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/

National Wind Turbine Map: A new Pilot Resource

As one of the fastest growing forms of renewable energy, wind turbines are sprouting up all over the country.  On a recent airline flight across the country, I was blown away to see areas in northern Texas with rows of wind-turbines that went on for miles—some of which included well over of a hundred turbines. Now I know why they call them wind farms!  This technology is increasingly popular in rural Alaska, where the cost of fuel to generate electricity is through the roof expensive.  As with all good things, they come with potential impacts.  As pilots, wind turbines provide several challenges: initially as obstructions we have to avoid during flight.  If located too close to airports, they interfere with instrument approaches resulting in higher minimums and reduced access.  Finally, when the wind  blows they represent a source of turbulence, which we still have much to learn about (more on that later).

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Interface to the Interactive Wind Farm Map, starts with an overview of where towers are found around the country.

Locating individual wind turbines
Recently the US Geological Survey has given us a new tool to locate wind turbines, on a nation-wide basis.  A new interactive mapping application, provides access to a database that not only shows us where wind turbines are found, but records their height, blade length, and other information on a tower-by-tower basis. Prior to this, while some states captured the locations of individual wind turbines, there was no uniform database that provided this information across the country.  Starting with the FAA’s Digital Obstruction File (through July 22, 2013), a USGS team led by Dr. Jay Diffendorfer located over 47,000 turbine sites, verifying individual tower locations with high-resolution satellite imagery. This data base gives us a much better way to find individual tower locations, with a location accuracy estimated to be within 10 meters.

While fewer in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

While still few in number, wind turbines are sprouting up across Alaska.

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

A row of wind turbines just outside Unalalkeet, on the west coast of Alaska. According to the USGS interactive map, they have a total height of 156 ft. tall

Understanding impacts
This database is designed to support research into environmental effects on both critters that fly, and wildlife habitat.  But these data may also be useful in the future to project the impact of down-wind effects on general aviation airports, which is still an evolving research topic.  A recent study at the University of Kansas has shown that the turbulence from a wind turbine extends further as wind speed increases, up to 3 miles in some cases.  This and the potential increase in cross winds could be a significant impact for small aircraft at GA airports.  Hopefully, more work will be done to quantify these conditions, leading to improvements in the FAA’s obstruction review process, which today only takes into account the height of an obstruction above ground when air space reviews are conducted.

Provide feedback
All maps are only as current as the date used to make them.  This data set incorporated information from FAA’s obstruction file as of last July.  And if you come across wind turbines that aren’t in the database, please capture what information you can and send an email with the location to jediffendorfer@usgs.gov.

Thanks to this effort, we have a better way to learn where wind turbines are located in the areas where we fly!

Milwaukee News Program Targets General Aviation…And Misses the Real Story.

A Milwaukee television station TMJ-4 is promoting an “investigative” report entitled “Small Airports, Big Upgrade” that will air tonight. The preview states: “Millions of your tax dollars dumped into tiny airports that you’ll never use. Why are Wisconsin’s smallest airports getting big upgrades with your money? You asked, we investigate.” (Link below).
AOPA contacted the reporter and was promised a call back, but never received one.
Here’s what you probably won’t see or hear on tonight’s report:
  • Total impact of general aviation on Wisconsin’s economy: $694.5 million in economic output/9,390 job/$259 million in personal income earned in 2010.
  • Total impact of all aviation in Wisconsin: $6.9 billion in output/90,900 jobs/$3.5 billion personal income earned in 2010.

A sampling of the impact of a few small and medium-sized airports:

  • WAUKESHA COUNTY AIRPORT –  $42 million in sales/$10 million in wage income/281 jobs in 2008-2009;
  • EAST TROY MUNICIPAL AIRPORT — $12.9 million in sales/$4.8 million in wage income/113 jobs in 2010;
  • EAGLE RIVER UNION AIRPORT — $8.4 million in economic output/$2.1 million in personal income and 122 jobs in 2004;
  • CENTRAL WISCONSIN AIRPORT, Mosinee — $71.5 million in economic output/564 jobs/$16.4 million in wage income in 2012;
  • OUTAGAMIE COUNTY REGIONAL AIRPORT, Appleton — $293 million in economic output/1,417 jobs/$79.5 million in payroll. (All figures according to Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics economic impact studies).

Contact the TMJ-4 vice president/general manager, Steve Wexler, at:  swexler@journalbroadcastgroup.com

Link to “story”: http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/news/you-ask-we-investigate/small-airports-big-upgrades-244707131.html

AOPA’s Mark Baker Comes to Michigan!

