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Sharing Aviation with the Public—over Pizza!

Pizza—always good. Pizza at the airport, even better. Pizza with a view of the runway—fantastic!

For years pilots, airport staff and employees of local aviation businesses have hungered for a restaurant on the general aviation side of Fairbanks International Airport.  In September 2017, East Ramp Wood-Fired Pizza opened—and satisfied more than our hunger for food.  The establishment sits on the top floor of a hangar facility with a great view of the airfield.  In the background is the 11,800 foot air carrier runway, where heavy metal arrives and departs, interspersed with Beech 1900’s, the occasional  formation of military fighters making practice approaches. Every now and then the Antonov 225 drops in for a refueling stop.

Open just a little over a year, an airport restaurant is bringing a much-needed element of the general aviation side of Fairbanks International Airport.

Closer to the diner’s view, the shorter, 6,500 ft GA runway and the 2,900 ft gravel “ski” strip provide a stream of smaller aircraft—from Navajos and Cessnas to Super Cubs, landing and taking off.  Between these two is a view of the south end of the float pond with a mix of seaplanes splashing down.  In the immediate foreground is a gas pump and transient parking area, which provides diners with the opportunity to watch planes load, fuel and do their preflight checks.  All from a warm, safe, comfortable vantage point—with food!

Inspired by a local pilot and CFI, Wendy Ehnert first considered building a restaurant on airport property, but after spotting an ad in the Alaska Airmens Assocation newsletter, the Transponder, she knew she had the perfect spot.  Her initial target audience was feeding the airport crowd, but with a little more than a year in operation, she estimates that three quarters of her business is from the larger community-and not just “airport people.”

Separating the public from aviation
The growth of fences and security at airports may well be one of the factors that hinders bringing the next generation of pilots, mechanics, and air traffic controllers into the fold. Just by making it difficult to observe aviation in operation.  As a kid, I recall standing at the rail in front of the airline terminal at this airport and getting blasted by the prop wash of the DC-6’s as they taxied away from the gate and turned toward the runway. I wondered what it must feel like to sit in the driver’s seat and apply power to those four big engines.  Ok, I still wonder—but that’s beside the point. It made me aware of the excitement and thrill of taking off, and going to distant, exotic places.  Today, minus the prop wash, sitting over a meal and watching airplanes of different shapes and sizes provides a connection that is important to make, both with future pilots and other practitioners of this craft.  It is also something we need to share with the interested public, who votes on bond issues, ordinances and other policy matters that impact the viability of our airports.

Gathering place for social events
Beyond allowing the public a great spot for aviation viewing, East Ramp Pizza also provides a venue

Binoculars are provided to let patrons…

for groups to meet.  The local 99’s Chapter, Aviation Explorer Post, and other groups hold meetings there. The restaurant has organized several hangar flying nights, and is currently hosting a photo contest—with plans to produce a calendar in the future.  These are all activities that help bring people together, and encourage engagement, which is important to the overall community.  The restaurant is decorated with historical artifacts and pictures, most of which have

…satisfy their appetite for aviation.  (Photo pair by Chef Shawn Kerr)

been loaned by local enthusiasts, that sets it apart from other eating establishments.  So how is the food?  In the short time they have been in business, the establishment won a spot in the local paper’s 2018 Readers Choice Awards for pizza!

We need more facilities like this at our airports, to feed as well as inspire. While it often isn’t included in the list of necessary airport general aviation infrastructure, it should be.

What happened to Alaska’s Department of Aviation?

While still a territory, and well before achieving statehood, Alaska had a dedicated aviation department.  Acknowledging the Alaska pioneers’ foresight in creating a dedicated department speaks to the importance of aviation in Alaska’s past. And with regards to Alaska’s future, the question most importantly asked is—what happened to it?  After some digging in the shelves at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, the answers to these and other questions are starting to see the light of day.  Along with some hopeful thoughts about the future.

Communications and weather came first
Going back to the 1920’s, airfields developed organically as individuals or companies acquired airplanes, and needed a place for them to take off and land. Often a ball park or agricultural field was pressed into service for early day aircraft operations, which eventually turned into a dedicated “airfield.”  While considered a luxury in some parts of the country, in Alaska airplanes were appreciated from the beginning for their potential to reach remote locations quickly—places previously only serviced by water ways, or trails.  The Territory of Alaska first invested in aviation infrastructure in 1929, when it appropriated funds to “…purchase, install and maintain radio-telephone station equipment for the larger towns.” This task was conducted under the direction of the Territorial Highway Engineer, who was soon overwhelmed, given the existing responsibilities to develop roads and harbors. At the time, this was a one-person operation, responsible for an area a fifth the size of the lower 48 states.

The Alaska Aeronautics & Communications Commission was established in 1937 to oversee installation of weather stations and radio equipment. This allowed weather reports and other information to be transmitted between communities, and to weather forecasters. In its first few years, recognizing the importance of communications, the commission also adopted regulations requiring airplanes to install radios, and to carry survival gear. https://blog.aopa.org/aopa/2018/03/14/alaska-aviation-infrastructure-history-p1/

Funding to build Alaska airports—almost
In 1946 Congress approved 10 million dollars to build or expand airports in Alaska over a seven-year period. The funding formula provided 75% of the cost of construction, requiring a 25% match by the territory or municipality that owned the airport. While that sounds like a lot of money, it was recognized by the Aeronautics Commission as “a drop in the proverbial bucket to properly expand our airfield program in a new, undeveloped country having an area equal to six western states…”.  But there was a catch.

The territory had to adopt new enabling legislation to allow the money to be accepted, either by the territorial government, or individual municipal airport owners.  This legislation was introduced but not passed in 1948. At the time municipalities could own and operate airports, but their authority did not extend from year to year, which was a requirement to enter into an agreement with the federal government for airport funding.  Frustration in the Aeronautics Commission report from 1947-48 clearly expresses this sentiment, “…the foregoing explains why Alaska has not received five cents of the ten million dollars allotted to the Territory under the Federal Airport Expansion Program…”.

Federal Funding for Alaska Airport: then and now
$10 million dollars was a significant resource for the Territory in 1946. In today’s dollars, that is about $127 million, spread over 7 years, or an average of $18 million/year.
In comparison, presently Alaska receives over $220 million/year from FAA’s Airport Improvement Program to improve airports across the state.

Territorial Department of Aviation established
The Alaska Aeronautics Act, passed by the Territorial Legislature in February 1949, finally solved this problem and established the Alaska Department of Aviation, a peer organization to the Department of Highways, effective June 1st of that year.  Revenue for the department came from allocating one third of the 2 cent tax on motor fuels then in effect.  The first report from the department, covering just six months of operation, reported 73 projects started “improving existing airports and seaplane bases, and building new air facilities.”  Having lost three of the seven years to invest the federal funding, the department was ramping up to develop airports that would support transport category aircraft operations, which were typically DC-3s at that time.

