Navigating A Sea Of Change

The Southwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (SWAAAE) held its 68th annual Summer Conference in Long Beach, CA, July 20-23.  Titled “Navigating A Sea Of Change,” the conference focused both on education and information as well as history and relationships.  Having been a member of SWAAAE for more than 20 years, I try to participate in the Summer Conference as often as budget allows, and this conference was certainly well worth it.

Beginning with the venue itself, the Queen Mary, and continuing through the informative conference sessions, Board of Directors and General Membership meetings, and evening social events, the conference was outstanding and one that I will remember for a long time.

I had only been on the Queen Mary once, and that for an AOPA EXPO Friday night party around ten years ago.  The opportunity to spend four days aboard and explore the ship when the conference was not in session was fascinating.  The ship really is a floating art gallery and rich in history.  It was amazing to me that the beautiful craftsmanship, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings survived the ship’s service as a troop carrier during World War II.   If you find yourself in Long Beach, I highly recommend building in time to tour the ship.

After the opening ceremonies on July 21, Keynote Speaker Kurt Robinson, President of Robinson Helicopter Company, told the fascinating story of his father’s dream of producing an affordable personal civilian helicopter.  This was the story of a company started in a garage that has now become the world’s leading manufacturer of civilian helicopters.  It certainly held everyone’s attention.

I found all the educational sessions of value.  About a week before the conference, I was asked to give an update on the saga of Santa Monica Airport during the “Hot Topics in Aviation” session on July 22.  I always enjoy contributing to the conferences in whatever way I can, so was happy to participate in the session.  As it turned out, the timing of the session could not have been better.  On July 18 the City of Santa Monica announced that the Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD) proposed charter amendment, which would require a vote on land use decisions regarding the airport, had qualified for the November ballot.  Then on the 21st the City announced that the City Council would vote on three proposed ballot measures aimed at competing with the SMOHDD measure during the Council meeting the evening of the 22nd.  Can’t get more up to date than that.

As we all know, beyond the informational and educational value of conferences such as SWAAAE’s Summer Conference and annual Airport Management Short Course, there is a wealth of human fellowship, support, and collaboration that comes from participating in events and organizations.  These lines of communication are simply invaluable.  A highlight of this conference for me was on Monday night, when a reception at the Aquarium of the Pacific began with “Lean on Me,” a celebration of the support that SWAAAE members have provided one another over the years.  It was a wonderful time for reflecting on the friendships and personal growth with which I have been blessed in over 30 years of involvement with the organization.

So here’s the thing.  Participation and involvement in the organizations which support and promote our aviation industry is really important.  If you are not already involved, consider participating in your local pilots or airport association and your statewide pilots or airport association.  Of course you are already involved with AOPA or you wouldn’t be reading this.  And here are a couple of fun events to consider:  AOPA’s Western Pacific Regional Fly-In is coming to Chino on September 20 and the AOPA Homecoming Fly-In will be two weeks later in Frederick on October 4.  Hope to see you at one or both.

PROTECT GA At YOUR POLLING PLACE

AOPA members are well informed and politically active so it is with some trepidation that I write this blog. My apology if it seems a bit too basic but sometimes it’s just too easy to overlook the obvious.

With Primary Elections taking place and a nationally significant General Election looming, I hope we will remember how important our state and local elections are to General Aviation as well. Support for local airports starts at home and extends to all of our state capitols as well. This is where we AOPA Regional Managers do most of our work, so we are acutely aware of how important it is that your local elected officials, State Representatives and Senators be informed advocates for general aviation and supporters of local airports. Local, constituent pilots play an incredibly important role in assuring that those elected to office closest to home are confirmed advocates. Meeting candidates seeking public office and getting to know them is so important. Learn up close and personally about how knowledgeable they are about aviation and airports. Help them understand the benefits for their entire community.

There’s a great section in the AOPA website that will help your advocacy efforts. Under ADVOCACY, it’s entitled AOPA Resources for You. One important section is “Candidate Forums”. Putting one of these together and inviting candidates for office right there at home is very powerful. And you will feel so good about doing this when it’s over.

