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Author: Tom George (page 1 of 10)

Alaska weather reporting survey

Weather is a constant and important topic in Alaska aviation discussions.  Our network of aviation weather reporting stations is sparse in comparison to the rest of the nation.  Today, there are twenty one airports across the state that have instrument approaches, but don’t have weather reporting.

Currently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is doing a survey, inviting the aviation community to express our opinions regarding the priorities to provide automated weather stations (AWOS) for those airports.  Please take a moment to look at the list, and use this opportunity to help establish the needs for weather at these locations, or to nominate other locations that would benefit from additional weather reporting.

Please act today, as the survey runs through March 6th.  Access the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/AirportWS

Alaska GA Survey time—help us help you

Quantifying the nature of General Aviation in Alaska is a big challenge, when it comes to advocating for our needs in the state.  Whether arguing against losing weather reporting stations or evaluating proposed rule changes, the data collected each year by the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey (GA Survey) helps establish our case.

Alaska IS different!
Any of us who have flown in the lower-48 know that Alaska is indeed different, in many ways.  Ownership of our airports (most are operated by the State of Alaska), the density of weather reporting stations (low), towered airports (few), make up of our fleet (think tail-wheeled aircraft), our reliance on aviation (high), and many other things make us different.  The GA Survey designers recognize that, which is why they do a 100% sample of aircraft owners in the state.  That means YOU should by now have found a flyer in your mail box, which is a personal invitation to participate in the survey.

 

Look for this flyer in your mail box. It is your invitation to participate in the GA Survey.

How hard is it?
Not difficult to do, but takes a little bit of preparation. Sit down with your pilot log book, and add up last years flight hours. They would like a breakdown of your uses, in percentage, including categories like business, pleasure, instruction, proficiency, etc.  Other questions ask about the kind of equipment installed in your airplane, including types of GPS, and whether you have equipped with ADS-B.  Total time on your aircraft is another question, along with your average fuel burn.  It took me about 15 minutes to complete the survey online, using the website provided on the notice.  If you are not comfortable with that, give a call or fire off an email and they will send you a hard-copy form, along with a post-paid mailer.

Who gets the data?
The survey is conducted by Tetra Tech, an independent research firm, on behalf of the FAA. No personal information that relates back to your aircraft is released, just summary information that allows both the government, and organizations like AOPA to quantify GA. Things like how many active aircraft are operating in Alaska, how many hours they flew, and how they are equipped.  This helps AOPA and other aviation organizations when it comes to advocating for you.  If you would like to look at the results from previous years’ surveys, check it out at: http://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation_data_statistics/general_aviation/

Even if you didn’t fly last year, or sold your aircraft, please respond to help round out the picture.  If you have questions or need more information, please call Tetra Tech toll free at 1-800-826-1797, or email [email protected]

If you already completed the survey, thank you.  If not, please do so today!

Alaska Pilot Reports Are Increasing!

When we pick up the mike and file a Pilot Report (PIREP) with Flight Service or ATC, we add an observation that helps the entire aviation community.  If weather is questionable, the first aircraft out in the morning is often the “weather ship” that reports conditions back to other pilots waiting to make their decision to fly. When we are that pilot sitting at the airport, with a forecast that could go either way, it can be very frustrating to wait for that first report along the route, or from the other side of the mountain pass.  Fortunately, a lot of attention has been given to PIREPs in the last couple of years, which I am cautiously optimistic to say is starting to produce results!  I would like to share with you some of the efforts that have brought us this far.

Lack of PIREPs concerning

Aircraft at the 2015 Valdez Fly-In, but no PIREPs in the system. Photo by Russ Ingram.

Aircraft at the 2015 Valdez Fly-In, but no PIREPs in the system. Photo by Russ Ingram.

The Valdez Fly-In, that takes place nominally the second weekend in May, is the largest event of its kind in the state. When the weather allows,  several hundred aircraft fly in to participate in the short field landing contest or other competitive events, or pilots may want to observe, socialize and simply enjoy aviation.  For the past couple of years, the weather has been a little dicey flying into Valdez, and yet both in 2014 and 2015 there were almost no PIREPs filed by those that did make it in.  This would have been a tremendous tool to help those flying behind decide if it was good idea to fly into what can certainly be considered some challenging terrain.   When I shared that observation with our friends at the Alaska Flight Service Program, they were interested enough to stand up a small working group to dig into the problem.  A number of industry organizations, including the Alaska Airmen Association, Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and the Alaska Air Carriers Association have been meeting with FAA, the FAA Weather Camera Program, National Weather Service, National Institute of Occupational Health and others to explore issues regarding how PIREPs are collected and distributed — as well as look at ways to encourage pilots to file more of them.  Based on the work of this group, Flight Service has been more actively training their staff to solicit reports beyond the generic request normally received when pilots open a flight plan.

