The Red Sox & the Yankees; American East – Aviation – Division

As I sit typing this blog on the day of the Red Sox season opener against the Baltimore Orioles—Eastern Region HQ (me) Vs AOPA HQ (colleagues)—I am reminded that competition is indeed a celebrated characteristic of American culture. By the very nature of our nation’s humble beginnings competition is, like in sports, ever present in business and in life.

New York’s aviation industry is credited with an annual economic impact of $4.5 Billion in state and local revenue and the source of 500,000 direct and indirect jobs (or 4.7% of the state’s workforce).  While these numbers are certainly eye catching, as an athlete and competitor, success is less about what is achieved and more about the relationship between ones achievements relative to one’s potential for an interval of time.

There’s an old adage that reigns particularly so for aviation industries in the Northeast where competition between states is compounded by our relatively small geography. That is, “If you are not taking steps to move forward, you are moving backwards.”  In other words, to simply maintain the status quo one must change and adapt.

I recently participated in a phone interview with an NBC news affiliate out of Buffalo regarding the New York Aviation Jobs Act (AJA – A.3677-B/S.273-B)—which is the industry’s sound bite to create jobs and boost revenues through the targeted elimination of a significant financial barrier to the purchase and operation of aircraft in New York.  A respected journalist in his region, I was unable to determine if he harbors personal angst with the legislation or if he is in fact an exceptionally talented devil’s advocate.  I would prefer the latter and of course offer him the benefit of any doubt.    One of his arguments opposing the AJA was a question of Northeastern state’s efforts to repeal targeted sales & use taxes as “a race to the bottom.”  If by bottom he meant the elimination of the associated tax, then I would issue an emphatic “YES!”  His angle (as I understood it) offers the cushy scenario in which the elimination of these exemptions would place states on an even keel and ultimately generate a guaranteed revenue stream for a state.  Within this conjured world I would again reply with an emphatic “YES”, followed by an even more emphatic BUT that world doesn’t exist..”  As some might view this parallel universe a stroke of genius in which big corporations continue to pay government large sums of money with no loopholes to line their deep pockets with additional dollar-signs, reality knows not all things are created equal.  The list of examples is endless so I’ll spare you my own interpretation and point to the first and most obvious of them; differing tax rates.

For fear it isn’t obvious, I’ll jump back to the blog’s title for a moment as I infused a historic Major League Baseball rivalry as a metaphor for competition among the states.  While my intent is always crystal clear in my mind, I am aware that the rhythmic ramble with which I preach results in an uncanny knack for skewing even the most focused minds.  I thank my Nanna for that talent! ;)

Not long after accepting this position I realized politics boils down to a matter of perception.  In New York, our plight has less to do with the economic importance of General Aviation as much as it does its economic potential.  With the annual economic figures as I previously tossed out, no one really disputes GA’s importance to New York—but—with any tax legislation there is a financial value attributed to revenue generated from a given proposal.  We tend to think of this value in terms of a “price tag”, and the value associated with the AJA is $13.4 Million.  Legislators must then weigh the value of these presumed guaranteed revenues against the economic potential, or opportunity for increased (or decreased) revenues.  In other words, an exemption like this one is really an investment and so becomes a case of getting legislators to “see the forest through the trees.”  AND while we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support our case, the dynamics from upstate to downstate make for a unique challenge gaining support from the Assembly.

Basis for Change: Since 2002, NY has lost approximately 700 income generating aircraft.  Courtesy of our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), we know the average business aircraft generates $1 Million in annual economic activity and 5 jobs.  So where did they all go? I should first point out for those of us who grew up in parts of New England outside of Massachusetts; the Boston Red Sox is considered New England’s baseball team; hence the fan-handle Red Sox Nation.  With the advance of targeted sales tax exemptions throughout Red Sox Nation, many of New York’s aircraft popped-out to airports just over the border.  Why you ask?  It is the generally accepted notion that corporations (as well as individuals) are in business to make money and so the competition of a free market society presents opportunity in the form of reduced expenses.  GA is by its very nature a mobile industry.  Given the simple reality that owner/operators can save hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) basing their aircraft in neighboring states, they did just that.