We would like to hear your stories about your own advocacy efforts, even if it’s just that you have taken a candidate for office to coffee. It’s the seemingly little things that make a huge difference. Special thanks for getting involved!

Special VFR changes at Anchorage

Special VFR (SVFR) procedures allow us to get in or out of Class B, C, D or E surface areas when the weather is below basic VFR, but still good enough to fly. In some parts of Alaska they are used routinely, where weather conditions are frequently dicey. A national revision of FAA internal policy caused the Air Traffic staff in Anchorage to re-examine their procedures, which initially caused concern within the pilot community—as Anchorage controllers often respond to requests for “specials” to get pilots in and out of Lake Hood and Merrill Field. When first announced, the use of radar as a tool for separation was the focus. The prospect of changes that could severely impact traffic in and out of area airports loomed large. I am pleased to report, thanks to the efforts of FAA Air Traffic Organization staff in Alaska, that procedural changes are now expected to streamline the process, and many cases increase ATC’s ability to accommodate SVFR traffic.

Special VFR procedures are a tool sometimes needed to deal with conditions around an airport, but should be used with extreme caution.

Special VFR procedures are a tool sometimes needed to deal with weather conditions around an airport, but should be used with extreme caution.

At a recent meeting of the Alaska Aviation Coordination Council, Merrill Tower Manager Brian Ochs shared the good news with representatives from the aviation industry. A challenge for controllers was the national guidance based on a single surface area. This didn’t adequately address the Anchorage situation with multiple adjoining surface areas: Anchorage International (ANC), Lake Hood (LHD), Merrill Field (MRI), Elmendorf (EDF), and Bryant Army Airfield (FRN). A working group was established across the Anchorage facilities to work the issue—spurred on by concerns expressed from aviation groups and local operators. Last March, FAA held a Safety Risk Management panel meeting, and invited AOPA and other stakeholder representatives to evaluate their plan. In the subsequent months, FAA reviews were held and approval ultimately received to implement new internal procedures.

SVFR Process
The process from a pilot perspective remains unchanged. We must ASK for a Special VFR clearance—the controller can’t offer it to us. Ask Clearance Delivery if you want to depart ANC or LHD, or Ground Control at MRI. Arriving traffic may request a special from Anchorage Approach. To address the issue of adjacent, “wing tip to wing tip” operations, ATC defined two cases, high and low visibility SVFR. During High Visibility SVFR conditions, the ceiling is a little below 1,000 ft, but visibility is three miles or greater. When these conditions exist, each facility can issue specials independently. When the visibility comes down to less than 3 miles, a different set of procedures go into effect, and coordination is required across adjacent surfaces. Priority will be given to inbound traffic, and outbound flights will be staggered to reduce congestion over the Point McKenzie area.

Feedback requested
We owe a big THANK YOU to the Air Traffic Control staff for going the extra mile to take what could have been a serious impact on access to the Anchorage airports, and developing procedures that may increase the flow of SVFR traffic. When fall weather arrives, and these procedures get more use, ATC would like your feedback. If you have comments or concerns, please contact: David Chilson, Support Manager, FAA Alaska Terminal District, david.chilson@faa.gov, 907-271-2703. Thanks also to the pilots and operators who communicated their concerns to FAA when the prospect of these changes first was announced, and who participated in the Safety Risk Management Panel. This spirit of cooperation has helped reach a better outcome than I think anyone expected when the national changes were first announced!

Post Script on SVFR
While it is nice to have SVFR procedures in our tool kit, we should be extremely cautious in their application. Conditions that require SVFR by definition mean we are working under restricted circumstances, of either ceiling or visibility, which limit our options. We should be very familiar with the airport, local terrain and weather conditions before asking for a special. Under stable conditions a special can speed us on our way to better weather near by, but in other cases they may be leading us into something worse. Check out AOPA’s Air Safety Institute’s article “How safe is special VFR” to explore this topic in greater detail.