The Great Lakes Aviation Conference and Expo (GLIAC) will be held February 14th and 15th at the Lansing Convention Center in Downtown Lansing, Michigan.  It has been a major attraction for those in the aviation field in the Great Lakes Region for 14 years. The Conference and Expo is designed to provide an interactive and education event offering 60 breakout sessions for pilots, maintenance professionals, sport pilots, instructors, and students.

The GLIAC has a unique partnership with the FAA, Aviation Business Leaders, Industry Experts, and other individuals that strive to make it a complete and comprehensive event.

Among the talented keynote presenters including Barry Cooper, FAA Regional Administrator, General John Borling, and Art Mortvedt will be AOPA’s President and CEO Mark Baker.  Mark will discuss the Association’s ongoing work to protect our freedom to fly and his own mission to energize pilots and put the fun back into flying during the Friday 12:00pm Keynote Address.

Yours truly will also be in attendance will some great giveaways at the AOPA booth.  Please stop by and say hello!

Cessna owners: Check your Atlee Dodge Seats!

Recently an Airworthiness Concern from the FAA found its way to my email, regarding F. Atlee Dodge folding seats.  Designed by Atlee Dodge to replace the rear seats in Cessna 170 and 180 series aircraft, these seats are very popular in Alaska and other places that use their aircraft as a utility vehicle.  They not only fold, but are easily removable to accommodate the cargo many of us haul in our aircraft.  The concern stems from an accident where a passenger using one of these seats was ejected through the windshield of an aircraft when it nosed over.  The subsequent investigation determined that how the seats were installed may have played a role.  This prompted the FAA to look at other aircraft with these seats installed, which revealed that more than half of those examined were also not installed according to the STC.  To address this problem, F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services LLC has issued a Mandatory Service Bulletin which calls for a visual inspection of the folding seat installation.

I have a set of Atlee Dodge seats in my Cessna 185 that were installed in 1987, prior to the issuance of the STC. And sure enough—I needed to correct two problems: my installation had no seat belt guides, and the outboard belt straps were attached to the old Cessna anchors, not the slide rail.  A call to Dave Swartz at the FAA Aircraft Certification Office in Anchorage shed a little more light on the subject.  It turns out that not only is the strength of a seatbelt anchor important, the angle the belt crosses your body has a lot to do with how they function during a sudden stop.  The seat belt guides, and placement of the anchors are important details.  If you have a set of these seats in your airplane, take a copy of the diagram from the service bulletin and look at how they are installed.

Diagram from Service Bulletin showing point to check regarding installation of Atlee Dodge folding seats.

Diagram from Service Bulletin showing points to check regarding installation of Atlee Dodge folding seats.

Steve Kracke at Atlee Dodge had me email him photos of my installation.  That and a phone call got the parts I needed headed my way.  Steve tells me he has plenty of the parts that might be needed on hand.

Seat installation with newly installed seatbelt guide, attached to the end of the seat track.

Seat installation with newly installed seatbelt guide, attached to the end of the seat track.

 

Outboard seatbelt attached to the side rail-- not the original Cessna seatbelt attach point.

Outboard seatbelt attached to the side rail– not the original Cessna seatbelt attach point.

F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services is a phone call or email away: (907) 344-1755 or atleedodge@acsalaska.net.  If you have questions or feedback for the FAA Aircraft Certification Office concerning the  Airworthiness Concern, contact Aviation Safety Engineer Ted Kohlstedt  ted.kohlstedt@faa.gov or 907-271-2648.  You owe it to your passengers to check into this, and make sure your seats are properly installed!

I had a dream!

A lot of people (I would even venture to say “most people”) have dreams… some reachable, some unreachable. I could tell you that my ultimate dream would be to fly to the moon but, unfortunately, that is not a realistic dream for more reasons than one. Instead, I rather think of dreams as big goals and desires – things that you can achieve if you work hard at it, stay on task, and persevere.

Some people dream of their wedding, owning a big house and a nice car, or maybe buying a boat. Others dream of what they want to be or do. As a kid, I always remember thinking of one dream… to fly one day. It took all of those things that I mentioned earlier and more but, boy, was it worth it!

General aviation flying is something special that I wish more people could experience. The Oxford Dictionary defines “takeoff” as “the action of becoming airborne.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the moment when an airplane, helicopter, etc., leaves the ground and begins to fly.” Those are very factual and physics-based definitions. There is so much more to it… taking off (especially during the first solo) is something magical; it’s a feeling of enjoyment, adventure, freedom, power, empowerment, majesty, and departure from depressing world news among others.

Flying itself is also more than the physical part of it. It’s also about the wonderful people you meet, the events (fly-ins, airshow, air races, air routes…) you can participate in and attend, the destinations you visit, the 3D views you enjoy, the experiences you live and so forth. It brings some cool options and opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy it.

