Lake Hood Master Plan Alternatives Survey

The Lake Hood Seaplane Base is in the process of updating it’s Master Plan, the document which will guide development of the airport for the next ten to twenty years.  The process involves planning staff and stakeholders reviewing issues, current use and future projections for the airport, and developing alternatives for projects to maintain and/or expand the facility. At this stage, alternatives have been developed, and a user survey is underway to rate the alternatives developed by the planning team.  Options range from maintenance of existing facilities, to candidate projects that could significantly expand the capacity of the airport. For more information about the plan, which is about halfway through a two-year schedule, see the LHD Master Plan website.

Whether you are a local or transient user of Lake Hood, consider taking the online survey, designed to help set priorities for the proposed alternatives identified. The survey has links to color maps, showing the locations of different elements of the plan.  It contains about 50 questions, so you might grab a cup of coffee and prepare to devote a little time to working through the the options.  Click here to take the survey, which runs through December 7, 2015.

lake hood mp graphic

Lake Hood is is purported to be the world’s largest seaplane base, and is the home for some 800 aircraft.  With the water lanes and gravel runway, it serves both seaplane and wheel traffic, often topping 400 operations a day in the summer.  This general aviation airport (exclusive of neighboring Anchorage International Airport) is estimated to have an economic impact of $24 million to the Anchorage community. In addition to being home for private pilots, air taxi operators, maintenance and parts businesses, it has an aviation museum, several government aircraft bases and a Civil Air Patrol maintenance facility. It is also home to the Alaska Airmen’s Association.

If you care about this facility, take a few minutes and provide some feedback to help guide the future of this Alaskan crown jewel.

Presidential TFRs come to Alaska!

Revised TFRs: FAA revised the VIP TFR for ANC to include a seaplane gateway at Wasilla Lake. Graphics of Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue added. Times updated.

The newspapers have for weeks reported that President Obama is coming to Alaska for a three-day visit, August 31 through September 2nd. Along with the President comes a VIP Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that will make it challenging for general aviation operations in Anchorage and other Alaskan communities. AOPA, along with the Alaska Airmens Association, Alaska Air Carriers Association and other airport and aviation groups met with the Secret Service and TSA a few days ago to understand the nature of these restrictions, and to see what we could do to help mitigate the impacts.

Before going into details, I want to stress that it is critical to check NOTAMs before you fly. I know we always do, but during this period DOUBLE check the NOTAMS, as the Secret Service warned us that the NOTAMs posted today may be modified as conditions change.

VIP TFR ANC revised

FAA revised the ANC TFR on Aug 28 to incorporate a gateway airport at Wasilla Lake for seaplanes, and again on Aug 29 & 30 with changed hours.

TFR Structure
The basic structure of this VIP TFR consists of two parts: an inner and outer ring.
Inner Core: Inside a ten nautical mile radius, known as the inner core, flight operations will be prohibited except for approved law enforcement, military and regular scheduled commercial flights—operating to and from Part 139 airports. Flights not included in the approved category must undergo security screening, arranged for no less than 24 hours prior to scheduled departure. Airports that will support screening inside the inner core are Anchorage (PANC), Merrill (PAMR) and Lake Hood (PALH). For aircraft needing to fly into these airports, Palmer (PAAQ) has been designated as a gateway airport where inbound aircraft may land and be screened before proceeding into the designated airports. Read the NOTAM carefully for more details on what is required. But before focusing only on those details, look at the hours the TFR will be in effect. Adjusting your schedule to avoid the times the TFR is in effect may be the easiest thing to do.

Outer Ring: A second concentric ring of airspace extends from 10 out to 30 nautical miles, designated as the outer ring. Aircraft operating in this segment are limited to those arriving to or departing from local airfields, but only on active IFR or VFR flight plans, with assigned transponder codes, and maintaining communication with ATC. This clearly excludes the non-transponder equipped aircraft that live on many airfields in the area. There is a long list of operations not allowed while the TFR is active, including flight training, aerobatic flight, glider operations, ultralight operations, etc. Again, check the NOTAM for details. One piece of good news. This list of prohibited activities that appears in the TFR in other locations around the country (and initially for Alaska) included seaplane operations. This was brought up the Secret Service by the Alaskan aviation stakeholders, who recognized that “Alaska is different” and was willing to make accommodations to allow seaplane operations.

