While attending the Georgia Airports Conference in late October, I spent an absolutely great afternoon at Harris County Airport (PIM) in Pine Mountain with AOPA’s ASNV, Greg Hadley and a half-dozen local pilots, all AOPA members. With a lot of help from Greg Hadley, AOPA and others were successful in saving this airport from closure only a few years ago. Some questioned the energy and effort required to accomplish that and I wish they could see this airport now. There are based airplanes where there were none; a pristine, beautifully maintained runway and ramps, new T-hangars (with a waiting list for more); a rejuvenated, charming little Terminal Building; self-fueling and reasonable fuel prices… topped by a bunch of Southern hospitality, welcoming hand-shakes and smiles that really make you feel at welcomed. While I was there one local pilot popped in the door fresh from his check-ride with a brand new Commercial Certificate in his hand and a local contractor was there for another flight lesson, looking forward to joining his partner and brother as a new pilot soon. This is such an inspiring story and place. I remember when it was not… I didn’t want to leave. Shared stories and experiences, a Cessna 150 doing touch-n-go landings with a new student in a Fall setting at this marvelous rural, resort area airport that makes flying and being a GA pilot fun, like it ought to be. There are many more of these “airport treasures”. Send me stories about the ones you find.

Atmospheric conditions show pilots what to expect aloft

It is a cold winter day in Fairbanks, Alaska. But some places are not as cold as others.

Temperature inversion over Fairbanks creates vivid optical effects, transforming distant mountains into greatly distorted features. Photo by Carol Lee Gho

The front page picture on the November 28th edition of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner gives a dramatic view of what is happening. A temperature inversion is holding a layer of cold in the valley bottoms, with temperatures as low as -26 degrees F. At the same time in the hills behind Fairbanks, the thermometer registers as high as +8 degrees F.

The change in air density marking the boundary of the inversion distorts the peaks of the Alaska Range, located 90 miles south of Fairbanks. Under these conditions, the normally sharp skyline– with peaks pushing above 14,000 feet– looks more like mesa’s of the south western US.

Map of surface temperatures observations show conditions as cold as -26 deg. F in valley bottoms, where hill tops register as much as +8 deg F.

During these events, local pilots know that even though it is cold at the airport, once above the surface, they can expect to be flying in warmer air. If one looks at the horizon during the climb-out, it is not uncommon to see the skyline flip-flop wildly while crossing through this boundary until solidly into the warmer air above.

Pilot Survey focuses on Mat Su Mid-Air Collision Concerns

A little over a year ago an Alaskan industry/government working group was established to look at the rash of mid-air collisions that occurred in 2011.  To support that effort, AOPA fielded an online survey to hear directly from pilots concerning this topic.  The goal of the survey was to discover what methods pilots used to avoid mi-air collisions, and to find out how often they encountered unsafe conditions while flying in the Mat Su Valley.

The survey was emailed directly to a sample of 2,942 AOPA members who live in Alaska. In addition the Alaska Airmen’s Association, FAA and other aviation groups broadcast the link to the survey through their communication networks.  Over 600 people took the time to respond.  This will help the industry working group focus its efforts as it considers recommending ways to minimize the potential for mid-air collisions.  While that process goes forward over the months ahead, I wanted to share the summary of the survey so that you could see what the cumulative results tell us about how we operate—and what the respondents of this survey had to say regarding this topic. A summary of the survey is available here:   2012_04 Mat Su Valley Collision Avoidance Survey Final Report.    Look for more information in the months ahead as the working group starts to develop recommendations.

General Aviation Survey: Your help needed!

Once a year the FAA conducts a survey to learn how much we flew, whether we did it IFR or VFR, on a flight plan or not, what equipment we have on our airplane, and a few other things.  It doesn’t take long to complete, and it would be a big help to AOPA and others who advocate for improvements to our aviation infrastructure.  The survey is conducted by an independent research firm— NOT the FAA themselves. The information is only provided to the FAA in summary form, no individual data tied to your N number is released.

I often sit in meetings with the FAA, National Weather Service, National Park Service and other groups, who ask, “Just how much flying does GA do?”  While the airlines and some segments of the Part 135 world report data to the government directly, this survey is about the only way we have of quantifying how much general aviation flying goes on, and documents the type of uses we make of our airplanes.

In Alaska, the FAA is conducting a 100% sample, to get better information on our activity– because we have told them that “Alaska is different.”  There is even a question asking specifically how many hours you flew in Alaska last year! Even if you completed the survey in previous years, please take the 15 minutes or so to go on line and fill it out again.  This data is immensely valuable when it comes to arguing for keeping aviation infrastructure we still use, and knowing when it might be OK to let go of things we no longer need.

The survey questions are pretty straight forward, and the answers are in your log books.  What was the total time on your airframe at the end of 2011?  How many hours did you fly for personal, business, instructional or other types of uses?  A few minutes going through your logbook and assigning flight hours to basic categories and you are ready to log on and fill out the survey.  The website is:  Use your N number to log in.  And if you hit a stopping point, it will save the answers and let you finish later. You have until November 30th  to participate.

Unlike some of the tests you take in school, this is all multiple-choice and fill in the blank.  No essay questions and no one to critique your spelling.  Perhaps the longest section of the survey is the string of questions asking about the equipment you have on board.  After clicking the “NO” button for a while when it comes to questions about TCAS, ADS-B, auto pilots and other goodies, this might give you an excuse to consider upgrading so you can answer at least one of these questions with a “YES” next year!