FAA Upgrades Alaska Aircraft to National ADS-B Standard

It isn’t always best to be an early adopter of a new technology.  Aircraft owners in Alaska that participated in the FAA demonstration program to implement ADS-B were among the first in the nation to experience the benefits of this new technology. Today ADS-B has become a core element of NextGen.  But when the FAA finally approved a technical standard for NextGen, the prototype equipment didn’t meet that standard.  Now FAA is offering to upgrade those aircraft that were “early equippers” so they won’t be left behind.

ADS-B display showing traffic during the Capstone Demonstration Program

ADS-B display showing traffic during the Capstone Demonstration Program

Background
From 1999 to 2006, FAA conducted an operational demonstration program in Alaska to address some serious aviation safety issues.  Known as the Capstone Program, FAA used Alaska as a test bed to launch a new technology, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, better known as ADS-B.  This GPS-based system broadcasts (automatically) an aircraft’s location once a second, allowing another “equipped” aircraft to receive that information—a powerful tool for collision avoidance!

When within range of a ground radio, additional benefits become available.  Your aircraft position may be tracked by ATC, similar to what ATC radars do today—but with better accuracy in both time and space. If you fail to reach your destination, your ground track may speed search and rescue. But there is more… Ground stations allow aircraft to receive weather reports, NextRad weather radar and other information.  (If you are not familiar with ADS-B, AOPA has an online course which will walk you through the basics).

To obtain these benefits, the aircraft must be equipped.  In the course of the Capstone Program, FAA bought and installed the necessary equipment in about 400 aircraft in Alaska. Most of these aircraft operated commercially and were flying in the system on a daily basis, although some GA aircraft were included in the demonstration.  During this time, a few brave souls invested their own money and equipped their aircraft in order to receive the benefits of real-time traffic and weather in the cockpit.  Recognizing the benefits to aviation access and safety that this new technology represented, the Alaska Legislature adopted a low-interest loan program to help individuals and commercial operators (based in Alaska) to purchase and install this equipment in their aircraft.  The loan program continues today.

After the Capstone Program ended, a national standard for ADS-B avionics was adopted, however the original “demonstration” equipment no longer met the new standard.  To address this problem, FAA has launched a one-time project to upgrade the equipment installed in aircraft that were ADS-B equipped by November 30, 2013, to new “rule compliant” equipment. This includes not only the aircraft equipped by the FAA, but any Alaska-based aircraft that had invested in this technology prior to that date.  FAA has hired an installer who will be operating from different bases around the state on a defined schedule to make the upgrades.  Owners wishing to participate will be required to sign agreements, to have some equipment removed and new, rule-compliant avionics installed.  It may not be the way you wish to upgrade your airplane, but if you qualify, it would be worth checking with FAA to see if this upgrade program could work for you.  If you own an Alaska based aircraft equipped with Capstone-era equipment, contact the FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program (907-790-7316 or jim.ctr.wright@faa.gov) to see if this helps upgrade your airplane!

Utah’s Airports- A Strong GA Focus

headerIf you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to hear AOPA CEO Mark Baker speak, you know that he is incredibly passionate about making airports fun and accessible, noting that “all things aviation begin at an airport”.  Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Airport Operators Association (UAOA) annual conference in beautiful St. George, where coincidentally, the theme was “Fun and Function at Your Airport”.  Mid-March is a fantastic time of the year to enjoy the beautiful red rocks of southwest Utah, especially while hearing about the great things Utah airports are doing that are precisely in line with the vision Mark and all of us at AOPA have for general aviation airports.

Utah’s system of 47 public use airports is somewhat unique in that all of them, including commercial service airports like Salt Lake City International, have significant general aviation presence.  As such, the UAOA conference is always a great gathering of passionate and engaged general aviation airport operators, many of whom are pilots or owners of small FBO’s charged with managing their local airport.

At the conference, which was attended by over 150 airport managers, consultants, FAA and Utah Aeronautics Division staff and others, I had the pleasure of making the opening presentation, providing the group with an overview of AOPA’s current state, regional and national advocacy efforts.  I also briefed attendees on AOPA’s efforts to grow GA activity and the pilot community, including our new Flying Club Initiative, and federal legislation streamlining third class medical certification requirements.

Over the two days of the conference, there were some phenomenal presentations about great things going on with GA in Utah.  Scott Weaver, the President of Leading Edge Aviation at the South Valley Airport (U42) in Salt Lake City gave an excellent briefing about their efforts to revitalize what had been a struggling and negative GA environment at U42.  Through monthly pilot breakfasts, dinners and seminars, along with a strong customer-service focus and partnership with the Salt Lake City Department of Airports(which owns U42), the folks at Leading Edge have generated a whole new level of excitement and engagement at the airport, and GA activity there is on the rebound.

In keeping with the “Fun and Function” at your airport theme, Tom Herbert from the Delta Airport (KDTA) gave an excellent presentation on their 2013 airport open house, which featured not just aviation events, but classic cars, races, kids events and other attractions designed to get the local community as well as pilots out to the airport.

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Historic Airmail Route Arrow in Bloomington Hills, St. George, UT

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Airmail route airway beacon/arrow configuration

But it wasn’t all business!  Former Logan/Cache County airport manager Bill Francis gave a fascinating presentation about the history of the original lighted airway beacons and concrete directional arrows that guided early airmail pilots across the west.  Many of these beacon sites and arrrows can still be found today, and Bill had some excellent historical photos and information, along with some great shots of how these arrows appear today.  If you enjoy aviation, hiking and the thrill of a search, these relics of a bygone era await your discovery across the west.