Timing is everything
While these restrictions are very limiting to general aviation, perhaps the best tool to deal with them is timing. The Secret Service has provided blocks of time each day of the visit that the TFR will not be in effect, and GA operations may come and go unrestricted. Studying the active times, and planning ahead may allow you to avoid these restrictions completely.   The Secret Service has also committed to releasing the airspace early if at all possible, to reduce the impacts on our operations.

Other communities impacted too
While the focus of this piece is on the TFR over Anchorage, the President is planning to visit other Alaska communities for shorter periods of time. Those mentioned in the initial planning meeting were Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue. We were advised to expect TFRs in those areas, nominally for about a four hour window. These will not involve gateway airports or special access procedures, so look for NOTAMs covering these areas during this three day window (see graphics below).

I appreciate that the Secret Service and TSA invited the Alaska aviation groups to participate in their planning, and were responsive to our concerns. Please check—and double check NOTAMs, check out AOPA’s TFR information resources and help spread the word to your fellow aviators.

Additional Information: The FAA released additional diagrams to help explain the TFR’s associated with the President’s visit, the timing and nature of flight activities. Remember that these are for general planning purposes. Be sure to check NOTAMs in case plans change!

150831-150903 PANC REISSUE-4TFR alert handout thumbnailClick on the following link to download the above handout. 150826 TFR Alert Handout – AK

150902 Dillingham VIP ZAN 5-1668150902 Kotzebue VIP ZAN 5-1666150901 REISSUE 5-1587 Seward ZAN VIP

Final Push for the GA Survey

Summer is progressing… and we still need your help to quantify general aviation in Alaska. All Alaskan aircraft owners should have received a post card in the mail asking them to fill out the 2014 General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey. In a nutshell, the survey documents how much we fly, the type of flying we do and some of the equipment we use in our aircraft. It is about the only way to document the amount of GA activity in Alaska. AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association, the Alaska Air Carriers Association and other organizations all use the data collected to help make the case for improvements to our aviation infrastructure.

34 percent filtered

Some of the main questions are:

How many hours did you fly in 2014?
What type of fuel do you use, and what is your average consumption rate?
What type of equipment do you have in your airplane?

When compiled statewide, this information helps us advocate for you.  The survey is conducted by TetraTech, and individual survey results are not sent to the FAA, only the summary totals. You may take the survey online,

If you are not among the 34% of Alaskan aircraft owners who have completed the survey, please do so today!  Thank You!

North Slope exercise planned for July 12-17, 2015

If you fly in the vicinity of Deadhorse and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields or in waters to the north, heads-up for an upcoming Search and Rescue exercise, scheduled for July 12-17. Unmanned aircraft will be operated within the Restricted Area R-2204 at Oliktok Point, and in the newly created Warning Area, W-220 which is located offshore to the north. This is part of a joint exercise involving the Coast Guard, Sandia and industry participants.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles nortwest of the Deadhorse Airport.

Restricted Area R-2204 is located at Oliktok Point, approximately 35 n miles northwest of the Deadhorse Airport. ( map segment)

While civil flight operations are precluded from the Restricted Area, the Warning Area does not restrict VFR operations. Sandia National Laboratories, the agency that manages the restricted and warning areas for the Department of Energy, has put out a notice about the exercise, including points of contact so that you may coordinate directly with them.

New Warning Area
W-220 is a new airspace feature, designed to support climate research, and allow the occasional use of exotic equipment such as tethered balloons, sounding rockets, or other equipment to understand arctic clouds and their influence on sea ice. Since charting won’t occur until the 2016 publication date of the Barrow Sectional, a notice has been issued with the details. The diagram below shows the southern part of the area.

Warning Area chart

The southern segment of Warning Area 220, a new airspace feature on the North Slope.