Dedication of the new air-carrier runway at Seward in 1952, from the Alaska Department of Aviation Biennial Report.

Golden Age for Aviation
By 1953, fifty years since the Wright Brothers demonstrated powered flight, the Alaska Department of Aviation was in full swing, developing the airport system across the Territory. In the biennial report for 1951-52, the Department had a hand in building many of the 360 airports and 73 seaplane facilities existing then.  The report summarizes the accomplishments of the department over the first 3½ years of operation.

A new seaplane base at Juneau was one of several similar facilities constructed in southeast Alaska by the Alaska Department of Aviation with a combination of federal and territorial funding.

Having grown from a short, type-written report to a type-set 65 page document, it contains descriptions and pictures of many of these facilities.  This document (link above) provides a flavor, not only of the range of projects, but the enthusiasm shown by the department for expanding Alaska’s airport network.  In addition to significant work on “air carriers” runways, they were building seaplane bases, emergency airstrips, and installing radio beacons. Provisions were also made for snow removal and general maintenance at the airports and seaplane bases in the Territory.

Documented in the Territorial Department of Aviation 1951-52 Biennial Report, the Alaska Department of Aviation constructed aviation infrastructure needed to support the entire system. In this case constructing an emergency landing strip east of Fairbanks, in support of the Fortymile and Chicken mining districts.

Alaska was well on its way to expanding the network of aviation facilities needed to provide access across the Territory. Alaska was on the path to become a state by the end of the decade.

Aviation under the State of Alaska
Alaska became the 49th state on January 3rd of 1959, and with that, transitioned from territorial to state government.  The territorial Alaska Department of Aviation now became the Division of Aviation under the State of Alaska, Department of Public Works.  It continued to plan, design, build and operate airports across the new state.

A relic of the Alaska Division of Aviation still exists at the Cold Bay Airport. Photo by Harold Kremer

By 1973, the division reported operating 235 airports, and had recently taken over operation of the Kodiak airport from the Navy.  This unit of state government continued to improve the aviation infrastructure across the state, until a major re-organization in state government lead to the structure more familiar to us today.

After eighteen years, the Division of Aviation was re-organized when the Department of Public Works and the Department of Highways were combined. Executive Order No. 39, signed by Governor Jay Hammond, created the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF), effective July 1, 1977.  The aviation functions previously managed under a single division were now spread across many of the seventeen divisions in the new organization. In addition, more emphasis was given to regional geographic divisions. There were five regions at the time, which have been consolidated down to only three today; Northern, Central and South Coast Regions.  Each region is managed by a Regional Director, and has separate staff who perform planning, design, construction, maintenance and operations functions.

The regional divisions of the modern Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.

Needs for the Future
Today aviation roles are largely spread across the structure of the three regions that dominate our modern DOT&PF (often pronounced dot-puff).  The functions of planning, airport design, construction, and maintenance and operations are managed jointly for highways and airports—separately in each region. As an aviation advocate, it is challenging at times for a community member served by an airport to figure out where to go to address an issue. Entirely different teams from DOT&PF typically interact with a local community during the life-cycle of a project.  This is not to in any way fault the employees of the department—but is a consequence of the organizational structure.  Another difficulty with this structure is that each transportation mode has its own highly technical set of rules, regulations, and standards—defined largely by the FAA for airports.  Expecting the professional staff of the department to keep up to date on both airport regs and rules as well as highway requirements and standards is a tall order.

AOPA, along with the Alaska Airmen and other aviation organizations, has long advocated for a true division of aviation within the DOT&PF.  During the past few years, the department has taken some steps in this direction. The oversight of leasing and safety functions for the rural airport system has moved from the regions into the Statewide Aviation Division.  Lead by the Deputy Commissioner for Aviation, this group also conducts aviation system plans, and develops spending plans for the federal funding that builds and improves airports. Headquartered in Anchorage, it has staff that are based in each of the regions.    Also, under the current administration, DOT&PF is prototyping the use of cross-functional teams to work on projects in specific geographic regions, which may improve communications both within the department and for local stakeholders.

AOPA would like to see other functions become specific to transportation mode, allowing staff interested in airports to pursue that career path.  There will probably always be staff shared between highways and airports in the field, however, having the planning, design and operations performed by employees focused and trained on airport rules, regulations, and standards should help the aviation users, as well as the local communities served by each airport.

Look for more advocacy on this front in the months and years ahead!

Increase Your Service Ceiling

Sunday was a great GA day for me. It started off as a Pilots and Paws rescue flight for a one-eyed cat named Gio. Since I was headed up to the San Francisco Bay Area, I thought I would contact my 96 year-old pen pal/friend William Mason [Army Air Corps Flight Instructor at Rankin Field [Tulare, CA] with my Dad, and brother to uber famous Sammy Mason] to see if we could meet up for a burger at the 29er Diner. The combination of a charity flight, using a friendly small airport and meeting with a WWII aviator makes for a perfect GA day.

As a recently minted instrument rated pilot I was excited to get a little “actual” with the smoke and haze from the horrible Thomas fire. I completed all my flight planning with Foreflight, Skyvector, and the NOAA site for weather… severe clear except for smoke in vicinity of departure airport, Santa Maria, CA. I filed the flight plan online and got an email from Foreflight that it was received by flight service [she thinks “What a rock star I am for using all this wonderful technology.”]

Originally Pilots and Paws had requested Santa Rosa Airport, which is a wonderful larger airport, but, as anyone who has flown with me to Oshkosh knows, I love to go to small GA airports and support more “mom and pop” FBOs. So I asked for Petaluma and received that as a final destination.

When I left the house in morning the sky looked like dusk instead of dawn due to the smoke. I could see that San Luis Obispo was clear, so I thought at most, I would be in the smoke [IFR] for a few minutes. Opening the hangar door I could see a fine layer of ash all over my airplane cover. As I loaded up the plane I looked out and saw the tiniest of tiny suns trying to burn through the smoke. [Gio was not able to make it to Santa Maria due to the high winds and turbulence in Riverside, but I decided to head north anyway.]