Upcoming Pinch Hitter in Houston

As I travel the region… I often hear that non-pilot flying companions (business associates or friends, for example)/spouses/significant others don’t often ride along in GA aircraft because they are not comfortable with flying or just are not very interested. Many who regularly fly with us do so, to some degree, under stress, never really enjoying the experience. Some are scared, others just nervous. Some question what if this or that (for example… can turbulence cause a wing to fall apart? how do you ensure that you don’t come in contact with another aircraft in flight?). And, for most, it just isn’t as much fun as it is for us and, when it isn’t fun for them, it probably isn’t as much fun for us either.

However, your flying companion can be a tremendous asset and, with training, flying can be safer, easier, and more enjoyable for all parties involved. So, fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I decided to organize a Pinch Hitter course in the Houston area where we live.

What is a Pinch Hitter? A course where non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, and basic emergency procedures. Here are the details of this upcoming course:

  • When: Saturday, August 16, 2014 (9 am – 5 pm). Rain or shine.
  • Where: West Houston Airport (KIWS); 18000 Groschke Rd; Houston, TX 77084.
  • Who: Any non-pilot who regularly flies in GA aircraft is a good candidate.
  • Objective: To introduce the non-pilot flying companions to flying an airplane. We will discuss the possibility of the pilot becoming incapacitated while in flight and the need for the non-pilot to take control of the airplane. When the non-pilot is well-versed in the operation of the aircraft, it enhances safety as well as increases the enjoyment of flight. Some of the topics to be covered will include: safety, basics of aerodynamics, aircraft instruments and parts, basic navigation and chart reading, checklists, radio usage and communications, GPS usage, traffic patterns and landing, and emergency procedures. We will also offer an open forum to answer all questions/concerns about flying and can help the participants get some actual flight training, if interested.
  • Cost: $25 (the cost of lunch and materials)
  • FMI: For a tentative agenda, more information and updates, visit http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.
  • Questions and RSVP: Contact me at yasmina.platt@aopa.org. Please RSVP by August 10th with the following information: 1) Name, 2) Contact info, 3) Your passenger experience in small (GA) aircraft, 4) Aircraft most often riding in, 5) Personal reasons for taking the course, and 6) Expectations of the course (what you want to learn).

Can’t make it on August 16th? No problem… here is AOPA’s Online Pinch Hitter: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/pinch_hitter/swf/flash.cfm

Clearing Customs into Alaska along the Alaska Highway

Pilots flying into Alaska along the Alaska Highway this summer should pay close attention to details regarding Customs. For north bound aircraft entering Alaska from Whitehorse or Dawson, Northway has been a popular location to clear Customs, before proceeding on to other destinations in the state. Inspection services by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the Northway Airport are managed out of the Alcan highway station (http://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/alcan), situated about 50 road miles away from the airport. Pilots planning to clear in Northway need to call the Alcan station well in advance to arrange their arrival. According to CPB’s website, Customs operational hours at Northway Airport are currently 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week, however you can call the Alcan port any time as they are open 24 hours a day.

Recently CPB has in some cases offered pilots the option to make a technical stop for fuel in Tok (6K8), and proceed to either Fairbanks or Anchorage to clear Customs. This may be attractive, as currently there is no fuel available at the Northway Airport. If this option is offered, make sure that you contact the Fairbanks or Anchorage Port directly, PRIOR TO LEAVING CANADA, to arrange your arrival there. Pay attention to any other instructions the CBP official may provide. Canadian Flight Service has been authorized to accept flight plans with a fuel stop in Tok, if pre-approved by CBP.

Factors to consider in selecting a port of entry:

1)      My personal strategy when crossing international borders is to clear Customs as soon as possible after entering the new country, even if there isn’t fuel available at the airport of entry. From a risk management perspective, it removes the pressure to continue in the face of changing weather conditions to meet the ETA Customs is expecting me to keep. Having a careful look at the weather prior to accepting a plan to clear at a more distant location like Fairbanks or Anchorage would be prudent.

