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Author: Tom George (page 2 of 13)

Help NWS monitor river breakup, with PIREPs or pictures

Looking for a reason to go flying—even though it isn’t exactly summer yet?  Like to provide a public service at the same time?  With ice starting to melt in Alaska’s rivers, the National Weather Service (NWS) is once again happy to receive Pilot Reports and digital photos as they monitor breakup, and forecast possible flooding along our major rivers.  Pilots willing to supply observations are invited to participate in the River Watch Program.

2018 Breakup Forecast
To get a preview of breakup predictions this year, NWS has posted a five minute video with an overview of conditions going into the season.  Some parts of the state have an elevated flood potential, given snow pack, ice thickness and forecasts of the weeks ahead.  If you live in one of these areas, participating in River Watch could be very helpful, as the melt season progresses.

What is River Watch?
NWS established the River Watch Program to enlist the aid of pilots who are willing to provide information on the ice conditions as they fly. Pilots voluntarily participating in the program are provided basic information on the mechanisms of river ice break up, and asked to file Pilot Reports (PIREPs) while on routine flights.  FAA Flight Service specialists have also been trained to take these PIREPs, formatted with a special syntax.   NWS river hydrologists receive the PIREPs, providing them with a valuable set of observations in a timely fashion, describing ice or flooding conditions as the spring season progresses.

While the voluntary program initially targeted air taxi pilots, making their daily rounds, reports are welcomed from any pilot wishing to participate.  NWS has posted information their website that provides details about the program including the PIREP format to use, and terms to describe river ice conditions.

This document, available on the NWS website, describes the format for River Watch PIREPs, and common terms used to describe ice conditions at different stages of break-up

What’s new?
This program has been in place for many years, but technology is providing some new ways to interact.  While calling Flight Service with a PIREP is probably the fastest way to convey river conditions, here are some additional methods to provide information:

  • File a PIREP online. Last year, the Aviation Weather Center provided a portal that allows pilots to file PIREPs online.  It takes two steps: first establish an account with the AWC (it’s free), and then request the ability to file PIREPs.  After that one-time approval you will now have access to the PIREP submission form under the Tools menu, while signed into your account.  (See link below for details). Study the details on River Watch PIREP formats in the reference links below.
  • Send an e-mail, directly to the river forecasters. If you have a more detailed report than fits in a PIREP, providing the information in an email after you land may be a better way to go.  To help with geographic reference, NWS has marked up flight charts segments with river miles along major river basins. You may print one of these for the intended route, making it easier to communicate locations of ice jams, or other features.  It may also be worth printing the River Ice PIREP format, with standard terms to describe ice and flooding conditions.
  • Send pictures directly to NWS forecasters—with the locations imbedded in them. If using an iPhone

    A photo taken using the Theodolite App on an iPhone. GPS coordinates are displayed on the image, with the viewing direction and other data. More importantly, the coordinates are also included in the EXIF file associated with the image. This allows NWS to import the image directly into their system, showing the location where the image was taken. Other apps also capture GPS locations, if permissions are set to enable that feature.

    or other camera that has the ability to attach GPS coordinates, (typically in the form of an EXIF format file), NWS may be able to import the photo location directly, to see where each picture was taken. In some cases, a picture is worth a thousand words!

  • Phone calls are yet another way to report river conditions. Call the River Forecast Center directly at 1-800-847-1739 during the hours between 6 am and 5 pm, especially if you observe a flood developing, or other hazardous condition.

Regardless of how you choose to provide information, consider using the increasing hours of daylight, and the need to monitor river conditions as an excuse to peel off the wing covers and take to the skies.  It is a good excuse to go flying. It also helps the river forecasters and the residents who live along the rivers, who need to know what to expect as the ice goes out this spring!