Just as airmail pilots of the past relied on airway beacons and arrows, every one of us today relies on an airport as we pursue our aviation aspirations.  And of course, airports rely on us pursuing those aspirations to remain vibrant and sustainable.  So if you’re not familiar with your state’s airport management association, learn a little bit more about them, and consider attending one of their events-  it a great way to further the dialouge and communications between GA users and the airports we use.

 

 

Arctic Winter Games: An International Fly-In to Fairbanks

Fairbanks is undergoing an international invasion—of a good sort.  Almost 2,000 athletes ages 13-23, from eight Arctic nation teams (nine, if you include the Alaska kids) have arrived to participate in the Arctic Winter Games 2014.  Think Olympics (on a smaller scale), to compete in games with others from across the circumpolar north.

What caught my attention was how the international participants got to Fairbanks.  Not exactly general aviation—but by a series of charter flights from all over the Arctic.  The aircraft are one or another model of the Boeing 737, with a couple Airbus 320 or 330’s thrown in for good measure.  After studying the planned schedules, I decided to try and figure out where these planes were coming from, so turned to Google Earth, and below is my best approximation of where the flights came from, and roughly how they got to Fairbanks International Airport.

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

For the past three days, these aircraft have converged on Fairbanks to bring the participants together for a week-long set of games, ranging from snowshoe based biathlon’s, skiing, and dog mushing to indoor events like curling, soccer and traditional native games.  Much more than an athletic event, Arctic Winter Games has brought people across the arctic together since 1970, when the first games were held in Yellowknife. A total of 500 people participated in that event, which included athletes, coaches and supporters.

Fairbanks will see another flurry of air traffic on March 21, when the return migration occurs.  Airplane watchers will have an opportunity to see aircraft with paint jobs seldom seen in these parts (Air Greenland, Flair Air, Air Yamal, etc.) as they arrive to take the AWG participants home.  Hopefully taking with them new insights and inspiration after a week of rubbing shoulders with people from other circumpolar countries!

University of Michigan Flyers Fly It Forward

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As you may have seen on various aviation websites, March 3 through March 9 was Women in Aviation Worldwide Week and I was honored to help celebrate it with the University of Michigan Flying Club at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport. Almost 100 children, invited by Michigan Flyer’s members Anne Greenberg, Kathryn Robine, and Amelia Jayne, appeared through the snowy streets outside the Airport on March 7.  The students were given the opportunity to hear about aerodynamics, airplane systems, careers in aviation, and were able to sit at the controls at Michigan Flyer’s new Cessna Skycatcher and 172 in addition to a Piper Archer provided by yours truly thanks to my flying club Mang Aero Club based at the nearby Willow Run Airport.

Since the weather has been unusually harsh here in the Great Lakes, it was great to see some activity, both of current pilots and of the visiting students at the airport — many of which were so surprised at how easily they could get into an airport and fly off in an aviation career.

I can’t say enough good things about Michigan Flyers and the team that put together such a great event!

Students visit Ann Arbor Municipal Airport

 

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Michigan Flyers member and CFI Joe Morabito describes his previous airline career and what it takes to become a pilot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska Directory of Youth Aviation Education Programs

Youth participating in an airport "traffic pattern" event, under ATC supervision.

Youth participating in an airport “traffic pattern” activity, under ATC supervision.

Do you know a kid who is interested in aviation?  Whether it’s one of your own, a neighbor or someone you met along the way—knowing the programs that are available in your community might help the next generation of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controller or airport managers get their start.  With that in mind, AOPA in Alaska has started a directory of pre-college aviation programs to help connect kids with different aspects of aviation.  They range from classes in middle or high schools, to “build a plane” projects, to a tour program at the Alaska Aviation Museum at Lake Hood.  The Civil Air Patrol has cadet programs in a dozen communities across the state, which are all listed, including a person to contact and the day and time they meet.  Two schools have actual pilot training programs, where a student could end up with a private pilot’s license!

Start something new
I hope this listing of programs will encourage educators or interested parent who might be thinking about starting a ground-school class in their high school, or an after-school aviation club to take that first step. Using the directory, they can find out who is already engaged a similar activity and contact them for ideas on how to get started.

Be proactive!  As an individual, or as part of a local aviation group, find out what youth programs are active in your area, and offer to help. Consider providing (or being) a guest speaker, setting up a Young Eagles flight event, or organizing a visit to an aviation facility.  If someone has an airplane they want to donate for a build-a-plane project, look for a youth group interested in participating.

AV8RS icon path-coverAlso listed in the directory are some of the resources that AOPA has to offer, such as the free-online AV8RS Program for young people aged 13-18.  Teachers may be interested in the PATH Handbook—Pilots and Teachers Handbook—that helps integrate math, science, physics, history and technology using general aviation examples.

The inspiration for starting this project came from my counterpart Yasmina Platt, AOPA Regional Manager for the Central Southwest Region, who developed a similar directory covering the nine states she serves.  If you would like to see what kinds of middle and high school programs are available in her part of the country (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa), have a look: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Listing-of-Pre-College-Aviation-Programs.pdf.  There may be ideas worth borrowing.  Each program’s website is included, as well as a personal contact.  Kudos to Yasmina for assembling this document, which prompted me to do a similar thing for Alaska.

This is just the start of this directory. I hope to find other programs that are not yet listed.  If you know of a youth program not included in the directory, just let me know. Please include contact information so I can invite them to participate. Or forward a copy to someone involved in the program, and invite them to contact me directly.  Over the months and years ahead, I hope to see a lot more entries added to the list!

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/