Volunteers needed to test Alaska PIREP website

The National Weather Service is looking for pilots willing to test a new enhanced Pilot Report page on the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s (AAWU) website.   The AAWU has displayed PIREPs graphically for many years, however recent technical problems lead them to upgrade the page. Fortunately for us, instead of just fixing the current PIREP map, NWS decided to significantly enhance the page. Presently, a “beta” version is available at the link below, with live data. Please take some time over the next two weeks to give it a try and let both NWS and AOPA know how you like it. Most importantly, let us know if the new page does not work on the devices you use.

http://aawu.arh.noaa.gov/index2.php?tab=4

aawu pirep page graphic

A sample showing the new PIREP page, with a zoomable map, and the ability to choose a time-range from one to as much as 24 hours. PIREPs above FL180 are displayed in blue, while lower altitude reports are green.

What’s Different?
The existing PIREP webpage contained a fixed scale map, which covers the entire state. Where there were multiple PIREPs at a single location, it was often challenging to select a specific report. The new site has a map that zooms to larger scales, giving a far more detailed depiction of the report location. NWS kept the ability to filter reports by time. If there are lots of PIREPs in the system, a user can display just the most recent reports. Conversely, you may choose to look at reports over the past 24 hours to evaluate trends. There are still a few refinements that could be made, and we appreciate the NWS inviting us to provide feedback before they declare the site operational.

More on PIREPs
This is one part of a larger aviation community effort to increase the number and quality of PIREPs in Alaska. These reports are a vital component of the information pilots rely on for aviation decision making, and NWS uses to validate aviation forecasts. AOPA and other Alaska aviation organizations are working with the FAA and NWS to examine the PIREP system and to encourage pilots to file more PIREPs. If you haven’t already done so, consider taking the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s online SkySpotter: PIREPs made easy (go to: http://www.aopa.org/Education/Online-Courses/Pireps-Made-Easy), for a refresher on this topic. It is free, available to all pilots.

Expect to see more on this topic in the months ahead, but for now, try out the AAWU’s new PIREP page. Please send your feedback to the AAWU at: [email protected]  and copy AOPA at [email protected].

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures Meeting in Alaska

The FAA’s update to the list of cold temperature restricted airports has generated questions from Alaska pilots about the process. Initially raised at a meeting of the Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association in Fairbanks, the FAA is sending an official to Alaska from Washington DC to explain and discuss the procedures. Kel Christianson, from Flight Standards Performance Based Flight Systems Branch (AFS-470), will meet with pilots on Wednesday, January 20 at 7 p.m. Mr. Christianson will cover the background on why and how cold temperature correction procedures have been instituted in the National Airspace System, and provide detailed examples on making altitude corrections to instrument approach procedures.

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures apply to nearly 100 airports in Alaska.

Cold Temperature Correction Procedures apply to nearly 100 airports in Alaska.

The Fairbanks based CFI association compiled specific questions from Alaska operators in advance and supplied them to the FAA. A question and answer session will follow the briefing. FAA Air Traffic Control staff will also be on hand to answer questions. The meeting is being sponsored by the FAA Safety Team, and will take place at the Fairbanks International Airport Operations Center, 5195 Brumbaugh Blvd, on the west side of the airport.

Since almost a hundred Alaska airports are on the list, and winter tends to be our dominant season, these procedures may have a major impact on those pilots who fly IFR. Consider taking advantage of this meeting to learn more about this topic.

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 http://www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Tfrs 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, www.aviationsurvey.org.

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. (Skyvector.com 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 www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Alaska 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: http://aawu.arh.noaa.gov/

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.