Possible increase in Alaska aviation motor fuel tax

Alaska is facing a budget crisis due to the low price of crude oil, which will impact all Alaskans, most likely in multiple ways. Focusing on the impact to the 247 state operated airports, the Alaska Aviation Advisory Board (AAB) worked with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) to look at ways to provide additional revenue to support the airports, while having minimal impact on aviation system users. This discussion started back in February this year, when DOT initially announced a proposal to establish landing fees at Deadhorse, a move that many feared would spread to other airports across the state system. In a meeting with Governor Walker, the AAB expressed concerns about landing fees, and asked to work with DOT to look at other options before any changes were made. The Governor indicated he would welcome the board’s input, which kicked off a series of meetings with DOT.

At the spring and summer AAB meetings, DOT presented both the costs to operate the Rural Alaska Airport System, and three alternative methods to increase revenues. DOT also discussed several possible measures to reduce operating costs. These ranged from handing some airports over to local communities to operate, to streamlining the aviation functions of the department into a single division.   Establishing a true division of aviation within DOT is something that a number of aviation organizations, including AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association, have advocated for a number of years. While we believe that streamlining the management of DOT airports will help manage costs in the long run, this doesn’t address the immediate need to keep the airports operating.

What does it cost to operate state airports? Funding for airports comes in two distinct flavors: capital funding, which is used to build and improve airports, primarily comes from the federal government; and operating funding, which covers staffing, supplies and other costs associated with operations and maintenance, which is typically supplied by the airport owner.

Capital Funding:  The State of Alaska, like other states, receives grant money directly from the FAA through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), to build and expand airports. Alaska has received over $200 million/year for the past several years from this program. The FAA’s contribution is typically about 90% of the grant, with a requirement for the state to match the federal funding. The state’s contribution comes from the airport owner, called the sponsor, in FAA terms. This AIP funding mechanism allows for the construction and improvements of airports nationwide, but comes with strings attached. One of the strings is that the sponsor (airport owner) agrees to pay for operation of the facilities, and to keep them in good working order.

Operational Funding: Funding the operation and maintenance of airports is the challenge. The FAA expects airport sponsors (owners) to pay for operations, and airports typically charge fees to help cover some of those costs. Airport lease fees, tie down fees, and other revenue streams help offset operational costs. In Alaska, even though we rely on aviation for basic transportation, our low population base often doesn’t provide the volume of fees that would be needed for our airports to truly be self-sustaining. Here are the figures for the state-operated airports (not including Anchorage and Fairbanks International, which are operated as a separate enterprise fund). The cost to operate the Rural Alaska Aviation System in FY 2014 was $33.8 million dollars. Revenues received by the state included $5.3 million from airport leasing, tie down permits, etc. and $4.6 million in aviation motor fuels taxes, for a total revenue of $9.9 million. These revenues go into the General Fund. Each year the Legislature appropriates money from the General Fund to DOT, which includes the resources to operate the rural airports.

Revenue Options  DOT presented three options to increase revenues: Implement landing fees, initially at the regional hub (Part 139) airports; implement a state-wide airport user fee, and; increase motor fuel taxes. The AAB looked at these from the standpoint of how much they would cost to implement, the projected amount of revenue generated, what they would cost the users, and how equitable they seemed both to different segments of the aviation community and to the public, which in many cases relies on aviation for the delivery of goods and services, in addition to their own transportation. After considerable deliberation, the AAB recommended that the state increase the aviation motor fuel tax from the current levels (4.7 cents/gal for avgas and 3.2 cents/gal for jet fuel), to 10 cents/gal for both fuel types. Based on projections provided by the state, this would raise about $9 million additional revenue per year. Combined with the current revenue streams, it would provide approximately $19 million of the $34 million needed to operate the rural airports.

A significant motivation for this recommendation is that a change in motor fuel tax doesn’t create any additional cost to state government to collect. Both landing fees and airport user fees require additional administrative efforts to collect, as well as burden the user with tracking and payment. It was also felt that the motor fuel tax was more equitable because cost is proportional to use. Adam White, Government Affairs Manager for the Alaska Airmen’s Association, provided the following information to show the impact to some typical GA users:

Adam White fuel tax table

At a recent meeting in Fairbanks, Governor Walker acknowledged the AAB recommendation. It will take legislative action, however, to make a change to the motor fuel tax. While no one wants to see an increase in operating cost, the motor fuel tax increase option appears to be the best choice to address this issue. We will certainly be discussing it more in the months ahead, and we are interested in hearing your thoughts on funding to keep our airports open, maintained and safe for all aviation operations.