NTSB joins the party
Separate to this Alaska based activity, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had seen a number of cases nationally in which PIREPs — had they been shared in a timely fashion — could have averted several accidents.   We learned that the NTSB was undertaking a special investigation into PIREPs, which prompted AOPA to conduct a national survey on the topic.  Many hours went into designing, conducting, promoting and evaluating the results. Last May, approximately 700 pilots took the time to respond to the survey—thank you to those who participated!  The survey revealed some interest results, here are a few highlights:

  • 83% of the pilots said PIREPs were “very” or “extremely” important for aviation safety
  • 71% indicated the emphasis on PIREPs during initial flight training was “little” to “none.”
  • While three-quarters of the respondents said they filed reports, 84% said they did so “sometimes” or “rarely.”

There are more results from the survey, but I will save that for another time.  A couple of interesting perceptions came out of the study. There is a general feeling that ATC isn’t interested in recording PIPEPS, with one respondent stating, “I have little confidence my PIREPS are going past their ears.” It was also felt that the reports are mostly a high-altitude feature.  The chief problem expressed was a shortage of reports, especially at lower altitudes: “Too few PIREPs are available for my route of flight to be useful” and “For flying lower than 5,000 feet, there just isn’t much PIREP information available.”  There were many complaints about difficulties in filing PIREPs, some of which are related to procedures in the lower 48 states rather than here in Alaska.  The feature that pilots wanted to see the most was an automated filing ability through applications such as Foreflight.

The NTSB held a two-day PIREP Forum at the end of June in Washington, DC where these and other results were shared with an impressive mixture of industry and government aviation stakeholders.  We are expecting to see what the NTSB gleaned from their investigation, due out in a report any day now.

The graphic display of PIREPs make it easier to access during flight planning (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

The graphic display of PIREPs make it easier to access during flight planning (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

Access to PIREPs has improved
It has become easier to access PIREPs in the past two years.  In addition to getting them via phone from FSS, or in a DUATs briefing there are now several websites that have either added or upgraded their capabilities to include graphic displays of PIREPs.  The National Weather Service’s Alaska Aviation Weather Unit has featured PIREPs for years, but now has a more dynamic zoomable map.  The FAA weather camera website has added PIREPs as a feature that the user may select to view, and SkyVector.com added reports with a graphic symbol that gives pilots a clue to the nature of the report as you plan your flight.  More details on these systems and features may be found on an earlier blog post (http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/?p=2737).

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2015 to 2016

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2015 to 2016

Results are encouraging
The good news is that the Alaska Flight Service Program reports some dramatic increases in PIREPs filed this summer in contrast to last year.  The figure below shows reports received by Flight Service for the months of July, August and September.  The graphic is a little complex, but shows a combination of the total number of 2016 PIREPs and the percent change from the same months in 2015. A third variable is the change in “traffic” for those months. By traffic, we mean the number of radio contacts FSS had with pilots that month.  For example, in July of  2016 there were over 3,000 PIREPs filed with Alaska FSS.  That was a 39% increase over July, 2015 while there was only 1.3% more traffic over the past year.  August saw a 26% increase in the PIREPs, while the number of calls to FSS was actually lower than the previous year. September was the lowest number of PIREPs received at just under 2,500, which still represented an 8 percent increase over the previous year.  I am still puzzling over whether September was such a good weather month that fewer pilots felt the need to file, but it is still very good news overall.

Comparison of PIREPs filed with the Alaska Flight Service Program for three months in 2016 in comparison to 2016

Looking ahead
It is easy to look at a single set on numbers and get excited, but there is still work to be done. One thing that was clear from the NTSB Forum—there are more audiences for PIREPs than just pilots. The weather forecasters say they rely on them heavily to create and validate their forecasts.  Atmospheric scientists archive and use PIREPs to develop and test new forecasting models.  ATC uses them to decide when to change arrival and departure routes during dynamic weather situations, and of course the pilot behind you who hasn’t yet entered the mountain pass is waiting to hear what conditions are like today.