I got my taxi clearance and asked tower for my IFR clearance to Petaluma. The next bit of news was not so happy “6619U I have no IFR flight plan for you in the system.” Drat! I mentioned that I had even gotten an email confirmation. Hmmm. I let the lovely tower folks [really they are, no sarcasm there] know when I was done taxiing I would figure it out. Figure it out I did. Guess who filed the plan for a WEEK from today? Me, yup me. Duh. Luckily I had the routing, so no worries, got it put into the system. I departed on the obstacle departure procedure and up to the Bay Area. The smoke was maybe 800 feet above ground level… maybe. I was in the smoke, I mean in the smoke. Could not see anything, nothing but white. “Okay sister, this is what you are trained for, instrument scan, track the course, you can do this. Probably won’t be but a minute or two.” Yeah—no. Just under thirty minutes later I come out of the smoke right over the Paso Robles airport. I knew that my VOR tracking was not the best while in the smoke. I was disappointed that I sort of got flustered but I was able to just regain my composure and soldier on.

I flew up the Pacific coast and the CAVU day was spectacular. ATC was super busy and very helpful. I asked for the Bay Tour [as did about a hundred others] and was grinning ear to ear flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the San Francisco bay. After the tour and the photos, I turned to Petaluma [O69].

There were six other airplanes in the pattern at O69/Petaluma. There were a few students working the pattern, a Waco buzzing around, two helicopters practicing taxiing, and even another Mooney landing right before me. The fuel price is one of the best in the Bay Area/wine country. I taxied to a transient tie down and then struggled a bit to push Maggie back into the spot. Before I knew it a local named John was there asking if I needed a hand, which I gladly accepted.

We got on the waiting list for indoor seating at the 29er Diner and the next few hours were spent with Bill and his daughter. We got to enjoy a great lunch, catch up, talk about aviation and some of his glory days. Bill owned a Stearman for many years, which he flew across country with his wife.

When it was time to leave I made sure to check the date and time on my flight plan and hit “File”— voila it went through. I did get vectored in a way from ATC that reminded me of an old high school cheer “lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight.” The routing on the way home was offshore quite a bit. I don’t know about anyone else, but I swear I hear every single engine hiccup when I am over water. On the way home I was at 9000, and got a beautiful and enduring view of the sunset off my right side. I knew that the smoke would be formidable on the approach into the Central Coast. I descended down from 9000 to 8000, then down to 5000. Under the smoke it was black as night. I requested a precision approach from ATC. I thought it best to fly an approach I had practiced many times that took me right to runway 12.

Between the black of night, and the ash build up on the windscreen, and the general haziness from the smoke, the approach was challenging. I did have a little bit of an optical illusion just above the aim point. It was hard for me to tell how high I was above the runway to begin the flare. I should have maybe looked out the left window, but I didn’t. Landing was rock star– which is so wonderful. All in all I had an hour of actual.

We are so fortunate to have many ways to give back in service to others with our airplanes and airports. I try to remember all these aspects when I am planning a trip. Am I flying an empty airplane? Is that the best use of the space? Perhaps there is someone who would like to come along, or better yet a Pilot n Paws, Angel Flight, LightHawk or other charitable cause. What is your destination airport? Where will you be spending your dollars for fuel, lodging and food? The day cost me a couple hundred dollars in fuel. I look at this as money spent buying memories. That is really money well spent. I have the memory of my first flight into IMC, connecting with a WWII aviator, of wanting to help a little one-eyed kitty and of course being part of a great big GA family.

As this year comes to a close it is a good time to reflect on the past and look toward the New Year. Maybe 2018 will be the year you add that endorsement, or get your instrument rating, or get serious about buying into a club, or donate your time in service to others.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. She is the Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups: Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport. Presently Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. She is the Director and Executive Producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© She is an aviation educator and writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

Out of this World Request: an invitation for a different view

It’s not everyday you get an invitation to help create another world.  Tony, a software developer working on scenery add-ons for the X-Plane flight simulator, contacted me few days ago. He is creating a version of Oceano Airport [L52] for the X-Plane flight simulator and was trying to make the airfield look as realistic as possible. Specifically he was looking for photographs or for a contact that would be willing to take some photographs of the airfield so, he could recreate the airfield as accurately as possible. His hope was that the airfield will be available for anyone who wishes to use it, and it would be great to have a faithful replication inside the simulator that people will instantly recognize as the real thing.

Oceano, CA is my home airport and near and dear to my heart. Who wouldn’t want to help a developer [software only!] get an understanding of the value of our airport, it’s layout and surroundings. The initial email he sent said that he was in need of:

  • “Photographs of the buildings head on.
  • Pictures of any signage around the airfield, including notices, advertisements.
  • Pictures of the hangars on the far side of the field, these are hard to find imagery for.
  • Pictures of the buildings on the other-side of the runway, those near to the traffic pattern indicator.
  • A few more of the clubhouse building from the car park.
  • The building where I think you can use bicycle.
  • The signs facing out to the car park by the fuel tank. I think it’s a map of “You are here”, but there are also some other signs around.
  • Further down there are lots of T shaped hangars, any close-up shots you can get would be great.
  • If you can, more pictures of the Stearman. This will be a fun one to create a 3D model for.” The photos below show where we started as his renderings were mostly from Google Earth.”

I had a blast going down to the airport and taking the photos he needed. Each time I sent him a batch he asked for a few more details. I guess this request made me think about the airport in a new light. The computer-generated simulator could never capture the life and breath of this airport. Airport Improvement monies are funding the installation a new and necessary ASOS. While taking photos of the Pirate’s Lair on the far side of the field, I just smiled. The flags from the Oceano Air Pirates as well as the flags from neighboring airports [Santa Maria Rocketeers, Lompoc Cubbies] were flapping in the breeze. Four Cessnas flew in and unloaded. Many were headed to the beach for the sunny day. Our loaner bikes were checked out. Skydive Pismo Beach was loading up the jump plane, and Banner Airways was giving rides in the Stearman.

Actual Photo

Simulation Photo

I suppose real or simulated, my home airport is a slice of paradise worth protecting and promoting. I am so happy that Tony reached out from X-Plane. I got the benefit of seeing Oceano Airport from some new angles, which also gave me some ideas for sprucing up. I look forward to seeing the finished copy on the simulator, as well as enjoying the reality of our beach-side airport for many years to come.

Next time you are at your airport, try to see it from a visitor’s eyes. Perhaps you will see some small improvements would make big changes toward the positive. As ASN volunteers we all work hard for our GA airports, but we can’t become complacent now, we must always strive to put our best foot forward to our communities and our visitors.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. She is the Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups: Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport. Presently Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. She is the Director and Executive Producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© She is an aviation educator and writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

Alaska Backcountry Airstrip survey: Do you use them?