AOPA participated in the Safety Risk Management Panel that evaluated the impact of the warning area. While at first glance this may appear to be a remote area away from civil aviation activities, a surprising amount of flight operations take place over these waters in support of marine mammal surveys, resource exploration, aerial data collection as well as the occasional recreational trip to the north pole. Renewed interest in the Arctic may see further increases in these areas in years to come.

We are pleased that Sandia is providing advance notice of the upcoming activities, and providing phone and email contacts for the aviation community to coordinate with them, in case they need to share this airspace.

The July exercise only plans to use W-220A LOW. As always, check NOTAMs for specific information before you fly.



Learning about Flying in Alaska

No matter how many certificates or ratings a pilot has in their pocket, when planning to fly in a part of the world you’re not familiar with, it has always been good advice to talk with a local pilot to get the “lay of the land.” But who do you ask?

A number of years ago members of the Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association, based in Fairbanks, partnered with the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and the Fairbanks FAA Flight Standards District Office to create a program for pilots who flew themselves to the state. During the summer months of June to August, pilots camped in the Air Park (a camp ground for airplanes) at Fairbanks International Airport may take advantage of this program. Three nights a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) at 6 p.m. a member of the CFI group drops by to chat with visitors in the Air Park, and answer questions about flying in Alaska. They are armed with a full case of charts, pamphlets, special maps and information specific to Alaska aviation.

An aerial view of the Air Park during an aviation event.

An aerial view of the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport during an aviation event.

Why Fairbanks?
Fairbanks is a popular destination for pilots who fly up the Alaska Highway, along the historic Northwest Staging Route from Montana that was established during World War II for the Lend Lease program. Being centrally located in the state, Fairbanks makes a good jump-off location for visitors wishing to explore the state, whether planning to venture north into the Brooks Range and more arctic environs, west to the gold-rich beaches of Nome, or south to Mt. McKinley and southcentral Alaska. Many of the visitors that arrive in Fairbanks are looking for ideas on places to go, things to see and what to watch out for.

What is different about Alaska?
Yes, the laws of physics are the same when it comes to lift and drag—but Alaskan infrastructure is perhaps different, depending on what you may be familiar with at home. Most communities in Alaska have airports, however very few have gas, maintenance facilities or even a phone to call Flight Service for a weather briefing. In fact, 82% of Alaskan communities are not connected to the state’s road system. While they represent the primary access to those communities, many consist of a 3,000 foot plus gravel runway, a small pad for aircraft parking and a road to town. No FBO, no fuel, no airport loaner car, no phone. You are on your own, which is fine so long as you planned for those conditions.

Another difference is the density of our aviation facilities. Weather reporting stations, NEXRAD weather radar, RCO’s, and nav aids are all in very short supply in contrast to the rest of the country.  Let’s dig into weather just a bit. According to the FAA’s listing, there are 133 AWOS and ASOS stations in Alaska. We would need 183 more stations to have the same average density that is enjoyed by the “lower 48 states.” This not only limits the most basic information pilots use for planning and conducting flights, it also impacts the weather models that are used by the National Weather Service to create aviation forecasts. While our products (METARs, TAFs, Area Forecasts, winds aloft forecasts) LOOK the same as what you may be used to, they are much less ‘informationally rich’ in nature. [More info on this is available at “Alaska is a weather-poor state.”] The upshot: the weather you see out the window is what you need to deal with.

Alaska specific infrastructure
The FAA recognizes some of these differences, and has made accommodations to address certain issues. Alaska has a network of web cameras that, during daylight hours, provide an additional source of information on weather conditions. At over 220 locations across the state, you may actually look at the weather to get a better idea of conditions along a given route of flight.

Weather is just one topic. Alaska also has an incredibly large Special Use Airspace complex, with special services to make it easier to navigate; FAA still operates a network of Flight Service Stations to help pilots obtain information; and the National Weather Service has a dedicated web site for aviation weather. These services are all summarized in a document developed by the flight instructors group which is now available on AOPA’s Flight Planning website on the Alaska Info tab, in Guide to Aviation Visitors to Alaska. A second document in that section lists a number of websites with Alaskan aviation references, including the aviation weather cams, Flight Service Station map, NWS aviation weather site and a lot more.