Please be sure to file a PIREP or two as you fly, even if it reporting flight good conditions. The weather forecasters are also interested in reports that confirm the lack of turbulence, or other conditions that might be better than the forecast.  They will change the extent of an AIRMET or create a SIGMET, sometimes on the strength of a single report.  If you want to contribute to improving safety in the aviation community, but feel you need to bone up on how to give a PIREP, the AOPA Air Safety Institute offers an online PIREPs Made Easy class (https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/online-learning/online-courses).

The real test will be to see how many PIREPs are filed leading up the Valdez Fly-In next May!

Alaskan Spidertracks scholarship deadline approaching

Sometimes good things can result from tragic events.  On April 14, 2015 Wasilla pilot Dale Carlson was on an IFR flight plan to Valdez in his Cessna 180, when he reported having engine trouble over Prince William Sound.   Carlson maintained communications with ATC and another aircraft in the area for a short while as he descended, before impacting the water in his wheel-equipped aircraft. He unfortunately did not survive the crash.  The NTSB Report attributes icing as the likely cause of the accident.

Locating the wreckage
Carlson had alerted ATC to his engine problem, and declared an emergency, before losing radio contact during his descent.  The aircraft was equipped with a 406 MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which NTSB believes was activated while the aircraft was still in flight.  The ELT is designed to transmit simultaneously on 406, 243 and 121.5 MHz frequencies.  Another aircraft in the area picked up the ELT signal on 121.5 MHz, which only lasted briefly. The 406 MHz signal never was received by the Rescue Coordination Center.  Fortunately, the aircraft was also equipped with a spidertracks system, which transmits a GPS derived location, and other flight parameters via satellite system to a computer system on the ground.  When the flight track from this device was relayed to the Coast Guard, they were able to locate the wreckage, and recover the remains of the pilot.  Without that information it is doubtful that they would have been able to target a search area.

Satellite tracking versus ELTs
Today, ELTs are required equipment on almost all aircraft to provide a distress call in the event of an accident.  While they may be triggered prior to impact, the more normal scenario is to be activated automatically by deceleration when an aircraft impacts, or manually by the pilot or passengers afterward, if they are able to do so.  Satellites in orbit are listening on the 406 MHz frequency for distress signals, which, in the United States, are transmitted to the NOAA Mission Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. From there alerts are forwarded to the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) in Anchorage or the US Coast Guard in Juneau, depending on the location of the report.  The 406 MHz ELTs have proven to be much more reliable than the older model units that operated on 121.5 MHz, however all too often  ELTs fail to function after a crash, and no report is received.  The pilot in this case appeared to have activated his ELT while airborne, however it only operated for about 20 seconds, which was apparently not long enough for the distress signal to be picked up by the satellite.

In contrast, satellite tracking systems such as spidertracks, SPOT and the Delorme InReach may be configured to transmit a location on a specified time interval from an aircraft inflight, to a computer system on the ground.  Of these three systems, spidertracks is specifically designed for aviation use.  In addition to transmitting a position report on a specified time interval, typically every two minutes, it may be configured to automatically generate an alert if the signals stop being received without the pilot indicating he or she has completed the flight.  With this feature not only is the aircraft location known within the last two minutes of flight, an alert is automatically sent to one or more people by text message or email to sound the search and rescue alarm.  In contrast to the ELT, which may or may not survive the crash to issue a distress call—if the spidertracks quits transmitting, the loss of position reports generates the call for help!

As an added form of search and rescue insurance, the Alaska FAA Flight Service Program has a program that covers the state.  Alerts from several satellite tracking systems can be sent directly to Flight Service, matched against your flight plan, and quickly forwarded to RCC. See the eSRS Program for details.  A related service is offered by Lockheed Martin Flight Service in other parts of the country.

Carlson logoScholarship Program
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Carlson family appreciated the role that the satellite tracking device had played in locating the crash site.  Working with the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation (AASF), they established the Dale Carlson Memorial Scholarship Program  to provide spidertracks units and a year’s tracking service to other Alaska aircraft owners. The program seeks to help new pilots and pilots that otherwise may not be able to afford to equip their aircraft with spidertrack units. Applicants should hold at least a private pilot certificate, be based in Alaska, should own the aircraft they fly, and should fly at least 50 hours a year. The Carlson family realizes the value and added safety features of satellite tracking systems and would like to see as many pilots as possible use spidertracks in hopes that all family members can be brought home—regardless of the outcome of the incident.

To apply, the scholarship form is available at: spidertracks application.  Other partners in the program are spidertracks, Northern Lights Avionics, and the Alaska Airmen Association.  Application deadline for this round is October 31st, so act today!