2)      If you are forced to land short of your planned port of entry due to weather, mechanical problems etc., make sure to call Customs immediately, and advise them of your situation. They do understand there are occasional “challenges” with general aviation operations, but need to be kept informed. Don’t forget to call them, or put it off till the following day…

3)      Remember that in addition to calling your intended port of entry, you must also file an eAPIS notification online. If you accept a different destination based on your telephone conversation with Customs, you may need to file a new eAPIS report for the new destination. This is another reason to call Customs while you still have internet access– well before you are ready to crawl in the airplane and take off.

Crossing international boundaries has certainly become more complicated than it used to be pre-911. While the eAPIS system is a bit of a pain to set up in the first place, it essentially provides in advance the information you used to supply upon arrival. In my experience, it has cut down on my time clearing Customs after arriving at the port of entry. If you have problems with Customs when flying into Alaska, please let AOPA know. Send me an email at tom.george@aopa.org if you encounter a problem that we should know about. But don’t let these procedures keep you from flying between Alaska and Canada. If that happens, the bad guys have won!

Help us advocate for you—Take the GA Survey!

Advocacy is the most important reason our members tell us they belong to organizations like AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association. We expend considerable effort to defend your ability to fly, and protect the necessary infrastructure (airports, weather stations, navaids, etc.) needed for aviation safety and access. But to advocate effectively, we need to be able to quantify who we are: How many flight hours a year does GA account for? What equipment do we have in our aircraft? What types of uses do we make with our planes?

While the airlines may easily characterize the size and nature of their operations, this is a much more challenging thing to do for the GA “fleet,” dispersed over thousands of aircraft owners. We need your help to quantify our impact on the National Airspace System, to help protect or in some cases expand infrastructure. Here is a very current example in Alaska.

 

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed.  At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

This slide shows the location and number of ADS-B ground radios FAA plans to install in Alaska. Stars show locations operational today, and circles represent stations still to be installed. At altitudes typical GA aircraft fly, about 40 % of the state will be without coverage even after these stations are finished.

FAA rolling out ADS-B
The FAA is finalizing installation plans for new ground radios to support ADS-B, one of the key elements of the NextGen Program.  (Note: If you are not familiar with ADS-B, the AOPA Air Safety Institute offers an online course that will explain the basics: http://flash.aopa.org/asf/ads-b/index.cfm)  In Alaska, the stations FAA has planned leave approximately 40 percent of the state without ADS-B coverage at the altitudes typical GA aircraft fly. We are advocating for additional ground radios along the most frequently traveled routes across the state, to provide Alaskan pilots with a “minimum operational network” of stations that will support air traffic services, the uplink of weather and other information to the cockpit of “equipped” aircraft. FAA is reluctant to invest in additional ground radios, if the aircraft flying in Alaska aren’t equipped to benefit. At the same time, aircraft owners are understandably reluctant to equip their airplanes, unless they will be able to obtain service. While we know that some aircraft owners are buying the new portable ADS-B In receivers, we don’t know how many. This is where we need your help.

How the GA Survey helps
The General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey, conducted by independent research firm Terra Tech, gives us a way to quantify many aspects of GA operations, including how many aircraft are equipped to use ADS-B. The second mailing of the survey was recently sent to a sample of aircraft owners across the US, and 100% of aircraft owners in Alaska. You can greatly help our advocacy efforts by digging out your pilot log book and taking about 15 minutes to answer questions including how many hours your aircraft flew in 2013, what types of flights you made (business, recreational, instructional, etc.), and what equipment is in your airplane. Even if you DON’T have ADS-B equipment today we need to establish a baseline, to monitor how equipage changes over the next few years, as the cost of equipment drops and more owners decide they want to have free weather and traffic information in their cockpit. The survey may be taken online at www.aviationsurvey.org, using your N-number to log in. Even if you didn’t fly last year, please take the survey! Responses are confidential, with no individually identifiable information released to the FAA. If you have questions about the survey, contact Tetra Tech toll-free at 1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com.