 

Reference Links:
River Watch Program overview: https://www.weather.gov/aprfc/riverwatchprogram

Filing PIREPs online: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2017/may/16/nws-website-accepts-distributes-pilot-reports

River Watch Poster: https://www.weather.gov/media/aprfc/rwpflyer.pdf

Watch for TFR near Gulkana for spring HAARP Campaign

Heads up for pilots flying in the Copper River Basin—the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is conducting a research campaign this month.  HAARP is operated by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to support auroral and upper-atmospheric research. The FAA will again establish a TFR over the facility, 16 nautical miles north east of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), along the Tok Cutoff, when the facility is running.  The campaign starts with a test day on April 3rd, with the bulk of the campaign taking place from April 6-14.  Check for NOTAMs with specific times the TFR will be in effect.

This campaign  supports a number of research projects.  Operating times fluctuate due to the constantly changing nature of the ionosphere.  While they won’t be operating outside the times listed in the NOTAM, there may be gaps within those time windows.  As part of being a good neighbor, the HAARP Project is providing a local phone number (907-822-5497) pilots may use for more detailed information, and a new VHF radio frequency, 123.3 MHz, to call airborne when flying in the vicinity of the facility.  For more background on this program see this previous post.  AOPA has requested that the HAARP facility be charted, to increase situational awareness of the facility.

Alaska Aircraft Owners: Think Spring and the GA Survey

As we start to see the end, hopefully, of another long winter in Alaska, one of the signs of spring is the emergence of the GA and Part 135 Activity Survey.  This survey is conducted by an independent research firm, Tetra Tech, and gives AOPA and other aviation organizations one of the few ways we have to quantify the activities of our segment of the aviation industry. Airlines and some categories of air taxi operators provide routine statistics directly to the FAA quantifying their operations and passengers hauled.  No comparable measures exist for the wide range of general aviation activities.  Consequently, the data collected by Tetra Tech is a very valuable resource, when it comes to advocating for our needs.

Advocating for better weather reporting is one of AOPA’s efforts in Alaska.

Alaska IS different
While we are often heard saying “Alaska is different,” we need your help to prove it.  We know Alaskan pilots use airplanes in place of pick-up trucks, as there are no roads to 82% of the communities in the state.  We know about our very sparse network of weather reporting stations, in contrast to the rest of the country.  But when it comes to making the case to improve this and other infrastructure, it is essential to be able to quantify how much flying we do.  And what kind of flying it is—business, pleasure, aerial observations, etc.

The folks at Tetra Tech also know Alaska is different, and to help us out they do a 100% sample of Alaskan aircraft owners.  So I am pretty sure you will have a postcard, email, or some kind of invitation to participate in the survey.  To take the survey, follow the instructions on the Survey invitation when you receive it.  You need your log book, the total time on your aircraft and how much fuel you burn/hour.  The few minutes it takes to complete the survey will help AOPA and other aviation industry groups to advocate on your behalf.  The survey results are confidential, with only summary statistics made available to the FAA.  For more information, see AOPA’s article, and if you have questions, call Tetra Tech at 1-800-826-1797. Or write to [email protected]  To take the survey online, go to: www.aviationsurvey.org.

If you have already completed the survey, Thank You!

History of the Aviation Infrastructure in Alaska

Most Alaskan’s know that the first powered aircraft flight in Alaska took place in 1913, as a demonstration at that year’s Fourth of July celebration in Fairbanks.  And that commercial aviation started a decade later when pioneer aviator Ben Eielson talked several Fairbanks businessmen into buying a Curtis JN-4D “Jenny.”  Eielson proceeded to fly from the local ball field, sometimes cutting weeks off the travel time to remote mining claims. But when did we start to develop the airfields, communication and weather stations to support this new mode of transportation?  Who did the work? I recently spent a few hours at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the Rasumson Library looking for answers to these and other questions.

From air fields to airport system
As “the aviation” first started to develop, airplanes literally operated from fields.  A ball-field in Fairbanks.  Hay fields in other places.  Since Alaska did not achieve statehood until 1959, the initial efforts at dealing with aviation as a system fell to Alaska Territorial government.  Aviation is included in the 1929 Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska to the Secretary of the Interior, mentioning that “At the present time there are 44 landing fields in the Territory and three transportation companies operating a total of eight commercial airplanes.” At the time individual communities raised funds to develop an airfield, expecting to receive matching funds from Alaska’s Territorial government.  In Valdez, the city not only raised money, they put sweat equity into the project by clearing the land, even before there was an aircraft to base there!