Circle Hot Springs Airport winter maintenance suspended

As the reality of reduced budgets ripples through the State of Alaska, the impacts are starting to become visible.  In a press release today, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) announced that they were closing or reducing operations at five road maintenance stations. And more importantly to the aviation community, ceasing winter maintenance at the Circle Hot Springs Airport (CHP), 100 miles north east of Fairbanks.

Winter maintenance is being suspended at the Circle Hot Springs airport, due to DOT budget cuts.

Winter maintenance is being suspended at the Circle Hot Springs airport, due to DOT budget cuts. (Image courtesy of SkyVector.com)

In the announcement DOT&PF indicated that the airport would remain open for airplanes to use if they had suitable equipment, such as skis for winter operations.  Starting this month, the runway will no longer be plowed or lit.  The department did confirm that the near-by airport at Central (CEM) will continue to be maintained.

In past years, flying to Circle Hot Springs for the day or weekend was a popular thing to do.  It was also used by student pilots in the Fairbanks area as a cross-country airport during flight training.  Returning to Fairbanks on one of those flights (in the pre-GPS era) I became, ah—temporarily disoriented.  It was a good lesson to look around and realize that I still had boundaries, like the Tanana River, to help find my way back to Fairbanks.

DOT&PF’s general fund budget has been reduced by 60 million dollars since last year, a twenty-two percent reduction.  With the hot springs that is served by this airport currently closed to the public, the closure may have a minimal impact.  It is likely we will see additional changes that hit the rural airport system.  If the change in maintenance status at Circle Hot Springs impacts you, however, please shoot me an email ([email protected]) and let me know.

Follow-on Survey for Alaska IFR users

If you fly IFR below 18,000 feet in Alaska, AOPA and the Alaska Airmens Association need to hear from you—again.  In July, an online survey was conducted to query IFR pilots about the Alaskan low-altitude enroute structure.  The results of that survey helped us learn some of the details about how we navigate the enroute structure.  While GPS is the most predominant navigation tool, about 20% of the time VOR’s are still used to fly Victor routes. It also revealed that obtaining low Minimum Enroute Altitudes (MEAs) to stay out of ice is a major desire to successfully use the IFR system.  This and other information from the survey was used to start a discussion with FAA about the possible evolution of the Alaska enroute IFR structure.  An industry lead group met with FAA in August to consider what changes might be made in Alaska to support the migration to NextGen, while not losing important qualities of the current system.

Alaska has several pockets of Class G “brown” airspace, above 1,200 ft agl. Pilots flying IFR in this airspace do not receive aircraft separation services.  An IFR pilot survey is looking for feedback from pilots regarding this type of airspace.

Alaska has several pockets of Class G “brown” airspace, above 1,200 ft agl. Pilots flying IFR in this airspace do not receive aircraft separation services. An IFR pilot survey is looking for feedback from pilots regarding this type of airspace.

More information needed
AOPA, working with the Alaska Airmens Association, is launching a second survey to obtain more information that will help inform the group concerning general aviation needs regarding the enroute phase of IFR operations in Alaska.  Questions about how the aircraft you fly are equipped, if you fly IFR in “brown” (Class G) airspace, and if you have encountered problems communicating with ATC are among the topics covered.  Taking five minutes to answer these and other questions will help us advocate for changes to improve the IFR infrastructure in Alaska.  If you are an active IFR pilot, please click here, and take the survey today!

Alaska Weather TV Program Schedule Changes: Can you view it?

Pilots in Alaska are able to maintain “situational awareness” of the weather with the help of Alaska Weather, a half-hour TV program created jointly by the Anchorage PBS station KAKM and the National Weather Service (NWS).  Recent programming changes at KAKM have changed when the program is aired around the state.  If you aren’t finding the program when you used to watch it, check to see if it has shifted time slot, or in some cases even to a different channel.  Programming changes at KAKM/Alaska Public Media appear to be responsible for the shift in air times.  KUAC, the PBS TV station in Fairbanks, initially announced cancellation of the program.  Fortunately, station management responded to feedback from the aviation community and resumed broadcast of the program, but at a new time and channel.  If these program changes have impacted your ability to view the program, please let us know!

New schedule
According to NWS, the new show times are as depicted below:

new schedule for AK Wx

This may still be a bit dynamic, so check with NWS for the latest schedule information.

