Successful Pinch Hitter in Houston

As you might remember… fellow aviator and friend Linda Street-Ely and I planned and organized a Pinch Hitter course (non-pilot flying companions learn the fundamentals of flying, how to talk with ATC controllers, basic emergency procedures, etc) for the Houston area last Saturday, August 16th. For an earlier blog about this and more information, visit: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=1625 and http://houstonpinchhitter.weebly.com/.

We were initially happy to get 25-30 RSVPs because we did not know what to really expect but, when we got to 50, we had to set that as the limit. RSVPs and interest got to 70 strong so we now have a list of 20 flying companions for a future date and two cities, Fort Worth and Conroe, have also asked us for a course in their area. The interest and response was overwhelmingly positive and we were happy to see that!

We were very fortunate and thankful to recruit four other great Texas pilots/flight instructors along with their aircraft to help us present the material to the attendees: 1) Vickie Croston from Conroe, 2) Erin Cude from Victoria, 3) Mike Ely from Liberty, and 4) Mary Latimer from Vernon. We cannot thank them enough. They volunteered their time and money to come to the event.

Attendees were provided with some goodies and materials to take home so they can review the concepts and topics discussed as well as learn more about any particular topics. One of those materials was the latest copy of the FAA Safety Briefing that happened to focused around flying companions.

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a "Flying Companion Guide to GA"

Attendees with their FAA Safety Briefing magazines with a “Flying Companion Guide to GA”

We received great and encouraging post-course feedback from the 49 attendees. Here are some samples:

  • I wish I would have done this earlier
  • I look forward to taking some flight training and learn how to land the airplane in case of something happening to my girlfriend
  • I’m going to start training and become a private pilot
  • I’m going to enjoy flying more now that I understand how things work and feel more safe
  • Hope my husband lets me help him now, especially with radios and checklists

Based on our experience and their comments, we believe the course was successful and met its objectives. We believe all attendees were rewarded with a greater understanding of flying and general aviation, a more enjoyable time during future flights, and a greater sense of safety regardless of what their future plans call for. Sharing the joy and passion of flight with someone special to you can only have positive returns. Being an active participant in what’s going on can only increase the safety factor.

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Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

Attendees learning about pre-flights and parts of an airplane

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

And they learned about cockpit instruments as well

So, if you are interested in a Pinch Hitter or know someone who is within the region, please send me an e-mail with your/their contact info so I can keep track and contact you/them when a course is scheduled close to you. My e-mail is yasmina.platt@aopa.org.

If you are interested in organizing a Pinch Hitter yourself in your area (and I encourage you to do so! :) ), I am also happy to talk with you and provide you with some important topics of discussions, things to consider when choosing a venue, tips, lessons learned, etc. Send me an e-mail to that above address and we can schedule a phone call.

Now, for all pilots… please remember to always make your passengers comfortable before, during, and after flying. Remember that they may not be used to flying in small airplanes like you are and they, for sure, do not know or understand the lingo or the procedures involved so, when able, try your best to explain it to them. Encourage them to ask questions and be involved in the process (unless they just prefer to just read a book or take a nap). Passengers are much more relaxed and comfortable riding in any type of transportation mode when they have information and know what to expect.

Need help creating your own passenger briefing? Here are a couple of links that can help: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Safety-Videos/Passenger-Safety-Briefing.aspx and http://flash.aopa.org/asf/volunteerpilots/app/content/pdf/ASI_PBF_Passenger%20Briefing%20Checklist.pdf

Jumping Fire: An extreme use of aviation

I am often called upon to explain what the term general aviation means to a member of the non-flying public. In trying to move beyond the categorical explanation that it is “everything but the airlines and military flying” it is often helpful to describe some of the functions that aviation supports. Fighting wild fires is one of those things that most people can relate to. In Alaska we see about two million acres a year transformed by fire. Even if the fire isn’t burning in your back yard, you are liable to experience one of the most noticeable results—forest fire smoke. In the vicinity of a fire, you may get to watch the air tankers in operation. But what is the bigger picture regarding the use of aviation in the fire fighting business?

A good read which qualifies both as an adventure story, while explaining how wildfire are managed in Alaska and the western US.

A great read which qualifies as an adventure story, while explaining how wildfire are managed in Alaska and the western US.

I just finished reading Murray Taylor’s book, Jumping Fire. This story covers the fire season of 1991 in Alaska (and portions of the Western US), and is a true adventure. While it is an account of his journey through the season as a smokejumper, Taylor does an excellent job explaining how  wildland firefighting works. The roles aviation play are woven throughout. From the reconnaissance aircraft dispatched to look for smoke after lightening detectors indicate high levels of activity, to the jump ship that provides the platform to launch the smokejumpers to the fire. On scene at the fire, water or retardant bombers help slow the rate of progress allowing the jumpers a chance to circle the blaze. Cargo planes drop supplies for the jumpers on the ground, and finally a helicopter retrieves the firefighters to jump again another day. In a state with almost no roads and 360+million acres of landscape, aviation is an essential tool in this line of work.