Taking this survey helps us advocate for you, on a wide range of topics other than ADS-B. Thank you to those who have already responded! And to those who haven’t—please take the few minutes to do so today.

This article by Tom George, AOPA Alaska Regional Manager and Adam White, Government Affairs, Alaska Airmen’s Association

Runway Safety Action Teams- Coming Soon to An Airport Near You!

By now you’ve no doubt seen the video from Barcelona Spain, purporting to show a runway incursion that resulted in a Boeing 767 performing a low altitude go-around.  While the jury is apparently still out on whether that clip shows an actual incursion, here in the U.S. the FAA continues to press airports to minimize incursions and improve airfield safety.  One of the FAA’s primary mechanisms for helping airports do so are “Runway Safety Action Teams” (RSAT), and if you haven’t had an RSAT visit or meeting at your busy or complex airport, odds are you will in the near future.

So what, exactly is an incursion?  The FAA formally defines an incursion as “any occurrence at an airport involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.”  Incursions are further classified as operational incidents, pilot deviations or vehicle/pedestrian deviations:
2014-07-15 07_46_43-Runway Safety - Runway Incursions - Internet Explorer

 

 

 

 

In an effort to minimize these incursions, FAA RSAT teams are tasked with “uniting those individuals and organizations that are actively involved in air traffic operations and movement of aircraft, vehicles and equipment on the Airport Operations Area (AOA). We  [FAA] look for participation from all major airport interests including tenants, fixed base operators, airport operations and maintenance personnel. Participants are asked to help develop recommendations and solutions to enhance surface safety. Those recommendations serve as the foundation for a site-specific Runway Safety Action Plan.”

So as a GA aircraft owner/pilot, why should you care?  Quite simply, the recommendations of an RSAT team are formalized in a Runway Safety Action Plan, which carries great weight, particularly at federally obligated airports that have accepted FAA airport improvement grant funds.   Absent broad user input, the Runway Safety Action Plan may include restrictions, procedures or airfield configuration changes that could have a signifcant impact on how you operate at your airport.  Fortunately, one of the most common RSAT recommendations is relatively straightforward- the identification and publication of airport surface “hot spots” where incursions are most likely to occur or have occurred.  These “hot-spots” are identified on airfield diagrams with a red circle, number and description, and airports with “hot-spots” are identified by FAA region at this FAA webpage- is yours one of them?

Here’s a quick case study of how an RSAT team recommendation might have had a signficant impact.  In a previous life, I worked at a very busy and confined single runway commercial service airport with extensive GA activity.  At this particular airport, a large portion of the primary (and only) parallel taxiway, was a contiguous piece of pavement with the non-movement area aircraft ramp, a configuration necessary to meet FAA runway/taxiway separation standards.  The only separation and delineation between the taxiway/movement area and ramp/non-movement area were painted markings- a red line (which quickly faded to pink) and the movement area boundary (below).

DSC00042

GA ramp contiguous with and extremely close to an active taxiway/movement area.

This airfield configuration, combined with a congested ramp and limited space, frequently resulted in GA pilots and passengers losing situational awareness and driving or walking onto the movement area and taxiway-  yep, a vehicle/ pedestrian incursion, even if no aircraft was nearby on the taxiway.  After a rash of these in a very short period of time, our airport was the subject of a special RSAT team visit, and one of the FAA’s preferred solutions was a complete prohibition of private vehicles anywhere on the airport ramp- clearly an unfeasible and unworkable solution.

But thanks to a proactive effort by airport staff to engage airport tenants in our RSAT meetings, along with a very engaged airport/user tenant group, we were able to collaboratively develop alternatives to this draconian proposal, reducing incursions and improving airfield safety without compromising users’ ability to efficiently and conveniently access their aircraft.