The net result:If you build it, he will come” – Field of Dreams

Red Sox Nation realized that by creating a competitive financial atmosphere for aircraft, we would not only maintain those aircraft currently based here but pick up additional aircraft, each of which needs to bed-down (hangar/tie-down), purchase fuel, and requires various other services all of which—and most importantly—employs people.  These people earn salaries, their income is taxed and then whatever remains is spent on homes, groceries, entertainment, and so forth.  Over any interval of time, the potential for revenue generating transactions increases exponentially, which is all made possible (in this scenario) because of the economic engines that are state airport systems.

Comparison of Success:  Without breaking into the weeds, New York’s GA industry generates its $4.5billion & 500,000 jobs from its system of 130 public use airports.  Comparatively, the seat of Red Sox nation (Massachusetts) is credited with $4.3billion and 400,000 jobs from only 40 public use airports.  Now while the direct comparison of these states treads on apples and oranges, I am required to remind you that not all aircraft were created equal.  Instead let us consider another viewpoint.  According to the FAA, New York is currently host to 7,455 (based) aircraft at its airports.  Massachusetts, with one-third as many airports, is host to 3,664 aircraft.  The simple law of averages indicates the Red Sox’s have a batting average almost twice that (based on raw numbers alone) of its longtime rival.  So again, it is fair to conclude there is a correlation between the number of based aircraft and the associated success of a state’s aviation industry.

The Yankees are and continue to be a historically successful team, however, (as some fans like to gripe about an unlimited payroll) two-times as many airports offer considerably more economic potential than the neighboring system.  As such, my Red Sox continue to dominate the American East—Aviation—Division.  As we say in sports, there’s always tomorrow so fear not my Yankee friends and colleagues.  The Aviation Jobs Act is alive and well despite the final budget resolution released today (Monday, March 31st).  As the AJA awaits consideration in the Assembly Ways & Means Committee, your industry representatives (AOPA, NBAA, & NYAMA) are hard at work educating lawmakers and changing perceptions.  The opportunity to turn the tide is  ever only one-swing away and no fans know this better than those tuned into the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS between none other than the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Keep GA’s voice strong and join or renew today: http://www.aopa.org/Membership.aspx

The Value of an Airport: Lake Hood Seaplane Base

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Float planes line the shore at Lake Hood, in Anchorage, AK

Those of us lucky enough to fly airplanes know the value of an airport: priceless!  Some of our non-aviation friends and neighbors may not have the same warm, fuzzy feeling.  Across the country  population centers have expanded, and started to encroach on our airports—even though the airport has been there decades ahead of the subdivisions, schools, and other community infrastructure.  One of the tools the aviation community uses to help communicate the value an airport brings to the community is to quantify its economic benefits.  This was recently done for the seaplane base at Lake Hood.  And the numbers are impressive!

Based on a September, 2013 study, the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD) is responsible for an overall economic impact estimated at $42 million for 2012.  Employment associated with the facility is estimated at 230 jobs during the same time period.  With approaching 800 aircraft based at the facility, Lake Hood not only supports a world-class crop of seaplanes, the 2,200 gravel runway is heavily used by a host of wheel planes. During the winter, many of the aircraft trade wheels and floats for skis, making good use of the lake surface after the water is firmly frozen.

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think "230 jobs and $42 million economic impact."

Next time you look at the Lake Hood airport diagram, think “230 jobs and $42 million economic impact.”

Like many other general aviation airports, Lake Hood is home to a variety of aviation related businesses: air taxis that take residents and tourists to remote locations, maintenance and repair facilities, flight schools, etc.  Government agencies base aircraft and maintenance facilities at LHD (state and federal), in addition to the Civil Air Patrol. Other aviation related tenants include the Alaska Airmen’s Association and the Alaska Aviation Museum.  Seasonally, the Iditarod Air Force uses the lake as a base of operations in support of the famous 1,049 mile race to Nome.

The recently released report, authored by the McDowell Group, acknowledges that there are additional economic benefits not captured in their study. Jobs and income associated with remote businesses that rely on Lake Hood operations are not included in their estimates.  The numbers also don’t take into account the jobs that result from capital projects, funded principally by the FAA. Those projects totaled almost $35 million over the past twenty years or so.  There were more than a few jobs and supplies purchased to make those improvements happen!