On a day when we remember MLK’s dream of equality, today is a good day to review and celebrate our own dreams. And, for me, today is a good day to celebrate the achievement of my dream with its main enablers – my parents. I could not think of a better way to celebrate it than to take them up flying for the weekend so I could share my dream and passion with them.

So… I had a dream that one day I would fly and it feels amazing to have achieved it. Now I’m working on my next dream because I believe in bettering yourself… looking further and challenging yourself within your limits and reach.

What’s your dream? Whatever it is, I encourage you to keep going through the fun times and the hard times. I especially encourage those of you who wish to fly and join the PIC ranks.

Airport Management Associations

Today’s world seems to require a specialized Association for everything!  Automobile owners have the American Automobile Association, (AAA); Gun owners have the National Rifle Association (NRA), and of course those of us who own or operate aircraft have the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA)—all of which I belong to.  There are many hundreds, possibly thousands, of similar Associations out there spanning most all industries—I wonder what the actual count is up to?

Naturally some associations, like those I mentioned, are more widely known than others.  Here are a few I previously never heard of:  National Limousine Association (NLA), National Parking Association (NPA), and slightly closer to home—Airport Ground Transportation Association (AGTA).  Knowing there are many other associations out there serving a distinct purpose for their member-base, I often wonder if there are any within GA I am not yet aware of that maybe I ought to be.

As I move around the region I talk to many members and businesses and am always trying to gauge their individual level of engagement with General Aviation.  Frequently I meet people who use aircraft for business and pleasure but maybe by the nature of their work or different life focus remain unaware of even local aviation associations—be they local pilot or airport associations.  Comprised of local businesses and residents (money and votes to a politician ;) ) these associations exude great influence over local and state legislation.

One particular type of association that many pilots remain unaware of is their State’s Airport Management Association.  Now it’s true not every state has one but if yours does, you may consider joining even if you don’t work in airport management.  Where I live, we have the Massachusetts Airport Management Association (MAMA).  Initially I joined because it made sense for me as a Regional Manager to be involved in statewide airport matters, but the more I worked with MAMA and others like it, I realized how they benefit me as a pilot—protecting the very system that allows me to enjoy the privilege of flight.  Airport management associations such as those in Mass (MAMA), New York (NYAMA), New Hampshire (GSAMA), and Pennsylvania (ACP), are often the largest state-based aviation lobbying groups.  These groups generally maintain close relationships with the respective division of the State DOT and this direct link serves advocates like you and me as an excellent communication medium with State officials and industry leaders.

Now like any association, there are usually annual member dues—these monies usually serve to cover quarterly member and Board of Director meetings.  Some Associations also hold annual conferences to bring the membership together with other state leaders and related entities for education and networking.  The most recent of which I participated in was MAMA’s Annual Conference held at Gillette Stadium—surely a place worth visiting even if you’re not a Patriots fan!  In addition to these annual Conferences, Massachusetts and New York host annual Capital Days in which the members gather to represent their respective airports and talk with State leaders about the benefits of our industry while highlighting the immense economic impact airports have on a state’s economy—nothing grabs the unsuspecting legislator like rattling off “Did you know” facts such as: Massachusetts’ 40 public use airports support 400,000+ jobs, and generate more than $4 Billion in annual economic activity.  Of course, these are the kinds of fun facts every pilot and aviation advocate should know about their own state!

So with this information in mind, considering joining if your state has one, of course if it doesn’t—Happy New Year—now is a great time to start one!

Great Lakes Class B Changes Effective January 9, 2014

From the AOPA Air Traffice Services Team:

The modification reduces the Class B shelf floors (as noted in red in the attached depiction) along with an expansion of the cutout around Stanton Airfield (SYN).  We want to encourage the flying public to become familiar with the changes and plan accordingly.  As I am sure you are well aware, MSP Class B airspace area falls on three Sectional Charts, Twin Cities, Omaha and Green Bay, which do not all align with the effective date of this modification.  In an attempt to mitigate this issue, the FAA has published two safety alerts and modified the Green Bay VFR chart.  The current edition of the Green Bay Sectional Chart will remain effective until January 9, 2014, with the next edition effective from January 9, 2014 to May 29, 2014.  However, the Omaha Sectional Chart, effective 6 February 2014 will not depict the modification for 29 days.  AOPA urges pilots to refer to the Aeronautical Chart Bulletins section of the Airport/Facility Directory for updated information regarding major changes in aeronautical information that have occurred since the last chart publication date.