Background
Alaska Weather dates back some four decades to the early days of public television. It started life as “Aviation Weather” devoted primarily to aviation, before broadening its scope to include more public and marine forecasts.  In between the aviation and marine forecasts, the show includes a short segment on a safety related topic. Two days a week that segment is “Hangar Flying” hosted by the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, which introduces the viewers to aviation topics and personalities around the state.

Alaska Weather covers conditions at a state-wide scale, and provides a two-day forecast of the synoptic patterns that are influencing our weather. In my own experience, this has been helpful to have in my head before I start checking weather for a flight, especially when headed to a different region of the state, where conditions might be quite different from those in my local area.  It also helps evaluate whether I can expect to make the return flight, which is often information outside the range of the normal aviation forecasts.

I believe the program has many viewers other than pilots and mariners.  Alaska is full of outdoor people who hike, ski, hunt, camp, travel by canoe, dog sled and snow machine, all of which makes them vulnerable to the weather.  Rural residents also tend to pay close attention to the weather that impacts their subsistence and travel activities.

More opportunities to watch?
The internet wasn’t around when Alaska Weather started in the middle 70’s.  Since that time, we have a much greater range of choices to obtain weather information.  Today, in addition to viewing on television, after 6 pm each day the program is available online at: http://www.weather.gov/afc/tv  While this creates schedule flexibility, not everyone has access to the internet, or sufficient bandwidth to view it in this form.

As we understand from pilot training, weather forecasts are a very perishable commodity.  If you end up viewing Alaska Weather on one of the Alaska Public Media stations (Anchorage, Juneau and Bethel) at 5 a.m. the next morning, the forecasts are already twelve hours old. Under dynamic conditions, the value of this information may be much diminished.

Please study the new broadcast schedule, and make sure you know how to find Alaska Weather in your community.  If these schedule changes have negatively impacted your ability to view the program, please speak up.  Below are points of contact for the stations involved.  If you comment, please send me a copy:  [email protected].

Alaska Public Media (KAKM-TV Anchorage, KTOO-TV Juneau, KYUK-TV Bethel):

http://www.alaskapublic.org/about/contact/

or email Kristen Doogan, Director of TV Programing and On Air Promotions, Alaska Public Media: [email protected]

KUAC-TV Fairbanks:

http://kuac.org/about-us/contact-us/

 

September is Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska

Governor Bill Walker declared September to be Aviation Appreciation Month in Alaska.  In the proclamation, Governor Walker touched on the many ways that aviation is a vital form of transportation, starting with the high number per capita of planes and pilots who are active.  He also acknowledges the role aviation plays in providing jobs, the military presence, and the vested interest Alaska has in the continued vitality of the industry.

The state itself owns about 250 airports, ranging from the large international airports at Anchorage and Fairbanks, to regional hubs, community airports and backcountry airstrips operated by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.  In addition there are a couple dozen airports run by municipal governments, and hundreds of privately owned airstrips scattered across the state.  As you use these facilities, please take a moment to thank the people that keep them open and available for our use!

Link below to the full document.

Link below to the full document.

08.29.16 Aviation Appreciation Month

ADS-B Coverage gaps in Alaska: Your help is needed

If you fly in Alaska and have invested in ADS-B equipment for your airplane, you may be a little frustrated. When the places you fly aren’t within range of a ground station, to provide current weather data and the full picture of surrounding air traffic, you may be asking yourself—why did I invest?  Today, the network of ground station is limited, and it is easy to fly out of coverage. If this is happening to you, FAA (and AOPA) would like to hear from you, to help make the case to expand the network of stations.

Background
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B in our acronym laden world, is a major component of the FAA’s NextGen Program, to modernize the National Airspace System.  It relies on equipment in our airplanes that uses GPS to tell other aircraft (and the FAA via ground stations) where we are, and allow us to see each other.

[See AOPA’s website for more information about ADS-B, or take the Air Safety Foundations online course.]

The system is designed to improve situational awareness for VFR operations and to help Air Traffic Control provide traffic separation for IFR aircraft.  It also offers a stream of aviation weather data, and other information to come directly to our cockpit–when we are in range of a ground station.  And that is the problem.  The network of ground stations in Alaska leaves a lot to be desired.  The map below gives an estimate of current ADS-B coverage in Alaska.  But there is hope for expanding the network.

The light blue areas show the estimated coverage areas of the current network of ADS-B ground stations in Alaska. Major gaps in interior and south central and the Brooks Range leave almost 40 percent of Alaska without coverage at the altitudes typical GA aircraft fly.