A series of reports of the Alaska Aeronautics & Communications Commission helped document aspects of this history.  In 1929, the Territorial Legislature appropriated funds administered by the Highway Engineer to “…purchase, install and maintain radio-telephone station equipment for the larger towns.”  The report went on to say, “In a short time the problem of communications became too complicated for the Highway Engineer, and subsequently in 1937 the Legislature established the Territorial Department known as the Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission.”

Definition of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communications Commission, established in 1937. Source: Report of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communications Commission, 1941-42.

1937 Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission
The Commission, comprised of the Territorial Governor and one commission member from each of Alaska’s four judicial districts, initially oversaw the installation of weather stations, and collected statistics on aviation activity, which were detailed in a series of annual reports.  A supervisor was hired to coordinate this activity. The commission’s initial role was “supervision and promotion of aeronautical and communications within the Territory…” even then, not to duplicate or conflict with federal regulations.

The first report covering 1937-38, filed by Supervisor G.E. Goudie, describes coordinating with both the federal CAA and the FCC.  In that period, the commission managed to stand-up weather stations in Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage. Observers at these locations recorded weather reports, issued eight hourly weather broadcasts daily and wired reports to the Weather Bureau.  Work was underway for a station in Ketchikan.  In addition, “radio ranges” for navigation were in planning stages for these locations.

Territorial operation of these stations was to be a temporary measure, until the CAA could obtain funds to take over the “Alaska Program.” Alaska was already behind the rest of the country in the development of infrastructure.  In addition to weather and aviation communications, the use of this communication network included emergency messages, often involving need for medical assistance or transport.  These were credited with saving numerous lives across the territory.

New aviation regulations for Alaska
As the United States geared up for war, the military temporarily took over operation of some of the territorial radio stations, and aviation operations in general. Even at that time, people were looking ahead to the need to expand, as manufactures announced planned production of aircraft to support “private flying.” From the 1942 report, “Numerous manufactures have recently announced planes, suitable for use by the average citizen and within the reach of his finances, to be manufactured after the war.” In anticipation of that surge of air travel, the commission worked on safety rules, “…requiring certain safety provisions be carried out thereby reducing the possibility of increased costs to the territory in the conducting of searches…” This generated a territorial requirement for Alaskan aircraft to carry emergency rations, in a regulation adopted March 22, 1943.  That report also contains territory-wide maps shows the commercial air routes, areas authorized for “irregular routes” and radio stations in use at the time.

Toward a full Department of Aviation
From the inception of the Commission in 1937 into the early 1940’s, the focus had largely been on establishing weather stations, radio networks, and the collection of aviation statistics.  In a later article, I plan to outline the next steps in development, which include an increased focus on airports, eventually leading to the establishment of a full-fledged Department of Aviation in the late 1940’s.  A big thank you to the staff at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library for their assistance locating the reports that document this history!

Alaska air transportation routes map from the Report of the Alaska Aeronautics and Communication Commission, 1942-43

FAA plans to decommission NDB’s at Glenallen, Mekoryuk and Noatak: User feedback requested

The FAA has issued Letters to Airmen outlining plans to decommission the Nondirectional Beacons (NDBs) at the Gulkana (GKN), Mekoryuk (MYU) and Noatak (WTK) airports.  In all three cases, the decommissioning’s are for navaids that have failed, and have been out of service for some time.  Even though they are non-functional, they serve as fixes that are part of the airway structure, or are components of instrument approaches.   If the removal of these navaids impacts your operation, please let the FAA know, using the contact information provided below.