So in addition to the benefit we pilots get either from keeping our airplane at Lake Hood, or flying in for business or pleasure, the base adds a significant number of jobs and dollars to the economy of the local area. Don’t hesitate to point that out to your non-aviation friends and neighbors when they ask how the airport might matter to them.

Just How Is the Future of Small Community Air Service Linked to General Aviation?

Image

13-GT-0023 Regional Manager Map_NW Mountain     During the first week of October, I enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Northwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives’ (NWAAAE) annual conference.  This outstanding event brought together over 180 airport managers, public officials, aviation planners and advisors for three days of great discussion about issues facing airports in the Northwest Mountain Region, plus Alaska and Western Canada.  One of the most interesting discussions was a topic near and dear to my heart- the increasing reliance of future small community air service on a vibrant general aviation industry.  This is pretty interesting, and it’s a connection not many on the airport side have made, so stick with me…

     In the seven states in AOPA’s Northwest Mountain region (see graphic above), there are just four major hub airports- Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and Denver.  As such, general aviation airports and small commercial service airports play a significant role in providing transportation access and economic development for our region’s smaller communities.

     At every one of the 66 other commercial service airports in the region, GA plays a significant role, right alongside the airline service that provides these communities with critical and economically important airline connections worldwide.  As you’ve seen at these airports, GA and airline operations coexist in separate worlds, physically and oftentimes existentially.  Of course this is born from the reality that GA and the airlines have vastly different security, operational and infrastructure requirements- usually the only portions of an airport shared by GA and the airlines are the runways and taxiways.  As such, many airport professionals, their tenants and their community think of GA and the airlines separately, and not just in a physical sense.  Well, in today’s new world, this approach may be at their peril.

     At the NWAAAE Conference, one of the most engaging sessions was about the future of small community air service.  One of the primary discussions centered around the FAA’s new “1,500 hour rule”, which in essence, requires most pilots flying in a commercial airliner to now have at least 1,500 hours of flying time before warming a seat in an airline cockpit.  In the past, a newly minted commercially rated multi-engine pilot with just a few hundred hours might land a job as a first officer with a regional airline.

     Well,  no more.

     Now, until most reach that 1,500 hour mark, pilots will have to find other ways to build flight time.  The result for the airlines?  A smaller pool of qualified pilots, which is exacerbating the existing and future airline pilot shortage.  Boeing, which annually forecasts future pilot demand worldwide, recently underscored this widening gap between pilot supply and demand by revising upward their Twenty Year New Pilot Outlook from their 2012 estimate of 460,000 to the current estimate of 498,000.

cancelled_flights1     And what happens when airlines don’t have enough flight crews for their aircraft?  As USA Today recently pointed out, they cancel flights.  And where are many of these flights most likely to be cancelled?  Often at smaller commercial service airports served by regional airlines, which are most dependent on relatively newer pilots, and thus more acutely impacted by the new rule.  In fact, according to the Regional Airline Association, regional airlines fly nearly 50% of all airline flights in the U.S., and provide almost 100% of air service to smaller communities.  In the Northwest Mountain region, 45 of the region’s 70 commercial service airports are served only  by regional airlines, so the potential impact of the new 1,500 hour rule could be quite widespread.  Air service to smaller communities is often financially tenuous for airlines, and when there is a limited pool of aircraft and pilots to fly them, service to these marginal markets will likely be the first to be reduced or even eliminated.

Jgaust how will communities get to keep their economically important and highly coveted commercial air service going forward?  Most certainly by supporting, encouraging and helping to grow a strong and vibrant GA system that will be the source of their airlines’ future flight crews.  With the military no longer a significant source of civilian aviators, most aspiring airline pilots will rely on GA flying to build time- whether it’s flight instruction, banner towing, aerial application or sightseeing flights.

     No longer can communities and airport managers think of GA and airlines separately… even as we continue to park our airplanes in different places on the airport.   So at your airport, be sure your elected officials, your community and your airport manager understand today’s powerful nexus between general aviation and their commercial air service:

     No new general aviation pilots?  No new airline pilots.

     No new airline pilots?  Fewer airline flights.

     Fewer airline flights?  Reduced or eliminated air service to smaller communities with financially marginal regional airline service.

