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Some private airports risk disappearing from flight charts

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is cleaning up their airport database, and is on the verge of removing almost 3,000 private airports from the flight charts across the nation. Some 114 of those are in Alaska.  While we want and need current and accurate information for flight planning, many of these facilities are still active airports and seaplane bases.  Reaching out to airport owners and encouraging them to update their information will help keep viable airstrips and seaplane bases on the charts.

A sample of the private airports needing to update their listing with FAA to avoid being removed from the flight charts

Updating Airport Information
Flight planning starts with having good information about the airports we plan to visit.  Aeronautical charts and facility directories, along with numerous online websites and data services, are the places we look–but where does the airport data come from?  For public use airports, the FAA pays someone to periodically go to that field and check details like runway length, condition, obstructions, etc.  Private use airports, however, have a different process. The FAA relies on the owners to update their information.  The FAA periodically sends a survey to airport owners, asking them to update their entries.  But what if they don’t hear back?

FAA is currently starting a campaign to change the status of airports whose owners or managers have not provided updates since December 31, 2017.  The airport’s record in the FAA’s airports database will be changed to a “CLOSED INDEFINITLY” which will trigger removal of the airport from the flight charts in the subsequent charting cycle.  This process is slated to start in July, 2020 for airport owners or managers who have not responded to the letter or updated their information online.  The change may be undone, however. If an airport owner belatedly updates their record, the status can be revised, and data restored. But it will take waiting for a publication cycle for the airport to appear on the charts again.

You can help
Check to see if airports you are familiar with are on FAA’s list.  Explore this map of airports in Alaska needing updates.  If you know the airport owners or managers, consider reaching out to them to see if they have updated their entry since this list was created in early May. Here are several ways they may accomplish that task:

  1. Return the FAA survey letter, if they still have it.
  2. Log onto their account on the Airport Data and Information System, https://adip.faa.gov and update their data. Even if the airport owner makes no update to any of their data, by virtue of logging in they have confirmed that their airport is active.
  3. Submit an FAA Form 7480-1 to Alaska Region Airports Division (hardcopy or email) identifying any revisions, or confirming there are no changes.
  4. Contact Patrick Zettler, with the Alaska Region Airports Division for assistance.  He may be reached at 907-271-5446 or [email protected]

While you are at it, thank them having an airport. Private airports are an important component of our aviation infrastructure. They provide capacity beyond that available from public airports and can provide an added layer of safety for aviation operations!

Automated local airport aviation forecasts for Alaskan communities

The National Weather Service (NWS) has fielded an experimental aviation weather product for many Alaska communities that lack a Terminal Area Forecast (TAF).  It represents the latest step in helping pilots anticipate local weather conditions before they fly. The Alaska Aviation Guidance (AAG) product takes the current conditions and applies a model to predict how conditions will change over the next six hours.

A state-wide display of the 61 airports where the AAG product is available, color coded for the predicted weather category (VFR, MVFR, IFR, LIFR).

 What does this mean for Alaska?
Today NWS only issues 39 TAFs for airports across the state—an area one fifth the size of the continental US.  Adding this new experimental product that covers 61 additional airports greatly increases a pilot’s ability to anticipate weather in the immediate vicinity of those locations.  An overall display of the state includes a graphic depiction, color coded for the major flight conditions categories (VFR, marginal VFR, IFR and low IFR), providing a synoptic awareness of conditions over larger areas.

What’s different?
Unlike a TAF, that covers a twenty-four-hour period, these forecasts only project conditions for the next six hours. They are updated each hour, however, to give a fresh look ahead—while TAFs are only routinely updated four times a day.  The product describes the elements pilots most care about; ceiling, visibility, wind and weather.  If conditions are expected to be stable during the next six hours, a single set of elements will be provided, however if change is expected, the guidance will break the time into finer segments. The results are also displayed in an easy to read decoded fashion.

A sample forecast, broken down into time blocks when conditions are expected to change.

Pilots should be aware of some limitations.  This product is completely automated, with no oversight or input from a human forecaster.  And while it covers the key elements we most care about, it does not forecast conditions such as localized convective activity, blowing snow or smoke during fire season.

How can pilots use the product?
Unlike the TAF, which is the staple for IFR operations, the AAG is intended for VFR use only.  On March 25th,  FAA Flight Standards released an InFO sheet that describes how it may be used for flights conducted under different operating regulations, with some limitations.  NWS also cautions us that this is not monitored on a 24 hour basis and may experience outages. AAG should be used in conjunction with all other weather forecasts (such as SIGMETs, AIRMET, Area Forecasts, etc) to best inform pilots of the expected weather conditions.