But if you would like to learn about Alaska flying in the old fashioned way— stop by the Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday summer evening around 6 p.m. and talk with a local flight instructor, to get the low-down on flying in Alaska.

Post Script:  The Air Park at Fairbanks International Airport has 15 camp spaces, along with two covered pavilions complete with a BBQ pit, and a restroom with shower facility. That’s right—during summer months it has running water! A few bicycles are available (first come, first serve) if you want to make a quick ride to town or down the ramp to one of the airport businesses or the Flight Service Station.

Valdez Gears up for 12th Fly-In

Valdez Fly In logoOn the heels of another highly successful Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in Anchorage, it is time to load up camping gear and head to Valdez. Now in its 12th year, the Valdez Fly-In and Air Show kicks off the flying season with activities for pilots and spectators alike. With events starting on Friday May 8th and going through Sunday afternoon, there is something for everyone—from aerial demonstrations and a poker run to static aircraft displays and a balsa wood airplane contest for the kids. Stop in and say hi at the AOPA table.

If you fly in, please file a PIREP or two for the folks coming along behind you. I hope to see you at the show!

FAA plans to eliminate instrument approaches in Alaska

As part of a national Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), FAA has announced it plans to eliminate “redundant or underutilized” VOR and NDB approaches. Reported in an AOPA news story, the proposal is linked to the national effort to define a VOR Minimum Operational Network, also known as the VOR MON. As WAAS approaches and GPS based T-Routes become the basis of NextGen, the idea is to keep a VOR network as a back-up. In the event of a GPS system failure, the network would allow an aircraft to tune in a VOR within 100 nautical miles, navigate to it and shoot an approach to get safely on the ground. In much of the country, this means the FAA can shut down a number of VOR’s, which will save funding and help keep the remaining network healthy.

The Alaska case
In briefings in Alaska, the FAA has repeatedly stressed they don’t plan to shut down ANY VORs in the state. That is good, as Alaska has never met the standard that the FAA is reducing the rest of the nation to. But it doesn’t mean that the FAA won’t reduce the number of instrument approaches.

In the national list of procedures the NPRM plans to decommission, there are 28 Alaskan approaches at 22 airports across the state that would go away. There is a cost to maintaining instrument procedures, so if these aren’t needed, it is good to save those resources, as we certainly have other areas still in need of IFR infrastructure.

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

List of Alaskan approaches proposed for decommissioning.

Instrument pilots are encouraged to study the Alaska list carefully, and speak up if any procedures on the list are still needed. Comments are due by May 28, and may be submitted online, or by mail to: Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001. And please email me a copy of your comments, to help AOPA track this issue in Alaska.

Alaska weather forecast graphics updated

The Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) recently upgraded a number of their graphic weather products in ways which makes them easier to use. An arm of the National Weather Service, this unit generates the Area Forecasts, along with SIGMETS and AIRMETS for Alaska. These statewide products help us see the “big picture” regarding where icing, turbulence and poor weather are forecast for the next twelve hours or so, and are found under the GRAPHICAL FORECASTS tab at the AAWU home page:

Select the Icing Forecast, and you will notice something new!

In this 12 hour Icing Forecast Summary, major rivers have been added in blue to provide geographic reference.

In this 12 hour Icing Forecast Summary, major rivers have been added in blue to provide geographic reference.

In the past, other than the outline of the state, pilots have relied on the forecast zone boundaries as the sole means to “navigate” the charts. At least in my experience, at times it has been a challenge to figure out where weather relative to my intended route of flight. While the forecast zones (slightly subdued) are still there, the AAWU added major rivers to the products. For my money, that is a lot more useful feature for geographic reference. Kudos to the AAWU staff for adding these to the Forecast Weather, Icing and Turbulence forecasts! The Surface Chart and Prog Charts remain unchanged.