This non-fiction work provides insight into the people engaged in this tough and gritty business. While the allure of parachuting from an aircraft might seem attractive, factor in that each jump is to a new location—often in hostile terrain with nearby obstructions— not to speak of a raging fire nearby. And the reward for your jump? You get to spend the next couple days cutting fire line, lugging equipment up and down hillsides, meanwhile trying to keep your wits about you, in case the fire conditions change and threaten your position. After turning the fire over to other crews to mop up, or continue combating the flames, you repack gear and jump another fire the next day to start the process all over again.

What does it take to be a smokejumper?
It is a physically demanding job, and starts each season with a qualifying (or re-qualifying) three mile run, that much be completed in 22 minutes and 30 seconds. Taylor completed his run that year in 22:05, but not without feeling the aches and pains from past injuries, accumulated since he started this career in 1965. Beyond the fitness test, a lot of effort goes into re-training each season, which reveals some of the mindset of this elite crew. Toward the end of one long day training, a jumper grumbled. “…they could train chimpanzees to do this job.” To which his team mate replied, “Yeah, but they wouldn’t get them to come back year after year.”

Growing forest fire from Cessna altitude. Time to check for TFR's in the area.

Growing forest fire from Cessna altitude. Time to check for TFR’s in the area.

Not only does the reader learn about the mechanics of jumping and fighting fire, but gains insight into the culture of the smokejumper crowd. We meet members of the crew with interesting handles such as Erik the Blak, Quacks and Secret Squirrel, and learn their back-stories, along with Taylor’s own history, soon to understand that smokejumping is difficult on relationships. Going from one fire to the next, or being shipped on a moments notice to a remote camp to stand by, makes it difficult to interact with girlfriends, wives or families. A close knit group, when they are not battling the elements, they are playing tricks on each other, and busy inducting new members to the fraternity. A first year jumper is a Rookie. By the second year they advance to the title of Snookie before becoming full-fledged smokejumpers. Big Ernie is the god of smoke jumpers, and the most important piece of smokejumper’s personal gear is… No, I can reveal that without giving away too much of the story. But it isn’t the parachute or Pulaski!

My own connection to fire fighting goes back to a summer in the early 1970’s when I earned part of my college tuition as a member of an EFF (Emergency Fire Fighter) crew out of Fairbanks. Flew in a DC-6 to Lake Minchumina, and transferred to a Grumman Goose for the flight to Wien Lake, where we waded to shore with our gear held over our heads. Spend many days being shuttled in a Huey (Bell 205) helicopter to different sections of the fire line, going to work at 6 p.m. each evening and maintaining fire line until 8 a.m. the next morning. Then tried to sleep in a visqueen improvised shelter under mosquito netting during the heat of the day before starting over again the next evening. Managed to work four fires that summer, and got to parts of the state I had never seen before. Inspite of this exposure to the fire community, Taylor’s book filled in many gaps in my understanding of how the overall firefighting mechanism operates, including an explanation of how fire managers decide what fires to attack and which ones to let burn.

I highly recommend this book, as an entertaining, action adventure story, with lots of insight into how aviation is used in the wildfire management business. While not fiction, it would probably be rated R if it were a movie. It was hard to put down and I was sorry to come to the last page. Thanks to Murray Taylor’s book, I am better able to explain the fascinating role aviation plays in wildfire management, and the example it provides to illustrate how general aviation serves the public.

Keeping Aviation History Alive in Northwest Ohio

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging several emails with Lisa Benjamin, the President of EAA Chapter 1247 based at Erie-Ottawa International Airport in Port Clinton, Ohio in preparation for AOPA’s visit to the “Tin Goose” Chapter’s 15th annual fly-in breakfast being held Sunday, August 17th.

Over the past several years, Erie-Ottawa International Airport has gone through a huge transformation.  With on field Customs Inspections, the Airport now boasts its international status as it welcomes visits from Canada and other countries that come to explore Lake Erie’s Shores and Islands.  The airport is now home to Liberty Aviation Museum and Tin Goose Diner which is a huge draw to the region’s pilots. Other new construction on field includes the Eagle’s Nest Condominium Project on the east side of the field. All of this progress makes PCW a shining example of how an airport should operate.

However, always working in the background, assisting airport management and local development officials has been EAA Chapter 1247. The chapter itself has been operating for nearly 20 years promoting not only the airport, but also preservation of the area’s aviation history. The chapter’s primary project today is a Ford 5-AT-40 Tri Motor — the same aircraft used to link Ohio’s mainland to several Lake Erie Islands from the 1930s until 1985. When the chapter isn’t busy working on the Tri Motor restoration, they are working to promote the airport and general aviation through their many events.

Come visit the Tin Goose Chapter, the Museum, and a great group of folks Sunday August 17th from 8:00am to 12:00pm. I will also be attending representation AOPA and hope you can come join us for a great day!

 

Free Hypoxia Training Comes to Columbus

Beginning on Friday, September 5th and continuing through Sunday, September 7th, the FAA will be hosting a hypoxia recognition class for any pilot interested in experience the effects of oxygen deprivation in a safe environment.

The event will be held at the Ohio State University Airport, 2160 West Case Road, Columbus, Ohio 43224.