Where do I find it?
The AAG is an online product found at: https://www.weather.gov/arh/aag. Users will also find an FAQ with additional information, a link to the FAA InFO document and to a user survey.  Please use this product as you fly this summer. The experimental period currently runs to October 16. What happens after that may be influenced by your feedback!

More on Alaska weather developments
On April 8th, the National Weather Service organized a webinar which featured information from the FAA describing plans to deploy a Visual Weather Observing System in Alaska, on a test basis.  To learn more about this project, slated to start this summer, check out the Alaska Aviation Weather Update Webinar.

Alaska Pilots: Heads Up for VIP TFR’s

Typical VIP TFR containing inner and outer rings, with special requirement for communication and transponder use, when active.

TFR’s are not uncommon to Alaskan pilots, often associated with forest fire fighting activities during the summer months.  According to Air Force officials, however, we have had a rash of incursions associated with VIP TFR’s specifically in the Anchorage area. These take place when Air Force One or other high-level officials are moving through the area, making a stop for fuel at JBER.  The national security nature of these TFR’s; however, has a different “side effect” requiring the Air Force to scramble fighters to respond when incursions are observed.  It was reported at the March meeting of the Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board that during a recent VIP TFR, there were eight unauthorized aircraft incursions concurrently.  It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what could happen when an F-22 intercepts a small GA aircraft. With widely disparate operating airspeeds, aircraft maneuvering in close proximity to each other could end up in a dangerous situation for both the civil and military pilot.

Checking NOTAMs before you fly, even for a local flight off a private grass strip, is essential.  The FAA and Air Force has been reaching out to airport sponsors and local airport groups to provide advance notice via email.  Alaska DOT is looking at putting electronic road signs at the entrances of some of their airports.

Pilots have many tools to learn about NOTAMs today—from free websites like www.SkyVector.com to electronic flight bag programs and the NOTAM website itself. AOPA’s Air Safety Institute also has a document that gives tips for TFRs and NORAD Intercept Procedures, that would be a good resource.

Take the extra few minutes before you fly to check for NOTAMs – particularly those posted for Anchorage Center (ZAN).  In the Anchorage area, the F-22 pilot in the ready room at JBER will be happy that you did!

State of Alaska Capstone Aviation Loan Program to Sunset

Alaska may be the only state in the nation to make financial loans available to encourage aviation safety.  This unique Capstone Program helps individual aircraft owners and aviation businesses finance avionics upgrades to take advantage of ADS-B and the WAAS GPS instrument approaches that have become key elements of the NextGen air transportation system.   After being available for a dozen years, however, only 20 loans have been approved, and the program will sunset on July 1st 2020.  It may still be worth considering, if you are planning upgrades that meet the program criteria.

Information on the loan program is available at: https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded/FIN/LoanPrograms/CapstoneAvionics.aspx or google “Alaska Capstone Loan”

Background
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Capstone Program pioneered the use of ADS-B and other technologies to improve aviation safety.  From the time the demonstration project became operational in 2000 until 2006, the program demonstrated a 47% reduction in the accident rate for aircraft operating in southwest Alaska that were equipped with ADS-B, WAAS GPS navigators, and moving map displays compared to the non-equipped aircraft.  Those technologies along with the installation of additional weather stations to support instrument approaches in the area contributed to this change.  But it was recognized early on that the cost of equipping aircraft would be an issue. While the demonstration equipment had been funded by the FAA, subsequent equipage would be a financial burden on aircraft owners and operators.

On the strength of these results in accident reduction, to encourage use of this safety equipment in the state, the Alaska Legislature established the Capstone Avionics Loan Program in 2008.  For the past 12 years, the program has made it possible for Alaskans to obtain a 4% fixed rate loan that will pay for 80% of the cost of installing ADS-B, GPS/WAAS navigation equipment and a multifunction display in aircraft that are principally operated in Alaska.

Not Many Takers
During the life of the program, only 20 loans have been approved. Seven of those went to private individuals and the remaining were taken out by businesses.  I was one of the individuals that used this program to install ADS-B, and a WAAS GPS in my aircraft.  The loan application process was straight forward. It required filling out a financial statement, information about the aircraft, providing a copy of my preceding year’s tax return and a $50 application fee.  One detail that is worth noting–many people that are making upgrades choose to change out other components of their panel at the same time. In my case, I installed a Garmin G5 attitude indicator and directional gyro so I could ditch my vacuum system.  It was no problem to have the avionics installer split the items that were eligible on a separate invoice from those that were outside the scope of the loan program.  Once approved, the check was sent directly to the installer, and I only had to come up the remaining 20% at the time the bill was due.