Better time resolution too!
Not as new, but worth mentioning is that a little more than a year ago the AAWU made a few other changes that make these charts easier to interpret. Instead of a single static map, the graphics now cover twelve hours, and show changes as often as every three hours, when conditions are expected to develop through the forecast period. On a Windows based system, just hover the mouse over the time intervals shown at the top of the frame, and watch the forecast areas change. On my iPad, I have to select each image individually, but the extra information showing how conditions are expected to develop is just what I am looking for. Also notice, the times on at the top of the product are local, as opposed to UTC.

This example product shows forecast icing for the 3 hour period starting at 15:00 local (yellow oval).  Other selections on that status bar would show how conditions were forecast the change during the 12 hour period.

This example product shows forecast icing for the 3 hour period starting at 15:00 local (yellow oval). Other selections on that status bar would show how conditions were forecast to change during the 12 hour period.

For more information on how the graphic products were revised see this earlier article, but for now focus on the addition of the river boundaries. If you have comments, feel free to share them with the AAWU at the following email address: [email protected] NWS appreciates hearing from pilots, as they continue to refine the products we use to figure out when it is safe to fly.

Alaska is a “weather-poor” state

Alaska pilots are poor (impoverished) when it comes to the amount of weather data available to make critical go/no-go flight decisions. According to the FAA’s surface weather observation stations website, Alaska has 133 AWOS or ASOS weather station locations. In comparison, the “contiguous 48 states” have over 1,800 similar sites. Based on average density of stations nationwide, Alaska would need 183 additional stations to be on par with the rest of the country. That is 2.4 times as many observations as we have today. I am not expecting to see that number of conventional stations in Alaska, but it does point to the need for Alaska pilots to be creative, weather-vigilant, and look to non-conventional sources of information. But first, let’s dig a little deeper into our weather observing system of today.

An overview of the over 1,800 aviation weather stations providing data for pilots and forecasters across the "contiguous 48 states"

An overview of over 1,800 aviation weather stations that provide data for pilots and forecasters across the “contiguous 48 states.”

At approximately the same scale as the previous map, note the density of aviation weather stations providing coverage for Alaska.  Some 180 more stations would be needed to provide a comparably dense network to that enjoyed by the rest of the country.

At approximately the same scale as the map above, note the density of aviation weather stations providing coverage for Alaska. Some 180 additional stations would be needed to provide a comparably dense network to that enjoyed by the rest of the country.

Not all weather reports are equal
Not all weather observations are the same quality. The standard weather observation today is an unattended FAA Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and its National Weather Service counterpart the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). These devices operate 24 hours a day, and report weather based on sensors that measure wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter, ceiling and visibility. Some models may detect precipitation type and accumulation and/or thunderstorms. Advanced as they may be, the unattended stations have some significant limitations. The ceiling is measured using a small laser beam directly overhead while a computer calculates the cloud cover based on a 30 minute average of readings. If, for example, a low fog bank is creeping up on the airport, the unit won’t know about it until the field has gone IFR. Another well-known limitation of these devices is the visibility sensor, which measures the particles within a 1 meter beam of light, and calculates the “up to 10 miles” visibility value we see in the reports. A frustration with this sensor at rural Alaska airports results when a four-wheeler parks next to the sensor (perhaps waiting for an arriving aircraft) and its exhaust drifts into the visibility sensor’s “view,” reducing the reported visibility to 1/8 mile. It’s a mere annoyance to most pilots flying under Part 91, but a commercial pilot flying under Part 135 regulations can’t even shoot the approach with reported conditions lower than the allowable minimums. Automated stations operating unattended contain the word AUTO in the report to alert pilots to that fact. The omission of that term lets the pilot know that either a human is making the observation in the first place, or the observation is being augmented by an observer.

Augmented Weather Stations
Given these limitations in automated stations, the FAA has contract weather observers who augment the equipment at select locations. Airports with significant volumes of traffic, such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, are augmented. One of our Alaska adaptations has been that when the network of Flight Service Stations was reduced in the mid-1990’s, locations that were identified as important strategic locations were provided with a contract weather observer to ensure that the known limitations of automated units didn’t catch a pilot off guard. In the summer of 2013, the weather augmentation contract at Gulkana was cancelled. I am concerned that in the interest of budget reductions, other stations may be on the chopping block.

