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.
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!