The light blue areas show the estimated coverage areas of the current network of ADS-B ground stations in Alaska. Major gaps in the interior, south central and the Brooks Range leave almost 40 percent of Alaska without coverage at the altitudes typical GA aircraft fly.

Making a Business Case
The FAA has a process to prepare a “business case” before investing in infrastructure. They are currently re-evaluating the needs for ADS-B coverage in Alaska, and if they can find sufficient need to justify it, we could see an expansion of the ground station network.  Here is where you come in. The FAA would like to know:

(a) if your aircraft is equipped,

(b) where you operate that does not have ADS-B coverage today and,

(c) what kinds of flying you do—activities like commercial operations, medivac, aerial data collection, guiding, game surveys, recreation, etc.

The more evidence of need by the aviation community they can document, the better chance of making a positive business case to expand the network.  The map below shows where the ground station network currently in place shows flights on May 9th.  But chances are there were ADS-B equipped aircraft flying outside those areas which would have benefited from additional ground stations.

Map shows the tracks of ADS-B equipped aircraft. Most of the green tracks are from airlines in the flight levels. In many cases the aircraft at lower altitudes were flights that went beyond the limits of coverage. Hearing from the pilots who fly ‘off the edge” of the map could help make the case for additional ground stations.

Map shows the tracks of ADS-B equipped aircraft. In many cases the  flights went beyond the limits of coverage. Hearing from the pilots who fly ‘off the edge” of the map could help make the case for additional ground stations.

How you can help
If your aircraft is equipped with ADS-B Out hardware, and you are willing to share the answers to the question posed above with the FAA, please contact Jimmy Wright in Juneau, at: [email protected] or (907) 790-7316.  The more need for this system we can establish, the better chance of filling in some of the coverage gaps, to provide Alaska with a minimum operating network of stations.

Airstrips considered in Wrangell-St. Elias Park Plan

At 13 million acres in size, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest park in the United States.  Like most national parks in Alaska, it has very limited road access, making airplanes one of the major forms of transportation to get into the backcountry.  The National Park Service (NPS) is currently conducting a Backcountry and Wilderness Stewardship Plan which covers the bulk of the park, including 9.4 million acres of designated wilderness and 1.7 million acres of proposed backcountry.

Outline of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Outline of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Character of Wrangell-St. Elias
Not only is the park large, it contains features which are almost mind-boggling in scale. Mt. Wrangell, an active volcano, and other mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet; mountain and piedmont glaciers, including the Malaspina Glacier, largest of its type on the planet; world class Copper deposits, and a rich history of mining, exploration, and discovery.  It has spectacular scenery, and is a fantastic place to visit.  My first trip, as a kid, was by float plane to Tanada Lake in 1959, before it was established as a park. But I digress…

Backcountry airstrips and landing areas
The plan recognizes that the use of aircraft is a primary means of access to the park. Of particular interest to the aviation community, it contains two lists of airstrips and landing areas that would be maintained to serve as access points.

The first list (Table 1), designates airstrips that would be maintained within wilderness areas.

list of airstrips in wildnerness area

A second list (Table 2) includes airstrips in areas designated as backcountry. The difference being that maintenance in wilderness is generally limited to hand tools, where power tools may be utilized in backcountry areas.

list of airstrips in backcountry

More significantly, landing areas in designated wilderness, but not included in one of these tables would not be maintained.  It is important to look carefully at these lists and comment if there are other landing areas you believe should be added to either of these lists.  Not currently mentioned in the plan is that the aviation community–specifically EAA Chapter 42– has a history of working with NPS to help maintain some of the backcountry airstrips in the park.  I hope a result of this plan will be increased efforts between the aviation community and the park service to continue maintenance of these airstrips, while at the same time preserving the character of the areas.

The plan subdivides the park into zones, and outlines different management actions accordingly. If you are a user of Wrangell-St. Elias, look at the areas you have experience with to see what standards or management actions are described.  The thrust of the plan is to initiate long-term monitoring of different indicators, typically updated every five years, to see if standards are being exceeded, which would require more intensive management.  While we are focusing here on airstrips, the plan also contains lists of Public Use cabins and other structures that would be maintained, as well as addressing Snow Machine and Off Road Vehicle use.

Comments
NPS has posted the proposed plan on their website, and has extended the comment period until August 30.  Comments may be submitted via email to [email protected].  If you have comments on the airstrips or other aspect of aviation use, please copy AOPA to keep us in the loop.

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