Moving to Space Based IFR Infrastructure
While the FAA is moving to a space-based IFR system, NDBs in some locations are still serving not only as the basis for instrument approach procedures, but as anchor fixes for IFR airways.  Last year AOPA was part of an industry group that looked at the IFR Enroute infrastructure in Alaska.  Working with the Alaska Air Carriers Association, Alaska Airmen Association, National Business Aviation Association and other organizations, the group delivered formal recommendations to the FAA. The topics covered in the report were wide ranging including sections acknowledging the role NDBs play in the enroute environment, and expressed concern that some GPS based T-Routes have a much higher Minimum Enroute Altitude than the NDB-based colored airways. One of the recommendations called for the FAA to consider operator impacts before decommissioning any airway supported by NDBs.  Responding to a Letter to Airmen is one mechanism that the FAA uses to collect user feedback.

 

This specific working group was only tasked to look at the enroute infrastructure, but acknowledged that NDBs in some locations still serve an operational role in the terminal environment, which should also be considered before these stations are decommissioned.

User input needed
The FAA is struggling to move into the space-based, NextGen era, balancing the need to keep existing “legacy” systems in place, while obtaining funding to stand up new infrastructure.  AOPA and others are pushing FAA to expand the network of ADS-B ground stations in Alaska, to provide a “minimum operational network” across the state.  Decommissioning legacy navigation aids is one way to free up resources, but only after the operational needs of the users have been considered.  FAA is asking for our feedback on these three stations. If you fly to these areas, let the FAA know if removing these NDBs impacts your operations.  Please contact:

Mark Payne, NISC III contract support
Operations Support Group
Western Service Center

Phone:  425-203-4515

Email:    [email protected]

Please send copies to AOPA at: [email protected]

Links to the FAA Letters to Airmen:

Glenallen NDB OSGW-36 (003)

NANWAK NDB_DME OSGW-35 (003)

Noatak NDB Decommissioning OSGW-33

Correcting Sectionals: You Can Help

Sectional Aeronautical Charts are a primary flight tool that allows us hop in an airplane, take off and fly cross-country, literally by looking out the window.  No VOR, GPS or other fancy navigation device required.  But this only works if the landscape we see outside matches features on the chart.  When significant changes on the landscape take place, we need to let the chart makers know, so they can update the charts—which they are happy to do.

What is a chart anyway?
A flight chart is a complex compilation of data and information pulled from a variety of sources, arranged in a spatial pattern that creates a scale model of the earth’s surface.  We are often focused on aviation specific information, such as radio frequencies, airspace boundaries, airport runway lengths and the like, and take the underlying terrain features for granted.  Yet one of the charts more powerful uses is enabling us—with appropriate training—to look at this two-dimensional image to establish our current position, find the next terrain feature along the route, and fly to it. Repeating this process can take us hundreds of miles, over places we have never laid eyes on before. All with no GPS or other electronic navigation or ATC controller.

Today, many pilots are using a GPS for primary navigation (myself included) and using the terrain features as a secondary confirmation.  When the electrical system fails, or GPS quits, having an accurate chart—and knowing how to read it—is pretty important.  As we fly, we need to be on the lookout for details that are misplaced, or have changed.  Here is an example of how that can work.

Case Study
Last summer a pilot from San Diego flew his Grumman Tiger to Alaska and proceeded to tour the state.  His extensive trip, over 23 days, took him to many different areas.  When departing Valdez, he noted that a major terrain feature, the Columbia Glacier, looked considerably different than depicted on the Anchorage Sectional.  Over the past several decades, this glacier has undergone a massive retreat, leaving the terminus some 10 miles from its former location.  The difference was enough that when the pilot tried to confirm his position, which the chart still showed as the main body of the glacier, he was actually over open water–causing him temporarily to doubt his true location.

How to report an error
The FAA welcomes reports of chart errors.  Pilots are invited to communicate this information by phone, email, snail mail or web form.  Paper copies (yes, Sectionals are still available on that media), have a text box on the chart margin labeled “Reporting Chart Errors.”  Electronic chart users may have to work harder.  Some providers, such as SkyVector.com, give an option to display a selected chart (in this case the Anchorage Sectional) that shows the chart margin notes, legend and map symbols.  Others may not display the map “collar” so head to the FAA’s website http://faa.gov/go/ais. A link on that page is labeled “Chart Discrepancy” on the left margin, and describes multiple ways to report charting errors.