Loan Program Sunsets Next July
The legislation that established the program has a sunset clause, and unless further action is taken it will be terminated on July 1st 2020.  There are two important details related to that deadline:

First, if you haven’t yet equipped with any of this suite of equipment, there is still time.  But don’t put it off much longer, as it does take time to have a loan application reviewed and approved.  I would recommend calling the folks that run the program at the Division of Economic Development and review what you are planning, to figure if it fits your circumstances.  They have offices and staff in Anchorage and Juneau that are a phone call away.  They can be reached at (800) 478 5626 (toll free in Alaska) or (907) 465-2510 and ask to speak with one of their loan officers.  Their office hours are 7:30am – 4:30pm,  Monday – Friday.

Second, the low use of the program makes it hard to justify an extension.  Please take the one-question survey to express your needs regarding this program:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/323WWR2

If you are considering purchasing ADS-B or WAAS GPS navigation equipment for your aircraft, this opportunity may be worth exploring.  Don’t let a lack of current funds stop you from making technology upgrades that can help keep you and your passengers safe.

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This article was initially published in the Alaska Airmen Association’s Transponder

Experimental Alaska weather product predicts clouds along routes

Update: October 10, 2019–This experimental period has been extended another 30 days, and will be available through November 8th.

A new generation of weather satellites is making it possible to help Alaska pilots anticipate weather along their route of flight.  An experimental Cloud Vertical Cross-Section (CVC) Product shows the estimated extent of cloud cover along a route, as well as whether the clouds contain ice, liquid or supercooled water.  These products are available on an experimental basis from September 11th to November 8th.  Check them out, and help provide feedback!

Background
Imaging sensors on new NOAA weather satellites are supporting R&D activities by NOAA and Colorado State University’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere to create a number of new weather products for Alaska.  While the rest of the country relies primarily on geostationary satellites, parked some 22,000 miles above the equator, they don’t provide very detailed information as you go toward the poles. At Alaska’s latitudes, we are better served with polar-orbiting satellites that make multiple passes per day sweeping over the state a little more than 500 miles overhead, capturing swathes of imagery as they fly by.  Image data from these passes are extracted, processed and used to create a new generation of weather products for Alaska.  Starting in mid-September, one set of these products is available to users for evaluation.

Entry page to the Experimental Cloud Vertical Cross-Section Product. Click on the highlighted link on this page to see what satellite passes covered Alaska.

Cloud Vertical Cross-Section (CVC)Product
Shortly after a satellite passes over a portion of the state, data from the sensors is extracted and processed to created a cross-section product.  Four routes that have been defined, to estimate cloud conditions between the cities of Anchorage and Bethel, Fairbanks and Juneau, plus a route from Fairbanks to Barrow (Utqiagvik).  With each satellite pass that covers some or all of these routes, a cross-section product is generated and made available through a website:

http://rammb.cira.colostate.edu/ramsdis/online/npp_viirs_arctic_aviation.asp

This window shows an animation of satellite passes over Alaska, used to create the CVC Product. It also provides an overview of synoptic weather pattern motion.

Navigating the CVC Product
To get a sense of how these products work, click on Pop-up Loop on the Overview with Flight Routes panel.  This animated loop will show the progression of satellite passes that covered the state, and which passes cover the defined routes.  It also provides a good depiction of the cloud cover over the last day or so. Use the controls on this window to change the animation speed, or to step through individual frames for an overview of weather system motion across the state. Times are listed in both UT and Alaska Daylight Time for your convenience.

A sample product from Anchorage to Fairbanks, depicting cloud conditions expected along the route.

Using the Route Product
After pursuing the overview, select a route of interest.  Either the HTML5 Loop or the Pop-up Loop launches an animation that steps through the products available for the route you picked.  Here too, the animation speed can be adjusted.  Or one can hit STOP and step through each frame individually.  This product is highly derived and is pulling data from several intermediate products that estimate cloud height, the cloud base, as well as the type of cloud they think will be present (water, ice or supercooled liquid).  Notice that at times there is missing data, color coded as light gray. In this case the product is not able to make a prediction.  The cross sections also have a backdrop of the terrain along each routes, and an estimate of the freezing level.

How you can help
As described, these are experimental products, and your help is needed to validate them.  First and foremost, please file Pilot Reports when you are flying anywhere within 50 miles of these routes.  During this experimental period, PIREPs are needed to help the science team learn about their accuracy.  Since they forecast the cloud base, as well as top, PIREPs for better than forecast conditions are needed, as well as those associated with icing, and cloud tops.  In addition, if you have questions or specific feedback, there is a Feedback link on the site which will put you directly in touch with the researchers involved in this effort.