Backcountry airstrips serve an important role in Alaska’s aviation system.  Over the past couple years, a Backcountry Airstrips Working Group, led by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT), has been exploring this topic, and just released a survey for pilots to weigh-in on their use of this often-unnoticed component of our aviation infrastructure.  If you use back-country airstrips, please take a few minutes to share your thoughts, and identify any concerns you may have on this topic.  Here is a link directly to the survey, which runs through May 10th. https://goo.gl/forms/6aPBJ7h3BbzS7oxq1

What is a backcountry airstrip?
While the international, regional and community airports are familiar to us, there is another network of “facilities” scattered around the state that is often overlooked.  These are airstrips that were built to provide access for some purpose, often a mining claim or mineral exploration project, which has since gone away—but the airstrip remains.  Depending on the other resources in the area, given Alaska’s vast size and lack of road system, these airstrips typically serve other needs, generally to access public lands. Uses might include establishing a camp, in support of a hunting trip or other recreational activity. Depending on the adjacent land ownership, it may provide access to remote cabin sites.  On a river, it could be the transfer point to drop off or pick up people from float trips.  When the weather turns bad, or in any other kind of emergency, having a place to land is a safety consideration.  Finally, backcountry airstrips can also serve as staging areas to support access for more distant off-field landing sites.

Backcountry versus Off Field landing areas
Defining what a backcountry airstrip is might seem like an easy task, but it has taken quite a bit of discussion.  The working group definition includes landing areas that are “improved” although they may have little or no maintenance routinely performed.  It is important to differentiate between backcountry airstrips, and true off-field landing areas—which means a gravel bar, hill top, or other terrain feature that one is able to land on.  From the air, there wouldn’t necessarily be noticeable features, such as trees cleared to create a safety area, or modification of the natural landscape to make it a landing area.  Fortunately, in Alaska we are allowed to perform off-field landings on most public lands, unless regulations have specifically been adopted to declare the area off-limits.  The working group is not addressing off-field landing areas, but does recognize that one of the potential uses of a backcountry airstrip is to serve as a staging area to reach off-field landing locations.

Kansas Creek, in the central Alaska Range, has provided access for hunting and other uses for about fifty years. In the context of this discussion, it would be considered a backcountry airstrip.

 

This off-field landing area, along the Ivishak River on the north side of the Brooks Range is an un-improved piece of tundra that just happens to be flat and firm enough to land on. It would not be defined as a backcountry airstrip in this discussion.

Case Study: Gold King Creek
While every airport has its own story, Gold King Creek (AK7) is an case worth examining.  Located 40 nautical miles south of Fairbanks, in the foothills of the Alaska Range, the 2,500 foot airstrip was originally built at the site of a microwave communications station. The facility connected the military radar station at Clear with the Cold War era “White Alice” communication system that linked Alaska to the lower 48.  Fuel for the generator that powered the relay site was flown in, from Delta I believe, to keep the facility operating around the clock.  When the relay site was no longer needed, it was shut down, and years later the tower removed, but the airstrip remains. Miners, hunters, seismologists, berry pickers and others continued to use the airstrip, which is on stable ground, and doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance.

The federal government eventually transferred the land to the State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who later allocated recreational land parcels near the airstrip, some of which have inhabited cabins today.  The property containing the airstrip was transferred from DNR to DOT, more recently. Prior to that happening, we almost lost Gold King off the charts completely.

An aerial view of Gold King airstrip, with cabin sites off the edge of the runway.

Charting history of Gold King
When owned by the federal government, the airstrip was charted as a Private Use facility (see figure below).  After the military use ceased, for a while it disappeared from the charts completely.  With the transfer from federal government to State of Alaska ownership, it was again charted, initially shown as closed, and with no information about the length or elevation of the airstrip.  In the late 1990’s, a Military Operations Area (MOA) created that covered this area.  Because Gold King was a known entity, a MOA exclusion area was defined around it, up to 1,500 ft agl. The cut-out helps prevent an aircraft just lifting off the runway from coming nose to nose with a high-speed jet on a training exercise.  Today, the airstrip is charted with more complete information for pilots, including a CTAF frequency.  Charting is one of the issues that needs to be considered for other backcountry airstrips in the state.

This figure shows the charting history of Gold King, from its time as a communications support facility, to when it disappeared from the charts completely, and slowly back to having more complete information today, including a cut-out under a Military Operations Area.

 Gateway to Public Land
While most back-country airstrips are remote, it doesn’t necessarily mean some of them might not be on the road-system.  A notable example is the airstrip at Happy Valley, some 65 nautical miles south of the Deadhorse Airport (SCC) at Prudhoe Bay.  This 5,000 foot airstrip was built during construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970’s to support the construction camp located there, along the Sagavarnirktok River, and on the haul-road that today connects the oilfields on the north slope with the rest of Alaska. After the construction, the camp was removed, but the herc-strip sized runway remained.

Today, it serves as an important staging area in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range. Far enough inland to often avoid coastal fog, yet distant enough from the peaks of the Brooks Range to escape some of the weather conditions associated with the mountains.  It’s location on the haul road, which is maintained year-round, makes it a critical jumping off facility for guides, scientific studies, game surveys, as well as a key emergency strip when weather precludes getting to the coast, or through the mountains.

I have personally experienced the benefits of the Happy Valley airstrip.  Late one fall, the weather was deteriorating to the point we couldn’t make it through the Brooks Range to return to Fairbanks.  After tying up a pair of Super Cubs at Happy Valley, we had to hitchhike in what became a ground-blizzard to Deadhorse, and catch the jet back to town.  Many days later, we drove up the haul-road to pre-heat and fly the airplanes back south of the range.  Yet this airstrip is not listed on a flight chart, nor is any information provided about it in the Alaska Chart Supplement.  While not advocating that all back-country strips should necessarily be charted, this is one that needs to be on the charts so pilots can find it, when needed.

Happy Valley Airstrip. Not what we normally think of as a backcountry airstrip, this former pipeline camp on the Dalton Highway is used today, and should be recognized as an airstrip.

Backcountry Survey
Backcountry airstrips are an important, and often neglected component of our airport system.  Now that DOT has started looking at this segment of our airports, it is important that the people that use them speak up.  The online survey provides an opportunity to identify the issues you think are important when it comes to these landing areas.  Under current budget conditions, we can’t expect the State of Alaska to devote a lot of resources to them, but recognizing they exist and perhaps taking the first few steps to protect them, could make a great deal of difference in the years to come.

Please take a few minutes to take the survey! https://goo.gl/forms/6aPBJ7h3BbzS7oxq1

Why does what happens at Santa Monica Airport matter?

Santa Monica airport has been in the news lately.  I decided to ask a few of my aviation friends from New York to Oregon, including Christian Fry the President of the Santa Monica Aviation Association, a pretty simple question. “Why does what happens at Santa Monica airport matter?” I hope the answers are thought-provoking and insightful. As well, that you feel called to help protect Santa Monica because in doing so, you are protecting hundreds of other airports, large and small.