So will an RSAT team be coming to your airport?  RSAT teams are deployed by FAA region, and will typically focus first on the busiest or most complex airports, or those with a documented history of incursions.  While the FAA does not apparently publish a list of airports slated for RSAT visits, check with your airport manager, who will be the first to know at your airport.  If an RSAT meeting is scheduled, be sure to attend so you can weigh in with your experiences, thoughts and suggestions to improve safety at your airport without compromising its utility.  Without airport tenant and user engagement and input, RSAT meetings will not be as effective, and could result in local operational or procedural changes that are unduly costly or burdensome, or unreasonably limit access to your airport.

 

 

 

 

 

NORTHEAST TENNESSEE EXPANDS AVIATION EDUCATION

Scribblings on a piece of scrap paper and a restaurant napkin late last year were the beginnings of what has become The Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Its’ Founders are Tennessee State Representative Tony Shipley, AOPA member Henry Somers and Bell Helicopter’s Richard Blevins. Blevins is also a pilot an AOPA member.

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

L-R: Somers,Shipley, Blevins

The impetus behind this initiative is a strategy to position the region to attract more aviation and aerospace companies like Bell Helicopter. Currently, Bell has to look elsewhere for technically qualified employees.

A first step in the aviation initiative was a recent announcement that Northeast State Community College will begin offering courses in aviation technology this Fall. NSCC President Janice Gilliam also announced a new $35.5 million Emerging Technologies Complex that will be built on campus, overlooking Tri-Cities Airport. The Aviation Education Initiative plan includes the addition of flight training. And, hopefully, adding aviation curricula to its 4-year degree offerings at East Tennessee State University. Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace Department in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, has a world-class aviation industry reputation with over 700 career course offerings that include Professional Pilot, Airport and Aircraft Maintenance Management and Air Traffic Control.

Some high schools in the region are already adding STEM based aviation courses that will prepare students to enter the NSCC and ETSU programs. Students will have options available to them to pursue either post-secondary certifications, 2-year or 4-year degrees. As a result of legislation passed this year by the Tennessee General Assembly, beginning in the Fall of 2015, all high school graduates in Tennessee can receive free tuition to a 2-year community college or technical school in the state. Students have to attend full-time and must meet grade point requirements.

I am a proponent of aviation education, starting as early as possible. For more than 50 years, Tennessee has held Aviation & Aerospace Education Teacher’s Workshops at four state universities during the Summer. The tuition for K-12 teachers is paid through the State’s dedicated aviation fuel taxes fund. Teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans because aviation has proven to enhance learning. The STEM based aviation high school courses prescribed by the Institute for Aerospace Education (www.iae.aero) are really hands-on. They introduce students to learning to fly and aircraft maintenance. The local airport becomes a “learning lab”.

All of aviation benefits from programs like this Northeast Tennessee Aviation Education Initiative. Whether it’s career oriented or just learning how important aviation is in our daily lives, this becomes another step toward building the pilot and AMT populations that are so critical to our industry and our economy.

International Fly-in in Garray (Soria), Spain

It is probably no surprise to many of you that my husband and I attended a fly-in while on vacation recently. In previous blogs, I have mentioned how we always try to link our vacation with a little bit of aviation and flying to learn how general aviation (GA) works and is treated in other parts of the country and world. And, yes, we also enjoy seeing places and landscapes from a 3D perspective. Who doesn’t, right?

This time… we headed to my home country of Spain for 10 days to visit family, eat some good food, enjoy a little R&R, and experience traditional festivities during Soria’s fire walking festival (paso del fuego) in San Pedro de Manrique and annual festivities, called Fiestas de San Juan.

The map below shows you where Soria is located within Spain. It is about a 2 1/2 hr drive from Madrid (in the center of the country) to Soria.