This article is reprinted from the January-March, 2016 issue of the Alaska Airmen’s Association Transponder.

Talking GA in the Beehive State

Since joining AOPA as our Northwest Mountain Regional manager three years ago, I’ve had many opportunities to visit all seven of the beautiful states I cover.  But by virtue of few aviation issues to address, Utah has not been as frequent a destination for me as my other six states.  I was able to rectify that last week, however, as I at last had an opportunity to spend several days in the Salt Lake Valley, participating in a variety of productive aviation functions and meetings.

My first stop after arriving at KSLC was to visit with Pat Morley, a great friend of GA (and an AOPA member) who is the Director of the Utah Division of AeronauticsB4bHjJaCUAARVysI’ve known Pat for nearly 13 years, since my time as the airport manager in St. George, Utah.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder working, more dedicated aviation professional.  With minimal resources, Pat and his small staff do a fantastic job supporting the maintenance and improvement of Utah’s 47 public use airports.  Utah is a great example of effective application of GA revenues- 100% of GA fuel taxes and aircraft registration fees collected are allocated to the Aeronautics Division, where they are invested back into the state’s airport and aviation system.  The Aeronautics Division also operates the state’s general aviation aircraft, efficiently transporting state employees between the state’s far-flung communities that are often difficult to reached easily by road.  It was great seeing Pat again, and finally seeing his operation first hand.

The primary reason for my trip to SLC, however, was to represent AOPA and GA at the annual Runway Safety Summit, presented by the American Association of IMG_1063Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.  This valuable two day event focused on how GA, airlines, airports, air traffic control, FAA and others are collaborating to improve runway safety, minimize runway incursions, and keep airports and their users safe.  I participated on a panel that addressed “Preventing GA Runway Incursions”, where I discussed GA cockpit technology evolution, as well as products and devices like Foreflight and IPads available to pilots to improve situational awareness and help minimize incursions.  I also briefed attendees on the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s excellent training resources for GA pilots on runway safety, which were developed in partnership with FAA.  If you haven’t seen them, have a look.  And don’t forget to have a look outside that cockpit and avoid those incursions!

What I was most excited about on this trip, however, was my evening visit on Tuesday December 9th to the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan, south of SLC.  Just a few short years ago, this GA reliever airport to KSLC was struggling, with little activity and lackluster aviation services.  All that changed three years ago when local pilots Don and Scott Weaver opened Leading Edge Aviation. In that short time, with the strong support of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, the Weavers have B4eArgNCQAAVeC_developed and fostered a thriving GA community, and the airport is vibrant and re-energized.  Each month, the Weaver’s host a monthly dinner and meeting for GA users on the airport, and I was fortunate to participate in December’s dinner while I was there.  We all enjoyed a fantastic meal prepared by the Weaver’s, and I updated the group on AOPA’s latest advocacy efforts, and our initiatives to grow GA.  This airport is a perfect example of the camaraderie, fun and engaging social community aspect of GA that AOPA President Mark Baker talks so much about.  If you want to see how successful a GA airport can be, drop in to U42 some time.

I finished up my trip with a visit to the Ogden-Hinckley Airport (KOGD), a very busy GA reliever about 30 miles north of SLC.  I met with our Airport Support Network Volunteer Bob Foxley to discuss a variety of airport topics that AOPA is engaged with, including challenges faced by GA tenants and users as a result of Allegiant Airlines’ two weekly flights, and TSA regulations and their impact on the rest of the airport.  We also B4h-9TcCAAAevPBdiscussed the airport’s rules and regulations and how AOPA can help airports like KOGD implement rules and regulations that are reasonable, fair and not overly burdensome.  And while at KOGD, I was treated to a rare sight of not one, but two airworthy Grumman Albatrosses.  Thanks to the gracious staff at CB Aviation I was able to check out the interior, and even get a chance to sit up front!

And with a few hours to kill before my flight home, and being the true avgeek that I’ve always been, I finally was able to visit the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum, a B4mJem0CYAA3Plafantastic and comprehensive collection of military aircraft, including the world’s only C-model SR-71.  If you ever have free time in Salt Lake City, this is definitely a place not to miss.