Text block found on printed, and some electronic versions of Sectionals telling how to report charting errors.

In this instance, after the trip, the pilot emailed the FAA a detailed description of the location and nature of the discrepancy. He received a reply the same day, with a follow-up confirmation a couple days later. In past years, the Charting folks might have asked for oblique photos to help “source” the change. Today they are often able to pull up satellite imagery to adequately document the change and revise the chart. The result in this case: the November 7, 2017 edition of the Anchorage Sectional was issued with a revised depiction of the Columbia Glacier.

Before (left) and after revision of the Anchorage Sectional, over Columbia Bay, showing the retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Southcentral Alaska.

You can help
Whether using printed or electronic charts, if you observe a problem on a flight chart, please take the few minutes to report the error.  The misplaced power line, changed river channel, or other feature you observe in good VFR weather, may only be a momentary source of confusion. But to the next pilot trying to get through under marginal conditions, it could be life threatening.  Do your part to help keep these almost magical flight tools up to date!

New Lake Hood Tiedown regulations out for public comment

A significant re-write of the Lake Hood Tiedown Regulations has been drafted, and is out for public comment.  Staff at Anchorage International Airport, working with a stakeholder advisory committee, have overhauled the tiedown regulations for Lake Hood Seaplane Base (LHD).  This effort, which started last April, resulted in a significant revision to the rules that dictate how to obtain a float slip or tie-down at this facility, which is home to the largest concentration of seaplanes in the state (if not the world).

Lake Hood Seaplane Base and the Lake Hood Strip on a mid-April day after snow has melted, but before ice has gone out allowing the start of float operations. (Google Earth image)

The re-write is intended to simplify and clean up these regulations, and has reduced their length by approximately 50%.  Gone is the requirement for a medical certificate. Flight activities required to keep a tiedown have been reduced. Documents provided to the airport will no longer need to be notarized.   But the devil is in the details–so current or prospective permit holders should go over these carefully.

To view the public notice see: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=187873

Since this is a massive re-write, the airport has provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help point out changes.  This document will be updated as questions arise.

A public meeting is scheduled on:
Tuesday, December 12, 2018, 6 – 8 pm
Coast International Inn, 2450 Aviation Avenue, Anchorage

Comments may be provided by mail to:
Alex Moss, AIAS Planning Manager
PO Box 196960
Anchorage, AK 99519-6960
or emailed to:  [email protected]
Please share your comments with AOPA: [email protected]

In case you want to compare, here is a link to the current regulations.

The comment period runs until January 19, 2018 at 4 pm.

More GPS Interference Testing in Alaska

The military will again be conducting GPS testing out of Restricted Area 2205, east of Eielson Air Force Base, November 12-17, 2017.  This activity will be conducted at night, between the hours of 06Z and 16Z (Starting on November 11th, 9 pm Alaska Daylight Time, running till 7 am daily for five days).  A look at the chart accompanying this notice, issued by the FAA Joint Frequency Management Office Alaska, shows that effects could be widespread.

Map of potentially impacted area from upcoming GPS Testing.

If you experience any GPS anomalies, in addition to notifying ATC, please share that information with AOPA by sending an email to: [email protected].  Details including aircraft type, location, altitude, and the nature of the anomaly would help us track this issue.

While these hours of operation represent the maximum extent that “testing” may be conducted, we expect actual activities may be of shorter duration.  ATC will be notified by the military before testing on a given day is started, and when it has been concluded, so a call to Anchorage Center may provide a better idea of what to expect during these days.  As always, please check NOTAMS for any changes regarding this activity.

At the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council meeting earlier this week, we were advised that each of the Red Flag Exercises being planned for the coming year will include GPS Interference activities.  AOPA will continue to monitor this activity and its impacts on civil aviation, as we continue to advance into the era of satellite based navigation.