Five more weather stations closed
One of the means of collecting weather information at remote locations that don’t have an automated station is to contract with a local resident using the A-PAID Program. Under this program, an interested person is trained and certified by the NWS to make a set number of weather reports per day the old fashioned way—by looking at the sky and making manual observations, such as using the distance to local landmarks to estimate visibility. A-PAID observers don’t report 24 hours a day, and if the observer has to travel, is sick or otherwise not available, no report gets filed. A-PAID observers also don’t file Special reports to alert pilots when conditions change, but often they are the only source of weather information in remote areas, or along VFR routes, that help pilots make informed decisions on whether to initiate a flight. A few days ago I learned that the FAA had cancelled the contracts for the last five stations that they had funded for years, leaving us with no weather reports from Farewell Lake, Merrill Pass West, Manley Hot Springs, Nabesna and Chandalar Lake. Five more points, of our already sparse weather network, went dark.

Replacements for A-PAID stations
In 2011 the National Weather Service announced its intention to phase out the A-PAID program, and for those areas that they felt they needed continued observations, replace them with an automated observations similar but not identical to AWOS units. The package they selected is called a Modular Automated Weather Station (MAWS). It is built by a company that makes AWOS systems, and the sensors used are all certified by FAA for use in an AWOS system. MAWS stations record the main elements we need for aviation weather, including ceiling and visibility, but don’t have a VHF radio to transmit the data to an aircraft. They are not certified by FAA as an AWOS, and cost about half as much as a fully certified unit. Due to the lack of certification, at least so far, the FAA and NWS haven’t been able to agree on a basis to consider the reports as METARs, and distribute them through the normal FAA weather channels. This is a real problem for John & Suzy Q Pilot, because unless they know exactly where to look, these observations don’t exist. To date these stations have been deployed in the Central/Circle Hot Springs area, Healy and at Whittier. AOPA and other Alaskan aviation groups are pushing both NWS and FAA to find a way to distribute these observations through the normal channels, given that they are intended for use at VFR airports, or non-airport locations along key VFR routes. Given the lack of progress solving this issue between two federal agencies, we have asked Senator Begich, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, for help getting the two agencies to come up with a practical solution to this issue to make the observations available. We will continue to push to make this weather fully available to pilots.

Weather Cameras
The FAA Weather Camera Program is the one bright spot that adds weather information to a pilot’s flight kit when it comes to making go/no-go flight decisions. A set of cameras looking multiple directions, updated every 10 minutes, available on the internet from 221 locations across the state provides a tremendous amount of information for flight planning and decision making. As just one example, the camera at the McKinley Park airstrip is co-located with the AWOS unit there. The camera has helped me “interpret” the AWOS report, which one morning was reporting 1/8 mile visibility. A look at the weather camera revealed blue skys in multiple directions with a few wisps of ground fog in the foreground.  This image let me know I was good to launch for a flight thorough Windy Pass. On another occasion, while the AWOS was reporting “clear below 12,000,” a look at the big, ugly, towering cumulus clouds both to the north and south of the station let me know that this was not a good time to expect smooth sailing through the mountains. The station at the airstrip is located in the of the valley between two sets of ridges, which are often where the clouds form, outside the “view” of the AWOS cloud sensor.

As valuable as the network of cameras is, there is a very serious limitation. Currently, the cameras are good during daylight hours only. Great in the summer, but as days shorten, pilots are back “in the dark” having to make go/no-go decisions before camera observations are available. Even in mid-October a local pilot told me this past week he had to wait until 10 a.m. to get a usable image from an interior camera to tell if he could conduct a flight down the Tanana and middle Yukon Rivers. And we aren’t yet into really short winter days! There are now low-light level cameras on the market that might extend the utility of the camera network, however we need a serious research and development effort to evaluate available sensors, and consider the human factors of how to present other than standard color video data for pilots to use in their decision making process.