Additional details are part of a previous AOPA article linked below:

http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2013/October/29/msp-class-b.aspx

Omaha VFR Chart, Safety Alert:

http://aeronav.faa.gov/content/aeronav/safety_alerts/ChartingNotice_VCAM_13-05.pdf

Green Bay VFR Chart, Safety Alert:

http://aeronav.faa.gov/content/aeronav/safety_alerts/SA_VCAM_13-09.pdf

Customs increases access for GA at Fairbanks

dhs logoCustoms and Border Protection (CBP) is making changes that will increase access into Alaska for general aviation aircraft headed to Fairbanks. In the past, limited staffing has impacted the ability of the port of entry at Fairbanks International Airport to accommodate arrivals at any hour of the night or day, which had been the practice for many years.  Thanks to changes primarily to accommodate the summer tourist industry, GA pilots can expect much more flexible arrival times.

The problem

Whitehorse and Dawson are two popular departure points for flights to Fairbanks. Both require clearing Customs on arrival.

Whitehorse and Dawson are two popular departure points for flights to Fairbanks. Both require clearing Customs on arrival.

A popular GA flight route between Canada or the “lower 48” states and mainland Alaska is to follow the Alaska Highway. The last segment, entering Alaska, can be a challenging experience.  In addition to normal cross-country flight planning, evaluating alternates and checking the weather, one has to arrange to clear Customs.  Typical departure points along the route are Whitehorse (CYXY) or Dawson City (CYDA).  While I personally try to clear customs at Northway (PAOR) to remove the pressure of meeting a pre-determined ETA in Fairbanks (PAFA) or Anchorage (PANC), that isn’t always an option.  Customs is only available during limited hours at Northway, and the airport presently lacks the availability of fuel or facilities (other than the Flight Service Station, open in the summer).  Flying directly to Fairbanks, if you have the range, is often the most viable option.  But don’t forget about Customs.  Until recently, Customs processing at Fairbanks for general aviation aircraft was limited to normal duty hours five days a week–or weekends if you called during the week to make advance arrangements.  These hours sometimes stranded pilots in Whitehorse for the weekend, or longer when weather was a factor.  Fortunately, that has changed, and should get even better.

Customs procedures today
To review, there are two requirements pilots need to meet before flying into the United States.

Step One: File an electronic notification, using the eAPIS system.  This requires internet access, must be filed a minimum of one hour before departure—but could be submitted several days in advance, estimating your arrival and border crossing times. After you file, the system will send you an email acknowledging your submission. SAVE A COPY OF THIS EMAIL.

Step Two: At least two hours prior to your arrival at a Customs Port of Entry, call the port on the phone and advise them of your ETA. This allows Customs to have staff available when you arrive, which helps pilots and passengers avoid lengthy wait times to obtain service.  This call should be made during the hours of operation of the port you plan to utilize.

To find out operational hours and other details for Alaskan ports of entry see: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/toolbox/contacts/ports/ak/.   Until recently, hours of operation at Fairbanks International Airport were Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and if you hadn’t contacted Customs during those hours, a weekend arrival wasn’t in the cards.  With the port getting an additional staff member, they have expanded operational hours to seven days a week. But you still need to call within normal operational hours to arrange for an after-hours arrival.

Presently, Customs asks that we try to arrive at Fairbanks during their normal duty hours, however if weather or other factors interfere, call and they will do their best to accommodate you.  Over the coming months, we should see a further improvement in service.

Why the change?
Holland America recently changed some of their Alaska tour packages.  Instead of busing summer visitors from Dawson City to Fairbanks (enroute to Denali National Park and parts south), they plan to fly their guests to Fairbanks, reducing travel time for that segment of the journey.  To make this change, Whitehorse based airline Air North applied for landing rights at Fairbanks International Airport.  This request was initially denied by CBP, due to its limited staffing at Fairbanks.  Many stakeholders, including aviation organizations, travel industry advocates, the Alaska Governor’s Office and the Alaska Congressional delegation became involved.  Letters, conference calls and other exchanges of information were made to help CBP better understand the request and it’s implications on the state’s economy.  After studying the issue and considering different options, Customs and Border Protection decided to re-assign three customs officers from Anchorage to the Fairbanks operation.  These positions, which have yet to be hired, will not only support the seasonal Holland America traffic, but will be able to better serve general aviation arrivals in Fairbanks.  During the course of these discussions, it was interesting to learn that the port in Fairbanks not only handles airport arrivals, but also clears civilian arrivals at nearby military bases, and handles arrivals by ship at Point Barrow and Kaktovik.

Alaska’s congressional delegation played a key role in working this issue.  AOPA appreciates the efforts of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young. Their staff in Washington DC facilitated the discussion with CBP, which allowed the Alaska stakeholders to more fully explain the situation.  We also appreciate CBP’s willingness to re-assess the needs for service, and for coming up with a solution that will improve access to Fairbanks, and Alaska, for multiple modes of travel—including general aviation—on a year-around basis.