Link to the notice:  JFAK 17-03 GPS Flight Advisory

Alaska Aircraft Registration Program Proposed

Update: Nov 27, 2017
The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) has released draft regulations proposing an Aircraft Registration Program.  If adopted, this regulation requires aircraft owners to complete a registration application and pay an annual fee of $150 for non-commercial aircraft, or $250 for aircraft used in commerce.  Exemptions would exist for aircraft primarily operating in interstate commerce, or to foreign countries.  Aircraft transiting the state are also exempt, along with those owned by the federal government or unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.  A waiver could be obtained for dismantled or not airworthy aircraft, or aircraft registered in other states, and not in Alaska for more than 180 days a year.  Details are available: https://aws.state.ak.us/OnlinePublicNotices/Notices/View.aspx?id=187638

Analysis of the proposal
While no one wants to see the cost to fly increase, the state’s financial situation is serious, with the decline of oil revenues that have funded about 90% of state services for several decades.  While reducing their operating budget 22% since 2015, there is still a huge deficit to operate the 240 airports owned by DOT.  The Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board looked at options to increase revenues, and supported increasing the aviation motor fuel tax, as the most efficient way to improve the situation, without expanding state government. See “Alaska Aviation Motor Fuel Tax Increase Under Discussion” for more details.

In a recent poll conducted by AOPA, the Alaska Airmens Association and the National Business Aviation Association, pilots across the state favored the motor fuel tax increase over either a registration fee or landing fees, although a significant number of people responding commented that they opposed any increased fees or taxes.

Please share your comments on this proposal with AOPA, as we navigate these challenging times to find the right balance to support aviation in Alaska.

To comment on this regulation
There are several ways to comment on this proposal.  DOT will hold three hearings to take comments on the proposed regulation:

  • November 9th   1st Floor Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    3132 Channel Drive, Juneau
  • November 14th  Airport Response Center
    Fairbanks International Airport
    5195 Brumbaugh Blvd, Fairbanks
  • November 20th Central Region Main Conference Room
    Alaska DOT&PF
    4111 Aviation Ave, Anchorage

UPDATE:  Additional hearing scheduled for December 9, 10 am to noon
              Coast International
              3450 Aviation Avenue, Anchorage

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:
Rich Sewell, Aviation Policy Planner
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
PO Box 196900
Anchorage, AK 99519

Or via email to:  [email protected]   Please send AOPA a copy of your comments by emailing them to: [email protected]

Comments must be received by 5:00 pm Alaska Standard Time on January 5, 2018.

Help bring new Aviation Icing Products to Alaska

New weather products have been developed to diagnose and forecast inflight icing for Alaska.  Staff from the FAA’s Aviation Weather Demonstration and Evaluation (AWDE) Services Program will be in Alaska, October 16-19, and would like to talk with pilots to help determine how these new products will work in the Alaskan environment.  The information they gather from pilots (General Aviation, Air Taxi and Commercial (Part 121/135), Air Ambulance/Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) will enable FAA to assess the utility and suitability in our operational setting.

Background
Forecasting icing has long been a challenge in Alaska, with our complex terrain, large size, and extremely limited network of surface observations.  Over the past few years research sponsored by the FAA Aviation Weather Program, and conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), has led to development of an Icing Product Alaska-Diagnosis (IAP-D) and an IPA-Forecast (IAP-F) product. These are intended to improve diagnosis and forecasting of icing probability, severity, and probability of super-cooled large droplet (SLD) formation. These products, once validated, are expected to support decision making regarding the areas icing will occur, and the identification of optimum routes for air traffic.

How you can help
The FAA evaluation team will be in these communities on the following dates:

Anchorage, Oct 16-18
Fairbanks, October 18
Juneau, October 19

They would like to understand how these new icing products would be used operationally, learn about pilot strategies for making go-no-go decisions, user risk thresholds and generally assess the overall suitability of the new products.   Pilots should expect to spend about an hour in an interview with a team member.  If you are able to help with this program, you may “sign up” through an online survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZT3ZPSD

For more information, contact Sonia Alvidrez [email protected] or 609-485-7613.

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