plan and makes sure that we are putting the marks in the right places. The Fairbanks General Aviation Association (GAA,) a local airport group at FAI, has taken the lead to organize the work parties.  Ron Dearborn, a charter member of the GAA—who also serves as the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteer at FAI, sends an email to local stakeholders, inviting them to participate.  The individuals may belong to any of a number of organizations. At Monday night’s session the following groups were represented: the 99’s, Alaska Airmen’s Association, AOPA, Fairbanks Flight Service, the airport staff and UAF.  Who knows—these folks may find other ways to make improvements that enhance the airport’s value for the users, and to the community.

If your airport has a local airport support group, consider joining.  If it doesn’t, think about starting one (AOPA can help) .  Acting locally is often the best way to head off airport problems before they fester.  See if your airport has an ASN Volunteer.  If not, think about signing up for that program. It is people and groups like these that make it possible to have a practice runway at your airport!

Hauling to the cabin—by air

In a state with few roads, airplanes take on an important role as basic transportation.  Getting supplies to your “cabin in the woods” often means loading them into the plane, instead of tossing them in the back of a pick-up.  But what about those bulky items that don’t fit inside?
custom cabin title photoI recently received an email from my next door neighbor with the subject line, “If only I had a Beaver…”  Attached was a photo story that documented in pictures the steps he took to accomplish the simple task of building and hauling a screen door to his families cabin, on a lake about 70 miles west of Fairbanks.  Getting it attached to the outside of the airplane was a good part of the challenge.

Carrying external loads takes some time, training, patience, and (at least in Alaska) paperwork from the FAA.  But it is often the only way to haul those bulky items that don’t fit inside.  Canoes, moose antlers, and lumber are a few of the things that you may find strapped on the outside of a float plane, heading to a remote cabin or hunting camp. Even if you do have a Beaver in your fleet!

FAA GA Survey helps define Alaska aviation

While the airlines report lots of details about their operations directly to the government, the overall volume of general aviation activity is a lot harder to quantify.  Collectively, how many hours a year do we fly? What kind of avionics do we have in our airplanes?  The type of aviation we individually practice and enjoy is highly variable, which makes it difficult to summarize across a given state or for that matter, the nation.

ga survey logo

One of the principal sources of information that both the government and aviation advocacy groups rely on is the FAA GA and Part 135 Activity Survey.  In the next few weeks, aircraft owners should receive a copy of the survey in the mail.  A couple of points to consider:

  • While it says FAA 2012 GA Survey, it is actually conducted by a private firm, Tetra Tech, who summarizes the data so that no information tied to your N number is forwarded to the FAA.
  • The survey is going to 100% of Alaskan aircraft owners, so if you DON’T get one in the mail, check your aircraft registration to make sure it is up to date!
  • You can take the survey online, www.aviationsurvey.org using your N-number as a log-on password.

The results of the survey help us understand the accident rate in Alaska (we know how many accidents, but this allows the FAA to compute the number per thousand hours of operations).  Data from the survey also help us understand the impact of government policies.  Without this information, we are often left to speculate. Good solid numbers often allow us to make a much more solid case.

To complete the survey, dig out your pilot and aircraft log books.  Questions include how many hours you flew in 2012, how many landings were made, what percent of your flight hours were in Alaska?  They also want you to estimate the types of use: recreational, business travel, instructional, proficiency, for example.  I would look at the questions first, and then go through your logbook to extract the information needed.

The survey also asks what kind of fuel you burn and how much per hour. This information helps quantify our reliance on 100LL, if that is what you burn.  Perhaps the section that is easiest to answer, but the most depressing for me personally, is the last section where I get to NOT fill in the boxes for all the neat equipment I haven’t installed in my airplane (yet, I hope).  It shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes to fill out this survey, so please dig it out of your mail or go on-line and take the few minutes to quantify your use of aviation.

Those of us attempting to advocate on your behalf really need this information to make the best case possible!