Photo credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo credit: Jim Koepnick

First, the systematic strangulation of SMO businesses and tenants by the City of Santa Monica sets a really damaging precedent in regards to our aviation infrastructure. If closure were successful using these techniques, this precedent could effect over 200 other airports given back from the Federal government after WWII with the same type of transfer agreement. This applies to many smaller GA airports and some majors like Orange County/John Wayne. In many ways, Santa Monica Airport is a canary in the coal mine for the rest of our country’s airports. Second, the tangible economic and public value of airports is real and obvious. SMO generates over $250 million dollars of direct economic impact annually and we must always remember it’s value as a disaster relief and evacuation resource in times of emergency. A third consideration is the real protections SMO’s airspace provides. The 200 ft. AGL FAA limit on building heights for a 3.8 mile radius around SMO protects surrounding communities from development. Effectively, closure of SMO and the loss of its airspace would fundamentally alter the landscape of the entire Westside of Los Angeles. SMO’s airspace protects the Westside from skyscrapers and the absence of this protection would surely lead to high rise development and its associated increases in density and traffic. Additionally,  all arrivals that use the SMO VOR into LAX (500+ aircraft per day) are height restricted to 5-7K over the SMO Delta airspace. If SMO closed, you might see the crossing altitudes go down 2-3K feet and the perceived noise on the ground would be exponentially louder 24/7.  Finally,  let’s not forget the City of Santa Monica’s blatant dishonesty regarding the facts of this issue, their wasting of millions of taxpayer dollars fighting the FAA and their admitted misappropriation of millions of dollars of airport funds all in a decades long effort to close and redevelop one of our Nation’s oldest and most valuable airfields to benefit the few and negatively impact the majority, forever.

—-Christian Fry, President Santa Monica Airport Association, Santa Monica California

Photo credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo credit: Jim Koepnick

While even the thought of closing Santa Monica airport strikes to the heart of someone who is a pilot, it also strikes to the soul of many of us non-pilots. Why would that be, if we are only connected to aviation indirectly? The short answer is because it is really about more than just the freedom of flight…it is about plain, old freedom. It’s about the freedom to have a voice, to have a vote. To not be outmaneuvered by outside interest groups and lawyers looking for loopholes and technicalities. Even the consideration of closing down an airport, let alone one with such a fabled history, fills my mind with the classic battles of good and evil. So is this where I raise the flag, bring out the apple pie and march to support the underdog? In my simplistic, creative mind…maybe. Because keeping Santa Monica airport open is symbolic to keeping airports open all around the country. And symbolic for letting us all know that we all should have a voice in our freedoms.

—Jim Koepnick, Aviation Photographer, Oshkosh Wisconsin

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

The future of Santa Monica Airport is significant for a number of reasons. One is the very important issue of community security. Anyone who lives in Southern California or visits there frequently knows the entire, heavily populated area is just one car wreck away from gridlock. If, God forbid, some major catastrophe hits the area, the airport could instantly become worth its entire landmass in gold when you consider it could be the only way to quickly get emergency crews and supplies, and medical transports, into and out of the community. Ask anyone impacted by Hurricane Katrina about how valuable community airports became in getting even the basic supplies into the area.

In the aviation safety world, much is emphasized on human factors. One such factor that should be considered is the fact we have a tendency not to appreciate or understand the importance of something until it is already gone. Too often, we are easily sold ideas based on misguided information. This seems to be the case in Santa Monica and other areas threatened with airport closures. People build a home close to the airport and then complain about the noise. Then, developers see gold on the property and jump into the fray to convince community leaders that the property is a gold mine of tax revenue just waiting for them. The fact is airports are already a gold mine that contribute much more than is ever effectively recorded in economic impact. Most important is the airport’s contribution to the community’s peace of mind in the event air transportation of people or supplies is needed in an emergency. How can you put a price tag on that?

—Mark Grady, Aviation writer, speaker and filmmaker

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

If you keep up with any aviation news from any of the alphabet groups, you know that there has been controversy surrounding the Santa Monica airport for the past several years.

The issue is not unique to Santa Monica. At any given time, dozens of airports in the country are being pressured to shut down and the empty space turned into tax generating commercial, industrial or residential use. This shortsighted view is a dangerous one. Airports serving general aviation as well as airports serving air-carriers are part of this country’s transportation infrastructure. The argument that general aviation airports exist only to serve the “fat cats” and their private jets is a hollow one. I’ll counter it by asking why an airliner full of inebriated tourists traveling from Honolulu to LAX on their way home from a cruise is more important than an business jet with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar international corporation traveling from Honolulu to Santa Monica to close an important deal that will benefit the local economy? It isn’t!

The billions of dollars lost by US airlines in the past decade are testament to the failed business model that the majority of them operate under. At least corporate and business aviation pays their bills. Let the airlines continue to run themselves into the ground at the major airports. Corporate and business aviation needs the “Santa Monicas” of this country to continue building the economic health of this country after the beating it has taken in the past decade.

—Jonathan “JJ” Greenway flies corporate jets internationally for a Hong Kong based company, is a CFII and active aircraft owner who lives in Frederick Maryland.

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

What happens at Santa Monica matters because it’s such a high profile case. The message needs to be that GA is less of a risk than the boulevard running past your front door and the noise it introduces to your neighborhood is substantially less in every regard than that delivery truck or leaf blower that folks accommodate without even thinking. As with so many other airport “controversies,” the Santa Monica Airport battle is about pilots trying to fend off a land grab from cynical commercial and government concerns trying to exploit residents’ fears to accomplish their questionable development goals.

—Robert Goyer, Editor in Chief, Plane & Pilot Magazine, Austin Texas

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

My ad agency specializes in two sectors, aviation and tourism. I believe these two sectors fit nicely together as general aviation airports are an under utilized asset for the cities they serve, and are a gateway to bring valuable tourism business into their areas. I have worked for years to recommend to my tourism clients that they need to promote the benefits of their region to pilots seeking new destinations, because pilots generally have discretionary income and are always looking for new places to fly their airplanes.

The financial contributions that airports bring to a city can be found in many areas, from jobs to secondary spending and yes, tourism purchases. Transient pilots flying into an airport like Santa Monica Municipal Airport (KSMO) need rental cars, meals, hotel rooms and fuel, and many continue their spending in the region by visiting local attractions or conducting business. Each airport – whether it’s a large field like KSMO or a small strip at the edge of a rural town – represents a money machine for the area, and they need to be identified as such. To close any airport means a guarantee of often substantial losses to the region, and because of this, each and every airport needs to be preserved.

—Dan Pimentel, founder of the Airplanista blog and President/Art Director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising, Eugene, Oregon.