     Reduced or eliminated airline service?  Not a pleasant prospect for smaller communities.

     The solution for these communities?  Work to support GA, so you can support the future of your commercial air service.

Small cuts account for big gains

Two months after Maine’s legislature cements a sales tax exemption on aircraft, parts, and services, the quaint New England state is already seeing expansive growth from its modest aviation industry.  From the production of jobs and boost in revenues to increased spending on airport infrastructure, Maine’s aviation industry finds success at all levels.    

For aviation advocates like me, I often reflect on how fortunate I am to represent an industry that clearly speaks for itself as these targeted and proven tax exemptions are the envy of state aviation industries everywhere.  I am delighted to report that Maine now joins five other New England states that offer similar industry exemptions, leveling a playing field that has historically seen a—slow climb through rising terrain—for the region’s largest and most northern state.

As Regional Managers, my colleagues and I focus on engaging any alternatively focused entities who prefer to turn a deaf ear to a growing industry’s chimes.  We seek those who seek to paint yellow X’s on our legislative runways and who are quick to harangue these industry exemptions as corporate tax breaks that serve only to boost a bottom line and return nothing for public benefit.  To use the words of a character from a popular television series, “While I accept your premise (tax breaks improve revenues), I reject your conclusion (serve no public benefit).”  I simply need to point to the families in Maine of the more than 100 new jobs created since 2011, offering both good-wages and benefits. 

As demand increases, so does the cost of doing business: new workers, capital investments, and material consumption—each producing exponential values of direct and indirect economic benefit.  Capital investments in airport infrastructure generate demand for consulting and construction crews, while the accelerated use of materials generates revenue for wholesalers and other service providers.  In this example one action, facility investment, carries the potential to spur a series of additional (taxable) actions—a picture perfect illustration of how airports can serve communities as economic engines. 

For an industry that clearly speaks for itself, the real challenge is getting policymakers to listen—this is where you and I come in.  As a citizen in a democracy and resident of your state, you have a voice.  The truth is your elected-officials would much rather hear from you, Joe Constituent Smith, than me—alphabet group.  The difference is your membership in our organization lends me your voice.  With this in mind, special thanks is owed to the nearly 400,000 members across our nation—so THANK YOU to each of you for lending your voice as your Regional Managers carry your message into the 2014 legislative sessions.  Keep our voice strong and JOIN  or  RENEW online today! Use priority Code: M13XXFSCE

Volunteers re-paint practice runway

Last night saw a group of volunteers in action on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.  A dozen people assembled at 6:15 p.m., along with a pick-up with trailer, painting equipment, small Honda generator, a rake and a broom. The mission: to repaint the markings on the gravel runway.  The goal of the project is to improve aviation safety by providing a place to practice precision landings—before heading to the more challenging back-country strips.

Judging from the fact that a lot of the initial marks, painted in early June, had been completely obliterated, I would say the “practice runway” has been getting lots of use.  The volunteer paint crew waited just off the runway for a few minutes so a Champ could do some last minute touch-and-go’s before the NOTAM closing the runway went into effect.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2' by 4 ' rectangle, while

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2′ by 4 ‘ rectangle, while Tim Berg looks on. In the background, Ron Dearborn and Janet Daley move the second template to the next mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an hour, two 800' by 24' practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

In an hour, two 800′ by 24′ practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since this crew had worked together previously,  painting progressed at a rapid pace. A small team armed with a tape measure, can of marking paint, the rake and broom led the way, to re-establish the locations for marks that were totally gone.  We learned that raking and sweeping the loose gravel away from the area to be painted gets the paint on the hard-pack surface of the strip, which lasts longer than just spray painting loose rocks.

The paint crew has two plywood templates (designed and build by Kevin Alexander, with UAF’s Aviation Program), which they leap-frog down the runway to mark the 800’ long by 25’ wide practice runway.

With a full crew working on the project, we only spent an hour on the runway.  It took a little longer to clean up, but still left time to enjoy some cold beverages and fresh baked goods at the Air Park before heading home, or on to the next evening project.

Other Practice Runways?

