Heads up for pilots who fly in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. On May 29, 2014 a significant change takes place to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) assigned north and west of Anchorage. If you aren’t religious about buying new flight charts, or updating your GPS databases, plan to do so with this charting cycle, as approximately 78 airport CTAFs will change on that date. In addition, 36 airports will have CTAFs assigned for the first time. In total, FAA is sending letters to 178 airport owners notifying them of the CTAF assignment changes. Goose Bay, Wolf Lake and Anderson Lake are just three of the airports whose CTAFs will change. The new frequencies will be found on flight charts, in individual airport listings in the Alaska Supplement, along with a map in the Notices section that shows the “big picture” change taking place.
In the summer of 2011, a number of mid-air collisions occurred in the Mat Su Valley, one with fatal results. During the subsequent NTSB investigation, it appeared that both pilots involved in that accident had been using what they believed was the correct frequency for the location they were flying—but they were not communicating on the same frequency. A working group with representation from industry and government was established that fall to look at the published guidance regarding CTAF usage. Over the past two and a half years, the group methodically examined CTAF assignments, civil and military flight patterns, ATC infrastructure and the results of an AOPA pilot survey. After agreeing that changes needed to be made, different scenarios for creating “area CTAFs” were evaluated and reviewed by seasoned pilots, commercial operators, flight instructors and pilots based at different area airports. Like all good Alaska discussions, not everyone agreed with everything, but there was widespread support to reduce the complexity—and overlap—between CTAFs used at different airports and landing areas. Last fall a set of recommendations was made to the FAA, elements of which will go into effect at the end of May.
New CTAF Areas defined
To eliminate the overlap from adjacent airport frequencies, the FAA is designating new “CTAF Areas” within which, all the airports will be on the same frequency. This concept is not new in Alaska, as the airspace over Denali National Park has had designated “mountain traffic advisory frequencies” for many years. Cook Inlet and the Knik Glacier areas also have established CTAFs. On May 29th, there will be four new CTAF area frequencies identified, to let pilots know what frequency to use, if they are not in contact with ATC or a Flight Service Station. There are corresponding changes to the north boundary of the Cook Inlet CTAF area that become effective at this time. A diagram showing these areas will be on page 399 of the Notices Section of the Alaska Supplement, however the information is also listed on the FAA’s website www.faa.gov/go/flyalaska.
How were boundaries selected?
The Mat Su Valley is a highly aviation oriented place. In addition to over 200 private and public airports in the FAA’s database, there are other landing areas (lakes, gravel bars and rivers) that are heavily used either seasonally or on a year-around basis. The boundaries were designed, as much as possible, to avoid areas where traffic concentrated—along major rivers, at area airports, etc. Consequently, the boundaries were offset from rivers and coast lines, recognizing that they are often used for navigation when weather is down. Flight patterns in and out of area airports were also considered, and verified with ATC radar data. During the review process, numerous boundary revisions were made to minimize conflicts with existing flows of traffic along commonly used routes to popular locations. Ultimately, the beauty of the airplane is that it can go anywhere—weather permitting—so no set of boundaries will meet everyone’s needs. Hopefully assigning advisory frequencies to different areas will reduce some of the ambiguity experienced previously.
High Traffic Locations
The working group also identified “high traffic” locations in the Mat Su Valley. Many of these are airports that already appear on the charts, familiar to us all. Others are popular lakes, rivers and gravel bars used during fishing season or to access recreational cabins. These are also depicted on the CTAF Area diagram, along with their names, to let pilots know which CTAF frequency to use when operating to or near these locations. We hope those locations not charted as airports will eventually become VFR waypoints that may be depicted on FAA flight charts.
Any significant change of this magnitude has the potential to solve some problems, and may cause others. As a result, the working group set up a feedback mechanism to report problems or concerns. A feedback form has been established on the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation’s website so that pilots may report problems or ask questions, regarding this change of CTAF architecture. www.aasfonline.org/feedback Please let us know if you encounter problems that need to be addressed. The working group will continue to address other areas, such as the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer, to consider further refinements in the future.
What can I do?
This is a significant change, a long time in the making. Please make sure to pick up the May 29th issues of flight charts, the Alaska Supplement, and update GPS databases. Make it a point to check the CTAF of the place you are flying from and to-especially if you have gone there a hundred times before. Talk about these changes with your friends and neighbors, to make sure they know about it.
This only works if we truly are all on the same frequency!
May 23rd Update:
Here are two additional documents to help “navigate” the changes to the Mat Su CTAFs.
Mat Su single-sided transition map This document is a single-sided map of the Mat Su CTAF Areas, which also has the high traffic areas combined. The document size is 11 x 17 inches, in Adobe PDF format, but may also be printed on 81/2 x 11 inch letter size paper.
MatSuValley Airports CTAF Listing This document lists Mat Su Valley airports, seaplane bases and helipads, their identifiers and assigned CTAF frequency as of May 29, 2014.