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

The answer to the question depends largely on who you are, where you live, and what sort of life you hope to live in the future. If you’re an aircraft owner who bases his or her airplane at Santa Monica the answer is obvious. For the sake of convenience and comfort, that individual would prefer Santa Monica to remain open. That aircraft owner would prefer to keep their friends, their connections, their hangar, and their normal routine in place.

But what about the kid living nearby? What good does an airport do for a teenager living on South Bundy Drive? That kid grows up with airplanes zipping over his or her house day after day. Piston driven propellers drilling holes through space as turbines turn heat to thrust and propel business owners, movie stars, and trophy wives off to Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York. What good does that do?

It’s a fair question. The answer is simple. It provides opportunity that can’t be delivered by any other means.

Perhaps that kid can pull down a part-time job at the local Circle K, or the garage across the street. But what if he or she could wrangle an entry-level position at a flight school, or one of several maintenance shops on the field, or the FBO, instead. That entry level job might lead to a career in the aviation or aerospace industry, taking that teenager farther economically, socially, and geographically than they ever dreamed. It’s happened before. In fact it’s happened tens of thousands of times.

There are no guarantees in life, of course. Not for Santa Monica and not for any other airport, industry, or individual. But where there is opportunity, there is hope. Where there is hope, people persevere and thrive even under the most challenging circumstances. With Santa Monica Municipal up and running there is industry, entertainment, a pervasive incentive to pursue education as a lifelong goal – and there is hope. Without it, there might be a slightly larger park, or a cluster of high-rise condos, or an office park. None of which can inspire the dreams, the innovation, or the historically significant production Santa Monica Municipal Airport has given the world.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport matters for the same reason the United States of America mattered to my immigrant great-grandfather. It matters because it is the only destination of its kind in the world. And if it is allowed to perish, there will never be another to replace it. Never. And that would be a shameful thing.

—Jamie Beckett, Writer, Winter Haven Florida

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Photo Credit: Jim Koepnick

Here is a summary of where the legal fight stands. The initial Instrument of Transfer with the City of Santa Monica obligated to operate the airport as an airport forever. A federal lawsuit by City challenged the federal obligations. The City said that they didn’t know there federal obligations to keep the airport an airport. The Judge dismissed the case, but soon the City appealed. The appeal went to 9th Circuit court and they ruled that this first judge needed to rule on the merits, and the case went back to District Court. The new court date is in August 2017. This case is everything. SMAA, NBAA, AOPA, are all engaged on this court case and seek to bolster evidence which proves that City knew they federally obligated and have to keep airport and airport forever.

I would like to give my readers a call to action. Support the SMAA financially as the legal fight is very expensive. Link: https://santamonicaairport.nationbuilder.com/join_online

Write the Santa Monica City Counsel and express your concern about what they are doing.

1685 Main St #200, Santa Monica, CA 90401 or email:  [email protected]

Write the FAA administrator and let them know that they need to spend time and resources to protect SMO.

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of the Associate Administrator for Airports (ARP)
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington DC 20591]

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. She is the Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups: Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport. Presently Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. She is the Director and Executive Producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© She is an aviation educator and writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

The sky is not the limit for the Skytypers

 Three generations of General Aviation and American business ingenuity from the Stinis family

I had the pleasure of interviewing and flying with Greg and Stephen Stinis and the rest of the West Coast Skytypers crew at Chino airport in California. Within minutes of landing, I had a call from Greg Stinis asking about my plans for dinner. After meeting them, and realizing that they are a Greek family, I knew I was in for a ripping good time. We headed out for Mexican food and felt like I had known them for ten years instead of ten minutes. Skytypers is a great General Aviation based business that not only supports their local airport and highlights aviation, but it inspires the love of flight to those on the ground looking skyward.  The team feels like a family, and they all have a lot of fun.  Skytypers have both and East and West Coast presence flying with their patented system using multiple on-board computers.

AndyStinisAccording to Greg, his father Andy Stinis’ history is rich in innovation and aviation. From 1931 to 1953, Andy Stinis performed skywriting for Pepsi-Cola, “Across the US during those years, skywriting with smoke was a premier form of advertising.  The original 1929 TravelAir Pepsi Skywriter my Dad flew hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum,” says Greg.

Always an entrepreneur in 1946, Andy developed a method of “skytyping” using multiple aircraft to create complex sky displays and messages. His patented skytyping method provided a high-quality message that was more clearly readable at large distances and stayed intact longer. The patent for computer-controlled skytyping between multiple aircraft was awarded to Andy in 1964. Andy flew west at age 83 after having amassed over 30,000 flying hours.

Greg says that aviation was always a central part of his life. When his father would “babysit” him, they would go to the airport and hit the skies. He learned to fly in an AT-6 and has been a sky writer since he was 18 years old. In 1979, Greg formed Skytypers, Inc. holding the patents and continuing his father’s business legacy.

The Stinis family: a study of commitment to a General Aviation business, innovation, perseverance and fun.

Having both the East and West coast bases, the Skytypers have worked for a variety of clients. Among them Anheuser–Busch, Miller Brewing Company, Coors, Pepsi-Cola, Universal Pictures, Toyota Motors, Disneyland, Coppertone, Solarcaine, Miller Brewing Company, Ford, General Foods, and Geico.Geico skytypers

As well they have brought their own type of magic to a variety of prestigious and historic events: The 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California, Superbowl games, Macy’s parades and 4th of July celebrations in New York and over the White House. While a successful business, with world-famous clients, I can’t help but wonder about the countless people that they have touched and lit a spark for aviation.   All the pilots I talked to said that they get a lot of questions and comments from airshow attendees and the like. The way that the typed letters magically appear in the sky is a head-turner for sure.

In 1989, Greg took the California business to Japan becoming the first US WWII civilian aircraft team to fly and tour Japan. Since then, Skytypers has created several joint ventures throughout the world: South Africa, France, Spain, UAE and the United Kingdom.

Stephen Stinis began formal participation in company operations in 1996, thus making Skytypers an enterprise spanning three generations. In 2004, Stephen and his cousin Curtiss Stinis developed and patented a new digital Skytyping system using multiple computers on a wireless network. The system has the capability to type messages in color, in different languages and some graphics/logos. Stephen received his pilot’s license when he was seventeen years old while working for Skytypers. According to Stephen, “The goals of Skytypers are to help private and public organizations inform and educate people about product and service offerings as well as charity projects and public service measures.”

SkytypersGeneral Aviation businesses such as Skytypers are a true economic engine for our airports. They have a squadron of AT6 in New York and previous to Chino the West Coast unit was based in Long Beach for thirty-seven years. Not do only aviation businesses pay rent, but they increase tourism, purchase fuel, and are ambassadors for the airport.