Although I was in Utah for just three days, my time there was incredibly worthwhile, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with a variety of GA professionals and enthusiasts about AOPA and our advocacy, as well as our shared love of flying and all things aviation.  To keep tabs on all that AOPA is working on in Utah and at state and local levels across the country, be sure to check out our regional advocacy pages.  I look forward to seeing you in your state in 2015!



Practice Runways: A low-cost pilot proficiency tool

It is finally summer in Alaska. Salmon are running in the rivers, wild roses are blooming on the roadsides and paint marks are starting to appear on select gravel runways around the state. Paint marks? On gravel runways? Are you crazy? Only a little, but read on…

Threshold of the freshly painted "practice runway" on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Threshold of the freshly painted “practice runway” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Last week a twelve-person crew armed with 5 gallons of white paint, a sprayer, couple of plywood templates and a bunch of enthusiasm, assembled to create two “practice runways” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport. Each end of the gravel runway (named the Ski Strip, because that’s it’s winter occupation) now sports a 25 foot wide by 800 foot long “practice runway.” Delineated by white 2 x 4 foot white rectangles painted directly on the packed gravel surface every hundred feet, it simulates a narrow, short runway pilots are liable to be landing on at back-country airstrips or gravel bars. These landing areas, often surrounded by trees, with rough surfaces, provide access at their favorite hunting, fishing or camping spot. The practice runways don’t provide the full range of conditions encountered in the field, but are also without the consequences– if you don’t get down and stopped in the right place on the first try!

Airports and stakeholder working together
Often these projects are a collaborative effort between the airport owner and a volunteer group that teams up to paint the markings in the spring, after the runway has been graded and packed. At Fairbanks, AOPA Airport Support Volunteer Ron Dearborn put out a call for volunteers using General Aviation Association’s email list, which brought help not only from that group but also from members of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines. and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Program.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

As soon as the NOTAM closing the Ski Strip went into effect, and after a safety briefing by airport operations staff, the crew took possession of the runway. They marked and painted the two practice runways in just under an hour. Assembling the crew and equipment, and cleaning up afterward took more time than actual painting itself. After the work was done, the group celebrated with baked goodies and beverages, before calling it a night. The Ski Strip stayed closed overnight to let the paint dry, but by the following day, airplanes were hard at it, doing stop-and-goes.

This is the fourth year that volunteers have worked with the airport operations staff to create this piece of infrastructure at Fairbanks, and other airports around the state. The practice runways have proven to be popular not only for super cub drivers, but with students just learning to fly and pilots of a wide range of aircraft wishing to calibrate their landing distances. Other airports that have received a “modification to standards” from the FAA to create practice runways on their gravel runways include: Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS). I encourage you to use one of these practice strips and see how well you can hit the marks– and how much runway it takes to get stopped.

If your airport has a runway you think might be suitable for a practice runway, contact your airport manager to see if they are interested. The airport typically will need to coordinate with FAA Airports Division to approve a “modification to standards” which specifies how the runway may be marked. This is still a new program, only happening in Alaska. A guide has been developed based on experience from several seasons to help airports owners and volunteer groups figure out how to undertake a similar project. I encourage you to consider whether this program makes sense at your airport, as a small but positive way to influence aviation safety and proficiency.

It certainly makes it much more fun to get out and practice take off’s and landings!

Mat Su Valley CTAF Frequencies Change on May 29th

Heads up for pilots who fly in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. On May 29, 2014 a significant change takes place to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) assigned north and west of Anchorage.  If you aren’t religious about buying new flight charts, or updating your GPS databases, plan to do so with this charting cycle, as approximately 78 airport CTAFs will change on that date.  In addition, 36 airports will have CTAFs assigned for the first time.  In total, FAA is sending letters to 178 airport owners notifying them of the CTAF assignment changes.  Goose Bay, Wolf Lake and Anderson Lake are just three of the airports whose CTAFs will change.  The new frequencies will be found on flight charts, in individual airport listings in the Alaska Supplement, along with a map in the Notices section that shows the “big picture” change taking place.