FAA has approved six airports in Alaska to paint markings on their ski-strips. So far this summer in addition to Fairbanks, runways at Wasilla (IYS), and Goose Bay (Z40) have been painted and Palmer (PAQ) plans to mark theirs soon. Soldotna (SXQ) markings survived the winter.  If you are within range of one of these airports, go check it out and see how precise your landings are…
[Update Aug 21: Palmer marked their runway last week, Soldotna is planning to repaint soon.]

Who does these projects, anyway??

What does it take to have a dozen people show up on a Monday evening and work for a couple hours? This project is absolutely a partnership between the airport staff and numerous pilot groups.  The airport files the NOTAM to close the runway, provides a safety plan and makes sure that we are putting the marks in the right places. The Fairbanks General Aviation Association (GAA,) a local airport group at FAI, has taken the lead to organize the work parties.  Ron Dearborn, a charter member of the GAA—who also serves as the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteer at FAI, sends an email to local stakeholders, inviting them to participate.  The individuals may belong to any of a number of organizations. At Monday night’s session the following groups were represented: the 99’s, Alaska Airmen’s Association, AOPA, Fairbanks Flight Service, the airport staff and UAF.  Who knows—these folks may find other ways to make improvements that enhance the airport’s value for the users, and to the community.

If your airport has a local airport support group, consider joining.  If it doesn’t, think about starting one (AOPA can help) .  Acting locally is often the best way to head off airport problems before they fester.  See if your airport has an ASN Volunteer.  If not, think about signing up for that program. It is people and groups like these that make it possible to have a practice runway at your airport!

Airport User/Tenant Associations- You Probably Don’t Know How Much You Need One!

Admit it-  attending public-meetingscity council, county commission, airport board or other public meetings has the same allure for you as preparing a federal tax return by hand.  Lengthy agendas, droll topics about non-pertinent issues and a litany of more enjoyable things to do with your time all conspire to make attending public meetings low on most everyone’s priority list.

But what about when something significant at your publicly-owned airport suddenly impacts you and your fellow users… in a big way?  Have you been engaged?  Are you up to speed?  Do you know the key decision makers and the information and drivers behind their proposals or actions?  If something is planned that you don’t support, can you influence a different course?  Too often, the answer for most aircraft owners, pilots and airport users is “no”.

Prior to joining AOPA, I was fortunate to have enjoyed an airport management career that spanned more than two decades at large and small airports owned by cities, counties and independent airport authorities (“airport sponsors”, in the industry parlance).  As a public official charged with effectively and efficiently managing a publicly owned asset, I always strived to operate the public’s airport in a transparent, informative, engaging and collaborative manner.  I can tell you firsthand that the vast majority of airport professionals endeavor to do the same, and take great pride in providing a safe, efficient and well-planned community airport asset.

Unfortunately that is not universally true, and some airport sponsors and the staff they employ don’t always take the effort to engage their constituents on issues, proposals and plans that affect them and the airport they use.  So what is an aircraft owner, pilot or airport tenant to do?

The answer is simple.  If you don’t have an airport users/tenants/pilots association, start one.  And do so even if you have the best airport manager you could wish for, and certainly before a significant issue affects you and your fellow aviators.  A well-organized, consistently engaged users association is well worth your investment in time and resources, and will provide many benefits:

  • A voice.  The ability to weigh in proactively on key airport decisions with the organized voice of many is critically important.  Remember-  if you’re based at a public airport, you have a say in how it’s managed, operated and improved.
  • Education.  Airports, like aircraft, are complex machines driven by a multitude of unique requirements, standards and FAA regulations often not familiar to pilots and airport tenants.  Knowledge is power, and being engaged is a great way to learn about the unique vagaries, constraints and opportunities at your airport, and how they affect you as an airport user.
  • Collaboration.  Collaboration and cooperation between the airport sponsor and airport users is a powerful tool.  Trust me on this- it’s much easier for an airport to accomplish great things when users and the airport are working together.
  • Weight.  A unified voice can provide airport users with significant influence when weighing in with airport sponsors and elected officials on airport issues.  While some airport managers are pilots, many are not, and a pilot perspective on airport issues is always valuable.
  • Communication.  Creation of a proactive, defined and inclusive communication channel between the airport sponsor and airport users allows for effective dialogue on issues before  they become critical.
  • Community Engagement.  The ability to proactively engage the surrounding community on pressures against the airport that arise from noise, overflights, emissions and other airport impacts.  Having a group of well-organized pilots weigh in at a public hearing on a new housing development right off a runway end can be far more impactful than one airport manager reciting FAA land use recommendations.
  • Fun!  Lastly, a users association can be fun!  Many airport user/pilot/tenant associations have refined into social, pilot-centric communities as well.  Is there a more enjoyable way to discuss your airport’s future than in a hangar over a beer and burger?