Map of Spain with Soria's aerodrome

Map of Spain with Soria’s aerodrome

On Saturday, June 21st, Soria’s aerodrome/airport in Garray (only 7 or so km north of Soria) held a fly-in to introduce the newly re-opened and improved airport to the locals (called sorianos) and pilots. While the airport was opened in the early 20th century, the airport has not always been successful. The airport is owned by the province and managed by a private entity. A new management company, Airpull Aviation, took over the management and control of the airport on December 18th, 2013 for the next 10 years. Their goal is to make the airport attractive to pilots and the local community while ensuring its economic viability. My family had been updating me on the improvements made to the airport since the beginning of the year (resurfacing of the main and existing runway, a new runway, a bigger ramp, a restaurant, a fuel farm, a new roadway leading to the airport, etc.) so the fly-in was the perfect opportunity for me to see it for myself.

To be honest…. I was excited about it, but I truly expected a small event with a low turnout. To my pleasant surprise… the fly-in actually reminded me of a lot of fly-ins I attend here on behalf on AOPA and it was one of my highlights of the trip.

One side of the ramp

One side of the ramp, with a good mixture of aircraft

The airport has a restaurant/coffee shop (restaurante/cafeteria) inside the terminal with a couple of patios outside, where several locals where eating and talking while enjoying the sights of aircraft flying.

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal in Garray

Airport terminal

Locals and pilots talking and watching airplanes

The airport also has a flight school that provides training, rental aircraft, skydiving, etc. The prices seem pretty competitive with other parts of Spain and Europe but, not suprisingly, not with those here in the States. To give you an idea… a 1979 Cessna C172 Skyhawk or a 1985 Piper Warrior II goes for 205 euros an hour wet with taxes (with or without a CFI – the charge is the same!). At the current exchange rate of about 1  = $1.36, that would be $279/hr. Flying club members can get them discounted at 160 /hr ($218/hr). Yes, then you have to pay user fees/landing fees separately.

I introduced myself to the guy who looked to be in charge of the event since he was carrying a portable handheld radio and was giving takeoff/landing/low flying permissions/clearances to the pilots flying. He immediately asked if I had any interest in flying. What do you think I said? “Of course! No need to ask! Thank you!” A few minutes later… my High School friend Lorena (who came to visit us from Zaragoza - 2 hrs drive time east of Soria) and I were in a Piper Warrior with CFI Eduardo at the controls heading out to the runway. I took the back seat and let my friend Lorena sit up front. It was her first flight in a small GA aircraft and I wanted her to experience it first hand. We had a fabulous flight and Lorena left the aircraft (and airport) wanting more and thinking about obtaining a private pilot license (or PPL as they call it in Europe). Mission accomplished!

Lorena

Lorena, a happy flyer during her first GA flight

Departing the airport

Departing the airport

20140621_170438

20140621_170628

Garray airport in the distance

Low level pass with a C172

Low level pass with a C172

20140621_170735

Passing the C172 as we do the low pass over the airport

20140621_170751

Aerial of the airport

20140621_170900

Town of Garray

20140621_170557

Landing

Landing

CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

CFI Eduardo with Lorena and I in front of the Piper Warrior

It’s funny how all the people who took “first time rides” left with a big grin on their face and nothing but complementary comments. “Amazing!, Wow!, Fantastic!, How fun!” are some of the things I overheard them say. Ahhhh the joys of flying general aviation aircraft…..

While there, I also spoke with Santi Marti, the airport’s general manager, to thank him for the event, his work with the airport, and get a summary of the day’s and year’s (to date) success. Approximately 500 people and 45 aircraft (airplanes, gyrocopters, ultralights, LSAs, etc) attended from around the country (Valencia, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Valladolid, Navarra, Soria, Toledo…) as well as four from France and one from Germany. Among the aircraft was an Antonov AN II from 1947.

Antonov

Antonov AN II

Mr. Martin also gave me some great news. Their goal was to have at least 500 aircraft operations in 2014 but they have already exceeded that in only the first few months of service and that’s with Spain’s current recession. Soria’s airport does have a good future ahead… :) The province and the local media have provided a lot of support to the airport and I hope it continues that way.