In the summer of 2011, a number of mid-air collisions occurred in the Mat Su Valley, one with fatal results.  During the subsequent NTSB investigation, it appeared that both pilots involved in that accident had been using what they believed was the correct frequency for the location they were flying—but they were not communicating on the same frequency.  A working group with representation from industry and government was established that fall to look at the published guidance regarding CTAF usage.  Over the past two and a half years, the group methodically examined CTAF assignments, civil and military flight patterns, ATC infrastructure and the results of an AOPA pilot survey.  After agreeing that changes needed to be made, different scenarios for creating “area CTAFs” were evaluated and reviewed by seasoned pilots, commercial operators, flight instructors and pilots based at different area airports.  Like all good Alaska discussions, not everyone agreed with everything, but there was widespread support to reduce the complexity—and overlap—between CTAFs used at different airports and landing areas.  Last fall a set of recommendations was made to the FAA, elements of which will go into effect at the end of May.

New CTAF Areas defined
To eliminate the overlap from adjacent airport frequencies, the FAA is designating new “CTAF Areas” within which, all the airports will be on the same frequency. This concept is not new in Alaska, as the airspace over Denali National Park has had designated “mountain traffic advisory frequencies” for many years.  Cook Inlet and the Knik Glacier areas also have established CTAFs.  On May 29th, there will be four new CTAF area frequencies identified, to let pilots know what frequency to use, if they are not in contact with ATC or a Flight Service Station.  There are corresponding changes to the north boundary of the Cook Inlet CTAF area that become effective at this time.  A diagram showing these areas will be on page 399 of the Notices Section of the Alaska Supplement, however the information is also listed on the FAA’s website  www.faa.gov/go/flyalaska.

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area to the sound also has a change in boundary

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area, west of Anchorage, also has a change in boundary

How were boundaries selected?
The Mat Su Valley is a highly aviation oriented place. In addition to over 200 private and public airports in the FAA’s database, there are other landing areas (lakes, gravel bars and rivers) that are heavily used either seasonally or on a year-around basis.  The boundaries were designed, as much as possible, to avoid areas where traffic concentrated—along major rivers, at area airports, etc.  Consequently, the boundaries were offset from rivers and coast lines, recognizing that they are often used for navigation when weather is down.  Flight patterns in and out of area airports were also considered, and verified with ATC radar data. During the review process, numerous boundary revisions were made to minimize conflicts with existing flows of traffic along commonly used routes to popular locations.  Ultimately, the beauty of the airplane is that it can go anywhere—weather permitting—so no set of boundaries will meet everyone’s needs.  Hopefully assigning advisory frequencies to different areas will reduce some of the ambiguity experienced previously.

Hi Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas.  While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas. While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic Locations
The working group also identified “high traffic” locations in the Mat Su Valley.  Many of these are airports that already appear on the charts, familiar to us all.  Others are popular lakes, rivers and gravel bars used during fishing season or to access recreational cabins.  These are also depicted on the CTAF Area diagram, along with their names, to let pilots know which CTAF frequency to use when operating to or near these locations.  We hope those locations not charted as airports will eventually become VFR waypoints that may be depicted on FAA flight charts.

Feedback Needed
Any significant change of this magnitude has the potential to solve some problems, and may cause others.  As a result, the working group set up a feedback mechanism to report problems or concerns.  A feedback form has been established on the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation’s website so that pilots may report problems or ask questions, regarding this change of CTAF architecture.  www.aasfonline.org/feedback  Please let us know if you encounter problems that need to be addressed.  The working group will continue to address other areas, such as the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer, to consider further refinements in the future.

What can I do?
This is a significant change, a long time in the making.  Please make sure to pick up the May 29th issues of flight charts, the Alaska Supplement, and update GPS databases.  Make it a point to check the CTAF of the place you are flying from and to-especially if you have gone there a hundred times before.  Talk about these changes with your friends and neighbors, to make sure they know about it.

This only works if we truly are all on the same frequency!

May 23rd Update:
Here are two additional documents to help “navigate” the changes to the Mat Su CTAFs.

Mat Su single-sided transition map This document is a single-sided map of the Mat Su CTAF Areas, which also has the high traffic areas combined.  The document size is 11 x 17 inches, in Adobe  PDF format, but may also be printed on 81/2 x 11 inch letter size paper.


MatSuValley Airports CTAF Listing  This document lists Mat Su Valley airports, seaplane bases and helipads, their identifiers and assigned CTAF frequency as of May 29, 2014.

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?


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.