Alaska forecasts also have limitations
The sparse network of weather observations impacts pilots in more ways than one. In addition to our own weather interpretation, the NWS forecasters are a major consumer of surface observations. They count on them to make and verify the Area and Terminal Forecasts that we use to anticipate what conditions will be like in a few hours, along a cross-country route of flight. Or how fast a weather system is approaching that will impact even local operations. At a recent conference a map was presented (see below) showing how the Alaska weather forecast areas correspond to a similar size area “outside.” NWS forecasters in three weather offices (Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau) turn out forecasts for areas that would be covered by 68 forecast offices in the lower 48. Even if you discount the marine areas, the three forecast offices are covering an area equal to 30 offices down south. Another way to look at it is that about 50 forecasters in Alaska issue products for an area that is covered by about 400 forecasters “outside.”

The three NWS forecast offices in Alaska cover the an area that overlays 68 forecast areas in the middle of the country.

The three NWS forecast offices in Alaska cover the an area that overlays 68 forecast areas in the middle of the country.

The spatial granularity of Alaska products is also different. Just looking at the winds-aloft product,  Alaska forecasts are reported using a 90 kilometer grid in contrast to a 30 kilometer grid used elsewhere in the country. Pilots flying in Alaska have to bear in mind that while the forecast products look the same across the nation, the informational content of our forecasts are lower than if we were planning a route across other portions of the country.

From this flight planning program screen shot, one can see the difference in density between winds aloft forecast values generated for Alaska versus the rest of the country.

From this flight planning program screen shot, one can see the difference in density between winds aloft forecast values generated for Alaska versus the rest of the country.

We need all the observations we can get
Given the size of Alaska, our reliance on the airplane to provide basic transportation, the diversity of terrain and climate, and paucity of emergency landing areas, we need all the weather observations we can lay our hands on. The lack of conventional weather stations enjoyed by pilots in the rest of the country means that:

a)      We need to continue to have augmented weather in key regional locations.

b)      It is essential that observations from lower cost MAWS sites are fully distributed.

c)      We need fully certified AWOS units at airports with instrument approaches.

d)     It is important to expedite research into expanding the use of weather cameras beyond daylight hours, to obtain better utilization of this innovative program.

AOPA is working with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Air Carriers Association and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation on these issues, and is engaging both the FAA and National Weather Service to express our concerns. We addressed the Senate GA Caucus meeting held by Senator Begich last spring and have also asked for the help of the entire Alaska congressional delegation. In the current budget climate it will not be an easy sell, but for aviation safety and access, we must make the effort.

Seaplane pilots: Whitehorse Schwatka Lake Plan comments needed by Sept 1

Seaplane pilots spoke up last fall when a survey was conducted regarding the use of Whitehorse’s Schwatka Lake. In fact, 84% of the comments received were aviation oriented! Now, the City of Whitehorse is about to consider the Draft Schwatka Lake Area Plan, and your comments are again needed, and due by September 1st. Please take a minute to look the plan over, and comment TODAY!

The draft plan proposes significantly expanding float plane facilities, yet leaves addressing the needs of transient users to local businesses without any definition of transient parking slips or fueling facilities.  Another section of the plan calls for moving non-motorized boat operations, which have traditionally used the east side of the lake, to the west side. This could put them in conflict with float plane operations.  Also called for is the establishment of a working group to implement the Schwatka Lake Area Plan. It seems that this group should include a stakeholder to represent the interests of the transient seaplane users.

Map of the proposed land use from the draft Schwatka Lake Plan.

Map of the proposed land use from the draft Schwatka Lake Plan.

From my quick read of the document, I would recommend commenting on the following points:

  • Given the international and tourism impacts of aircraft flying between the US, Canada and Alaska, more specifically identify the plans for transient floatplane tie-down spots, refueling facilities, surface transportation, access to telephone and restroom facilities, even if they are provided by private business interests.
  • Express concerns about changing use patterns on the lake between floatplane and non-motorized boat users which could impact safety, and impact the viability of the lake for floatplane operations in the long run.
  • Urge the City to designate a transient float plane stakeholder on the working group to implement the plan.

The plan is available online. Comments may be made by email to city planner Erica Beasley [email protected] . The Yukon COPA Chapter suggests sending a copy to [email protected] The deadline is September 1, so ACT TODAY!