So if your airport does not have a users/tenants/pilots association- I would strongly encourage you to connect with your fellow pilots and organize one.   There are many great examples out there, including the Reno-Stead (Nevada) Airport Association, and the Grand Junction (Colorado) Airport Users and Tenants Association.  And whether you have one or not, stay engaged at your airport.  Take the time to get to know your airport manager and elected officials.  Attend key public meetings, workshops and design charrettes that affect your airport’s future.  Help host an airport open house.  Get out and talk to the non-aviation groups in your community about the value of the airport and the importance of general aviation.

And above all, insist that elected officials, airport board members and airport staff at your airport are consistently transparent, engaged and communicative with you and your fellow users, pilots and tenants.  Remember-  it’s a public airport and it belongs to you.

Supporting Alaskan Airports—One at a Time

Reprinted from the Alaska Airmen’s Association’s Transponder

A lot of attention is given to high-level issues in the national aviation media. Will User Fees be thrust upon us? or Is 100LL an endangered species? The headlines frequently overshadow a lot of good work that is done at the local level, often one airport at a time.  AOPA recognized the need for grass-roots efforts at a time when general aviation airports were disappearing at a frightening rate, mostly due to land-use conflicts and economic pressures.  Since airports are typically owned by local municipal governments in most of the country, it was clear that early warning of an impending threat was critical to their survival. (Alaska is an exception here, where the state directly operates 254 airports.)  To address this need, in 1997 AOPA established the Airport Support Network (ASN) Program.

Volunteers were solicited to be eyes and ears at public-use airports, to sound the alarm if a threat loomed that might harm or close the airport.  Presently AOPA has over 2,000 ASN Volunteers nationwide.  Over the years the program has progressed from just “sounding the alarm” to a much more proactive set of activities.  Alaska has twenty seven ASN Volunteers, who perform a wide range of activities that are supporting our airports.  I’ll highlight a few of those individuals, and some of the activities they are engaged in to illustrate how the program works.

Organizing a local airport group  Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) is home to over 300 airplanes tied down on the GA side of the airport, and an additional 175 planes at the float pond.  In the past, tie down holders didn’t have a good way to provide input to airport management concerning issues at the field.  Early in his tenure as the ASN at Fairbanks, Ron Dearborn sat down with other GA stakeholders and, aided with some of AOPA’s materials on organizing an airport group, established the General Aviation Association (GAA) at FAI in 2005.  He chaired the group for its first couple years. By attending regular airport meetings and getting to know the airport management and control tower staff, he established the GAA as a positive voice with these stakeholders.

Ron Dearborn (left) holds the tape while Kevin Alexander marks where to paint a runway marker on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Today, others have taken over the officer positions in the association, freeing Ron to work on special projects and plan future activities. Some of his current projects include serving on the airport’s Master Plan technical committee, and coordinating volunteers to help paint the “practice runway” markings on the Ski Strip.  He also helped organize an airport open house that brought approximately 2,000 members of the public to an “aviation day” last spring.  Ron is justifiably proud that the group, although not large in size, has today become an organization that the airport seeks out when looking for issues that impact general aviation.

Subtle hint to FAI based pilots: The $10/year dues to belong to this local group is a cheap price to have GA represented on airport issues. That is less than the cost of two gallons of avgas.  In addition to current information, you get really good cookies at the association meetings, held several times a year.  Please consider joining, to lend your support to this effort!