All pilots that hold a current Third Class Medical Certificate and are 18 years old or older are welcome to attend the free training.  Classes will run approximately 2.5 hours and will continue throughout the day.

Please register for the event at: FAA Columbus Hypoxia Training.

For additional information on hypoxia and high altitude flying visit: AOPA’s Guide to High Altitude Flying.

See you there!

FAA Proposes Warning Area off Oliktok Point

Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A complex mix of ice types, seen in mid June.

Sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A complex mix of ice types and conditions, seen in mid June.

The Arctic is undergoing changes, triggered by a significant retreat in sea ice cover. Satellite observations starting in 1978 have documented a continued reduction in arctic polar ice cover, with a higher rate of decline since the turn of the century. To better understand why this is happening, the U.S. Department of Energy has submitted a proposal to establish a Warning Area, north of Oliktok Point on the North Slope of Alaska to conduct a range of climate experiments.

A Google Earth depiction of the proposed Oliktok Warning Area, which bisects the Beaufort Sea to almost 700 n miles off shore from the north coast of Alaska.

A Google Earth depiction of the proposed Oliktok Warning Area, which bisects the Beaufort Sea to almost 700 n miles off shore from the north coast of Alaska.

A Warning Area, similar to a Military Operations Area, but for an offshore location, is advisory in nature and does not restrict VFR traffic. It does, however, put us on notice that hazardous activities may be taking place. Outlined in this proposal are activities such as:

  • Firing (or dropping from high altitude) of sensor-equipped ice-penetrating projectiles from an aircraft
  • Deployment of sounding rockets from the surface or an aircraft
  • Deployment of tethered balloons from ships into clouds
Diagram of the proposed Warning Area, segmented into sections, the smallest of which is 2,000 sq nautical miles.

Diagram of the proposed Warning Area, segmented into sections, the smallest of which is 2,000 sq nautical miles.

Admittedly, these are things we wouldn’t want to blindly bump into while flying over the Arctic Ocean, so a Warning Area sounds like a reasonable way to know about and avoid them. Except, this proposed Warning Area is 40 nautical miles wide, and extends from 12 n miles north of Oliktok Point for a distance of 673 nautical miles! That length is about the distance from Seattle to southern California! And it runs along the 150th meridian, pretty much bisecting the Beaufort Sea.

To make it more manageable, the proposal does two things: (a) It subsets the airspace into low (surface to 2,000 ft MSL) and high (2,000 ft to 10,000 ft MSL) sections, and (b) it divides the area into segments– 40 by 50 n. mile sub-areas closer to shore, and larger segments further offshore (see the diagram for details). Even with this segmentation, however, the smallest chunk of airspace that would be activated is 2,000 sq miles in size, while a given experiment will most likely have a much smaller footprint.

Earlier this year, I participated in a Safety Risk Management Panel held by FAA to consider operations within the proposed Warning Area. A number of details about flights in this area came out in the session. While one might be inclined to think no one flies in this area, there is a significant amount of civil aviation activity. Marine mammal surveys are conducted at low level, under VFR conditions, to determine the health of those populations. In the “old days” there was a fleet of aircraft stationed at Point Barrow that flew R4-D’s (Navy equivalent of a DC-3), and on some occasions Cessna 180’s out over the sea ice to get to ice islands and or other locations off shore. Today, major oil companies are setting up infrastructure to support offshore oil and gas exploration, including aviation assets. Finally, recreational flights to the North Pole take place from time to time, as Art Mortvedt recently demonstrated in his solo flight over both poles. While the volume of traffic in this airspace is low, we do use it— often under VFR conditions.

Making it Work
AOPA’s concern is that while an individual science experiment may take a few square miles of airspace, we don’t want the Warning Area itself to become an obstruction to pilots trying to operate in this area. Off shore in the Beaufort Sea you are already operating in challenging conditions. These are huge areas with no weather reporting and few alternative locations to land. Once off shore and at low level, you are out of radio range to contact Flight Service or ATC, largely on your own (which is nothing new to pilots flying in many parts of Alaska and Northern Canada). If the only information available is that a Warning Area is active, covering an area 40 by 50 n miles in size, the airspace itself becomes an obstacle. However, if you know: 1) specifically where within that airspace the hazardous activity is taking place, and 2) have the ability to communicate directly with the operators via VHF radio, you have a basis to deconflict, and move past the hazardous activity safely without making a very expensive detour that costs you time and precious fuel.

In AOPA’s comment letter, we are asking for exactly those pieces of information. At the time a NOTAM is issued, include the exact location of the activity (not just which segment of the Warning Area is activated) and provide a direct means of communication with the Department of Energy, or their experimenters, so we may deconflict directly. Based on experience with the huge Military Operations Areas in eastern Alaska, which present a similar situation, we believe this would create a workable arrangement for all parties.

FAA is accepting public comments on this proposal until August 13, 2014. Comments may be emailed to: 7-ANM–OSG-Public-Notice-Inbox@faa.gov or snail mailed to:

Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
Manager, Operations Support Group, Western Service Center
1601 Lind Ave. SW
Renton, WA 98057

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!