The flight of five Grumman Tigers departed Chino on a clear Saturday afternoon. Greg and Stephen Stinis were in Skytyper #1. I flew right seat in #2 with longtime professional pilot Torrey Ward. The other members of the squad were #3 Jim Wilkins, #4 Zackary Bryson, and #5 Tom Sather. I was impressed; start to finish with the pre-flight briefing, pre-flight, run up, communications and in-flight formation from these gentlemen. I had never flown in an airplane with a clear canopy the visibility was awesome. I decided to use my Lightspeed Tango wireless headset and was impressed by its capabilities once again.

We climbed to 11,000 feet and the Skytypers began their work. Our mission took us over downtown San Diego, Sea World, and Coronado. Returning to Orange County we flew up the coast to Huntington Beach over Long Beach, Orange County Airport and back to Chino. The mission lasted a little over two and a half hours. I was thrilled to be able to fly some of the formation from the right seat. Each letter created by the five airplanes is 1250 feet tall, meaning that people in a twenty-mile radius viewed the skywriting.IMG_3661 It is amazing to consider upwards of two million people saw the skytyping.

After a fun formation landing we climbed out of the Tigers and de-briefed. A quick scan of Instagram and Twitter yielded not only photos but also video of the Skytypers at work. It is easy to see now that the ideas that Andy Stinis had in the early 40s were brilliant. Add to that the technology available now makes the flights safer and adds greater choices.

From master on to master off the Skytypers acted like professional pilots, yet the amount of fun they had was infectious. It is clear that they have found the golden ticket; their passion is in line with their vocation. The result is art, sky art.

On a personal note I would like to thank the Stinis family and all the Skytypers for the hospitality. I really very much enjoyed being able to fly some of the formation from the right seat. That taste has inspired me to begin my formation training with the Mooney Caravan and will flying the mass arrival to Oshkosh in a few weeks.IMG_3564

Each of the Skytypers asked me what I thought about flying the mission. My answer was the same. “My face hurts from smiling for two and a half hours straight!” Business innovation, ingenuity, perseverance through challenging economic times, inspiring the love of flight, and generating awe with puffs of smoke, the sky is only the beginning for the Skytypers.

 

 

 

 

 

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot. She is the Founder of two grass-roots general aviation service groups: Mooney Ambassadors and the Friends of Oceano Airport. Presently Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. She is the Director and Executive Producer of the documentary: Boots on the Ground: the Men & Women who made Mooney©. She co-created Mooney Girls Mooney Girls and Right Seat Ready!© She is the creator of Pilot Plus One© She is an aviation educator and writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Mooney4Me

Possible increase in Alaska aviation motor fuel tax

Alaska is facing a budget crisis due to the low price of crude oil, which will impact all Alaskans, most likely in multiple ways. Focusing on the impact to the 247 state operated airports, the Alaska Aviation Advisory Board (AAB) worked with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT) to look at ways to provide additional revenue to support the airports, while having minimal impact on aviation system users. This discussion started back in February this year, when DOT initially announced a proposal to establish landing fees at Deadhorse, a move that many feared would spread to other airports across the state system. In a meeting with Governor Walker, the AAB expressed concerns about landing fees, and asked to work with DOT to look at other options before any changes were made. The Governor indicated he would welcome the board’s input, which kicked off a series of meetings with DOT.

At the spring and summer AAB meetings, DOT presented both the costs to operate the Rural Alaska Airport System, and three alternative methods to increase revenues. DOT also discussed several possible measures to reduce operating costs. These ranged from handing some airports over to local communities to operate, to streamlining the aviation functions of the department into a single division.   Establishing a true division of aviation within DOT is something that a number of aviation organizations, including AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association, have advocated for a number of years. While we believe that streamlining the management of DOT airports will help manage costs in the long run, this doesn’t address the immediate need to keep the airports operating.

What does it cost to operate state airports? Funding for airports comes in two distinct flavors: capital funding, which is used to build and improve airports, primarily comes from the federal government; and operating funding, which covers staffing, supplies and other costs associated with operations and maintenance, which is typically supplied by the airport owner.

Capital Funding:  The State of Alaska, like other states, receives grant money directly from the FAA through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), to build and expand airports. Alaska has received over $200 million/year for the past several years from this program. The FAA’s contribution is typically about 90% of the grant, with a requirement for the state to match the federal funding. The state’s contribution comes from the airport owner, called the sponsor, in FAA terms. This AIP funding mechanism allows for the construction and improvements of airports nationwide, but comes with strings attached. One of the strings is that the sponsor (airport owner) agrees to pay for operation of the facilities, and to keep them in good working order.

Operational Funding: Funding the operation and maintenance of airports is the challenge. The FAA expects airport sponsors (owners) to pay for operations, and airports typically charge fees to help cover some of those costs. Airport lease fees, tie down fees, and other revenue streams help offset operational costs. In Alaska, even though we rely on aviation for basic transportation, our low population base often doesn’t provide the volume of fees that would be needed for our airports to truly be self-sustaining. Here are the figures for the state-operated airports (not including Anchorage and Fairbanks International, which are operated as a separate enterprise fund). The cost to operate the Rural Alaska Aviation System in FY 2014 was $33.8 million dollars. Revenues received by the state included $5.3 million from airport leasing, tie down permits, etc. and $4.6 million in aviation motor fuels taxes, for a total revenue of $9.9 million. These revenues go into the General Fund. Each year the Legislature appropriates money from the General Fund to DOT, which includes the resources to operate the rural airports.

Revenue Options  DOT presented three options to increase revenues: Implement landing fees, initially at the regional hub (Part 139) airports; implement a state-wide airport user fee, and; increase motor fuel taxes. The AAB looked at these from the standpoint of how much they would cost to implement, the projected amount of revenue generated, what they would cost the users, and how equitable they seemed both to different segments of the aviation community and to the public, which in many cases relies on aviation for the delivery of goods and services, in addition to their own transportation. After considerable deliberation, the AAB recommended that the state increase the aviation motor fuel tax from the current levels (4.7 cents/gal for avgas and 3.2 cents/gal for jet fuel), to 10 cents/gal for both fuel types. Based on projections provided by the state, this would raise about $9 million additional revenue per year. Combined with the current revenue streams, it would provide approximately $19 million of the $34 million needed to operate the rural airports.

A significant motivation for this recommendation is that a change in motor fuel tax doesn’t create any additional cost to state government to collect. Both landing fees and airport user fees require additional administrative efforts to collect, as well as burden the user with tracking and payment. It was also felt that the motor fuel tax was more equitable because cost is proportional to use. Adam White, Government Affairs Manager for the Alaska Airmen’s Association, provided the following information to show the impact to some typical GA users:

Adam White fuel tax table

At a recent meeting in Fairbanks, Governor Walker acknowledged the AAB recommendation. It will take legislative action, however, to make a change to the motor fuel tax. While no one wants to see an increase in operating cost, the motor fuel tax increase option appears to be the best choice to address this issue. We will certainly be discussing it more in the months ahead, and we are interested in hearing your thoughts on funding to keep our airports open, maintained and safe for all aviation operations.