Protecting Land Use Around Airports  In 2009 Nenana’s ASN Volunteer, Adam White, learned that a community group was looking to improve the “wellness and quality of life” for their residents.  The project they wanted to undertake was certainly a worthy cause—to expand the size of their community garden from ½ to 10 acres in size. This group, which Adam is a part of, approached the city looking for some land to cultivate. A city official recommended looking at “the area off the end of the runway” as they “couldn’t do anything else with it.”  Adam contacted AOPA for help in researching the issue.  He eventually located the advisory circular on airport design, defining the different zones around a runway, and AC 150/5200-33B, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants on or Near Airports. Armed with this information, he attended the next community group meeting, and was able to explain why this was not a good use of the land off the end of the runway.  Captain Sullenberger, having recently made the dramatic splashdown in the Hudson River after losing his engines due to bird strikes, certainly helped illustrate the potential of this threat.  An alternate location was found for the garden spot expansion. Today, the airport safety zone is used to harvest hay, as opposed to incurring the ongoing cost for continued brush mowing.

Adam White, seen here working on a radio translator at Ruby, uses the Nenana Airport to access numerous remote locations around the state.

An aspect of Adam’s work transcended the Nenana airport. One of the community partners in the group was an extension agent who travels around the state setting up similar gardens.  Following the meeting, Adam was able to provide the agent with copies of the FAA Advisory Circulars. The agent stated that she would make sure that none of their other projects encroached on village airports.  Adam and his family planted and harvested produce from the community garden for a number of years in Nenana, safely away from the approach path he uses at the airport.

Monitoring Merrill Field The busiest GA airport in Alaska, Merrill Field is one of only a couple dozen municipally operated airports in the state.  Surrounded by neighborhoods that are sensitive to aircraft noise, and sometimes in the path of road projects wanting to nibble away at airport property, there are many issues to track.  Jim Cieplak keeps his Cessna 182 tied down at Merrill, and has served as the ASN Volunteer since 2005.

Jim Cieplak, commanding his Cessna 182 that he keeps tied down at Merrill Field.

Along with many local governments looking for increased revenue, the Municipality of Anchorage in 2010 proposed doubling the aircraft registration tax.  If successful this action would have applied not just to aircraft at Merrill Field, but to all the aircraft in the municipality.  Jim worked with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, EAA, the Municipal Airports Aviation Advisory Commission (MAAAC) and other stakeholders to successfully oppose the tax hike.  Upon seeing the benefit of more directly influencing airport decisions, in 2011 Jim applied for and was appointed to a seat on the MAAAC, the body that advises the municipality on rules, regulations and administrative guidelines concerning Merrill Field.

Merrill Field is one of fifteen airports in the nation that was selected for air quality monitoring to quantify the amount of lead that aircraft contribute to the atmosphere.  For the past year, a sampler has been filtering the air off the south east corner of Runway 25.  Jim was tracking this effort, and when the initial results were distributed at a Commission meeting, he forwarded them to AOPA headquarters to the national team that is working the 100LL avgas issue.  The preliminary results show that aircraft on Merrill Field are coming nowhere near reaching the limits defined by the national air quality standard for lead.  This helps the national team to keep on top of the situation as they work to protect our access to 100LL, vital to much of the aviation fleet in Alaska.

Jim will continue follow the lead monitoring program, and many other issues at Merrill.   He also serves on the Airport Support Network Board of Advisers, providing input to the program at the national level.

More volunteers needed   These have been just a few examples of ASN Volunteer activities to protect or improve Alaskan airports.  There are many more accomplishments, and plenty of challenges.  The program was grown from a defensive “save the airport” stance, to a more proactive, “let’s promote the airport” effort.  Instead of waiting for trouble, investing the time to help a community understand the value of its local airport is an important activity we all need to support.  AOPA has created tools to help, such as the guide, Holding an Airport Open House. Population pressures that bring development closer to the boundary of an airport are a problem in Alaska. Getting our city, borough and state government to engage in compatible land use planning, to avoid putting schools and residential areas under the runway approach path, is critical to the long term survival of our airports.  To address this problem, AOPA has recently published a guide on how to participate in the planning process.

But it starts with one person—woman or man—who will step up and become involved with their local airport.  If you are willing to consider helping in this way, look at the ASN website for details on what you can do: www.aopa.org/asn  Find out if your airport has already has an ASN. If so, look that person up and offer your assistance. If there is no ASN Volunteer, consider signing up to fill that role, and become engaged in improving your airport.  If you need more information, please contact me directly www.aopa.org/region/ak.  The airport you save just may be your own!