The airport is located in a great area (centrally located, with beautiful scenery as you saw from my pictures above, and away from busy airspace), making it ideal for GA operations, to include gliding. Glider pilots say it may be the best area in Spain given its thermals, geology, and meteorological conditions.

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

Based helicopters, mostly used for firefighting

But, if that wasn’t enough, the icing on the cake was to meet Victor Gaspar, an AOPA member who flew in from Bilbao, in northern Spain, in the RANS Coyote II he built seven years ago. He is also currently building a second aircraft, this time an RV-10, and he briefly explained to me some of the issues he is running into with the Agencia Española de Seguridad Aérea (AESA), the “Spanish FAA” and a sub-agency of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as he chooses an engine for his new aircraft. They don’t allow it to have the engine that the kit aircraft is designed for because it has too many horsepower according to current Spanish regulation.

A past Air Venture attendee, he expressed his gratitude towards AOPA and EAA. Without AOPA, general aviation wouldn’t be what it is, he said.

AOPA member Victor Gaspar, my husband Jared and I

With my husband Jared and Victor Gaspar, proudly wearing his AOPA hat

Did I get you excited about flying to Europe or within Europe? If so, here is a website the airport recommends to obtain weather, notams, flight planning info, etc: http://flyingineurope.be/

The airport in Tudela, Navarra is now on my list to visit during my next trip to Spain. =)

FAA looking for feedback on new Alaska automated weather stations

Knowing current weather conditions and how they are expected to change is important information for pilots. Today, the primary source of information on current weather conditions is the network of automated surface weather observations. Those operated by the FAA are commonly called Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS). Pilots rely on the data from these stations to make operational decisions on whether to fly or not, augmented by the FAA Alaska Weather Camera Program, which during daylight hours provides a visual look at the weather.

The FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program is primarily tasked to implement ADS-B and other technologies, in support of NextGen. As follow-on to the FAA Capstone Program, however, they undertook the challenge of adding additional AWOS stations, as well as a couple Remote Communication Outlets in some parts of Alaska. Working with FAA, Alaskan user groups argued that ADS-B alone wouldn’t improve safety and access—we needed a system solution that also included instrument approaches, weather and communications. Over the past few years, the SBS Program has installed twenty additional AWOS stations in Alaska. Improved IFR access is certainly a result at airports that have WAAS GPS approaches, which most have. In some cases, nearby airports with existing approaches were able to obtain lower minimums, based on these stations. In all cases, pilots have better weather information about these airports to aid their decision making, whether flying under VFR or IFR rules.

Currently the FAA is looking for feedback from users who fly in these areas, and would like to hear from individual pilots, air taxi operators, private business users, communities, or anyone else that has seen a change based on any of these twenty stations.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment shelter.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment hut that provides shelter for technicians servicing the station at remote locations.

SBS Funded AWOS Stations

Barter Island/PABA

Brevig Mission/PFKT

Chevak/PAVA

Clarks Point/PFCL

Elim/PFEL

False Pass/PAKF

Galena/PAGA

Kiana/PAIK

Kwethluk/PFKW

Napakiak/PANA

Noorvik/PFNO

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Nunapitchuk/PPIT

Quinhagak/PAQH

Shageluk/PAHX

Shaktoolik/PFSH

Shugnak/PAGH

South Naknek/PFWS

Teller/PATE

Wales/PAIW

White Mountain/PAWM

 

 

 

While these twenty stations are an improvement, Alaska is still very sparsely covered with aviation weather stations in comparison to the rest of the country. Additional weather stations are needed to improve aviation safety and access. Letting FAA know the benefits from these stations is a step in the right direction.

Please provide feedback to:
Jim Wright, Sr. Systems Engineer
Surveillance and Broadcast Services (AJM-232)
Lockheed Martin Corporation
1873 Shell Simmons Drive, Suite 110
Juneau, AK 99801

phone: 907-790-7316  email: jim.ctr.wright@faa.gov  Please send AOPA a copy of your comments: airtrafficservices@aopa.org