 

This article is reprinted from the January-March, 2016 issue of the Alaska Airmen’s Association Transponder.

Videos of traffic patterns? Yes, please

Flying to a new airport is great fun, but it poses its own set of challenges. You can study the sectional chart, the airport diagram, and the Airport/Facility Directory for an hour, but when you’re up in the air 10 miles out, searching for that strip of asphalt, sometimes it’s tough to put those pieces together and pick out your destination. (Ask any student pilot in the Northeast who’s had to spy an airport in an urban area, seemingly buried in a maze of buildings and highways.)

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

Short final to Metropolitan Oakland International Airport.

A new website aims to help you. LandingPatterns.com was created by California pilot Tony Arbini, who says he was assigned an airport he had never flown to for his long solo cross-country. He went online to try to look up the airport and learn as much as he could about its airspace, but he didn’t find much. He created LandingPatterns.com in a quest to “find a better way to communicate” airspace and traffic patterns for a given airport, according to the website.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

The airspace around OAK is depicted graphically.

Arbini and his team visit airports and videotape the flight, but the site’s collection of videos is much more polished than what you’ll typically find on YouTube. Each video introduces the airport by showing you its location on a sectional chart, with traffic patterns, airspace, and nearby navigation aids highlighted. Static photos display pertinent landmarks to help you spy the runway before you’re directly over top of it. There’s also info on traffic pattern altitudes, noise abatement procedures, terrain obstacles, and other good-to-know stuff.

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (Landingpatterns.com)

Traffic patterns at OAK are highlighted. (Landingpatterns.com)

All of this can be found in traditional sources, of course, but I like the way LandingPatterns.com presents it in a neat and graphically attractive package. Note that the use of the website should enhance—not replace—your due diligence when digging up “all available information” about your destination.

Right now the website covers airports in California (plus one lone airport in Alaska). But that’s where you come in. The website urges you to “fly it—film it—share it.” You can upload your own footage to the site. Arbini provides tips on how best to present it, and he even includes a tutorial on how to use his preferred action cam—a Garmin Virb—to get that great footage.—Jill W. Tallman

Talking GA in the Beehive State

Since joining AOPA as our Northwest Mountain Regional manager three years ago, I’ve had many opportunities to visit all seven of the beautiful states I cover.  But by virtue of few aviation issues to address, Utah has not been as frequent a destination for me as my other six states.  I was able to rectify that last week, however, as I at last had an opportunity to spend several days in the Salt Lake Valley, participating in a variety of productive aviation functions and meetings.

My first stop after arriving at KSLC was to visit with Pat Morley, a great friend of GA (and an AOPA member) who is the Director of the Utah Division of AeronauticsB4bHjJaCUAARVysI’ve known Pat for nearly 13 years, since my time as the airport manager in St. George, Utah.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder working, more dedicated aviation professional.  With minimal resources, Pat and his small staff do a fantastic job supporting the maintenance and improvement of Utah’s 47 public use airports.  Utah is a great example of effective application of GA revenues- 100% of GA fuel taxes and aircraft registration fees collected are allocated to the Aeronautics Division, where they are invested back into the state’s airport and aviation system.  The Aeronautics Division also operates the state’s general aviation aircraft, efficiently transporting state employees between the state’s far-flung communities that are often difficult to reached easily by road.  It was great seeing Pat again, and finally seeing his operation first hand.

The primary reason for my trip to SLC, however, was to represent AOPA and GA at the annual Runway Safety Summit, presented by the American Association of IMG_1063Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.  This valuable two day event focused on how GA, airlines, airports, air traffic control, FAA and others are collaborating to improve runway safety, minimize runway incursions, and keep airports and their users safe.  I participated on a panel that addressed “Preventing GA Runway Incursions”, where I discussed GA cockpit technology evolution, as well as products and devices like Foreflight and IPads available to pilots to improve situational awareness and help minimize incursions.  I also briefed attendees on the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s excellent training resources for GA pilots on runway safety, which were developed in partnership with FAA.  If you haven’t seen them, have a look.  And don’t forget to have a look outside that cockpit and avoid those incursions!

What I was most excited about on this trip, however, was my evening visit on Tuesday December 9th to the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan, south of SLC.  Just a few short years ago, this GA reliever airport to KSLC was struggling, with little activity and lackluster aviation services.  All that changed three years ago when local pilots Don and Scott Weaver opened Leading Edge Aviation. In that short time, with the strong support of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, the Weavers have B4eArgNCQAAVeC_developed and fostered a thriving GA community, and the airport is vibrant and re-energized.  Each month, the Weaver’s host a monthly dinner and meeting for GA users on the airport, and I was fortunate to participate in December’s dinner while I was there.  We all enjoyed a fantastic meal prepared by the Weaver’s, and I updated the group on AOPA’s latest advocacy efforts, and our initiatives to grow GA.  This airport is a perfect example of the camaraderie, fun and engaging social community aspect of GA that AOPA President Mark Baker talks so much about.  If you want to see how successful a GA airport can be, drop in to U42 some time.

I finished up my trip with a visit to the Ogden-Hinckley Airport (KOGD), a very busy GA reliever about 30 miles north of SLC.  I met with our Airport Support Network Volunteer Bob Foxley to discuss a variety of airport topics that AOPA is engaged with, including challenges faced by GA tenants and users as a result of Allegiant Airlines’ two weekly flights, and TSA regulations and their impact on the rest of the airport.  We also B4h-9TcCAAAevPBdiscussed the airport’s rules and regulations and how AOPA can help airports like KOGD implement rules and regulations that are reasonable, fair and not overly burdensome.  And while at KOGD, I was treated to a rare sight of not one, but two airworthy Grumman Albatrosses.  Thanks to the gracious staff at CB Aviation I was able to check out the interior, and even get a chance to sit up front!

And with a few hours to kill before my flight home, and being the true avgeek that I’ve always been, I finally was able to visit the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum, a B4mJem0CYAA3Plafantastic and comprehensive collection of military aircraft, including the world’s only C-model SR-71.  If you ever have free time in Salt Lake City, this is definitely a place not to miss.

Although I was in Utah for just three days, my time there was incredibly worthwhile, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with a variety of GA professionals and enthusiasts about AOPA and our advocacy, as well as our shared love of flying and all things aviation.  To keep tabs on all that AOPA is working on in Utah and at state and local levels across the country, be sure to check out our regional advocacy pages.  I look forward to seeing you in your state in 2015!

 

 

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