This is an exciting step forward in providing weather information for aviation.  Please try out these new products during the 30 day experiment, and do all you can to help the science team understand how their products are working!

Alaska pilots: Planning to fly to Canada in January? Test a new app to cross the border

January is not generally the month of choice to fly yourself from Alaska to Canada.  But if you are planning such a trip, why not help test an app to make filing your eAPIS notices easier?  AOPA is collaborating with Jeppesen and Airside Mobile to develop an app to use when filing eAPIS reports, required when you leave or enter the US.

A free beta version of the app, Jeppesen Mobile QuickClear will be tested in the next 5-6 weeks.  If you are planning a cross-border trip in this time period, and would like to provide feedback to the developers, contact Matt York at [email protected] for details.  And don’t forget that in addition to filing an eAPIS report when leaving or returning to the US, you must also contact the Canadian and US port of entry you plan to fly to, by phone, to arrange for arrival.  See AOPA’s website for details on flying to international destinations at http://aopa.org/travel#international_travel.

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 is a Fire Traffic Area?

Canadair water scooper aircraft. One of the of aircraft types that frequent Alaskan skies during fire season.

As wildfire season approaches in Alaska, we can expect to see the migration of fire-fighting aircraft into the state.  Only slightly behind the migrating waterfowl.  I had the opportunity to sit in on a briefing recently that described how the aircraft that are used to tackle wildfire are managed—and more specifically, the airspace around a fire that is “under attack.”  They use a structure called a Fire Traffic Area. This is not necessarily the same as a TFR, which would apply to those of us not participating in fire fighting operations.  More on that later.

Structure of a wildfire operation
Typically, first on the scene is an air attack aircraft.  Aero Commanders are used to perform this function in interior Alaska.  Onboard is a pilot and a fire-fighter.  From their vantage point overhead, they manage the air assets, which might include air tankers, helicopters, cargo planes making drops to crews on the ground, etc. They also monitor operations on the ground, and watch the development of the fire, among other things.

Fire Traffic Area Diagram. Note that aircraft may be arriving or holding in the airspace outside the 5 nm controlled area. Water scooper aircraft or helicopters may also be ferrying to and from nearby waterbodies. Monitor the tactical frequency, 128.45 MHz when flying in the vicinity of a fire fighting operation.

Fire Traffic Area
A piece of airspace five nautical mile in diameter called a Fire Traffic Area, is defined over the blaze during fire suppression operations. It typically extends from the surface to 2,500 feet above terrain.  Within this airspace, altitude zones are used to separate the different type of aerial operations (see diagram for altitude stratifications).  Aircraft involved in the operation are required to contact “air attack” when they are within 12 miles of the center of this structure, and not allowed within 7 nautical miles until they have established communication with the air attack ship.  This airspace will often, but not always, be accompanied by a TFR. When a TFR is established for fire-fighting operations, it should include a radio frequency and phone number, in case you do need to transit the airspace.

Communications
The two-person crew in the air attack aircraft not only directs tanker and other aerial activities—they also maintain communications with crews on the ground and dispatchers back at air bases.  Between VHF and FM radios and a Sat phone, they may have as many as eight com channels to manage.  If one is flying in the vicinity of a fire operation, a good thing to note is the primary air tactical frequency: 128.45 MHz.  Monitoring this frequency should give you an idea of what is happening.  If you need to transit the area, give a call.  If the frequency is extremely busy, that is a clue that you might want to detour around, and not add to the congestion they are already dealing with.  At other times, however, give a call, perhaps starting with a position report, and let them know what you would like to do.

Fire related radio frequencies that may be handy to know.

Reporting a wildfire
Depending on what part of the state you are in, either BLM or the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources will have jurisdiction over fire suppression activities. In case you need report a wild fire, two other frequencies to note are: State Forestry, 132.45 MHz and BLM Fire, 127.45.

Safety is our number one concern when sharing airspace with fire-fighting activities.  Keep these radio frequencies handy, check NOTAMs for TFR’s and enjoy the summer flying season!

GPS Testing Part of Military Training this season

Sample of the map included with a GPS Testing NOTAM. Pilots filling out online GPS anomaly reports may help develop a better understanding of the real impacts of these activities.

Military Training is a routine part of the flying season in Alaska.  Sporting the largest contiguous complex of special use airspace in the country (the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex or JPARC), military planners last week announced the dates of four Red Flag exercises over the coming months.  The thing that is a little different is that each of these 10 day exercises this year will include “GPS testing” where military forces on the ground will jam the GPS signal from participating aircraft, to test this real-world threat now faced by our armed forces.  The challenge is, it may also impact civil aircraft, outside the boundaries of the MOAs and Restricted Areas used by the military aircraft.

When/where will this happen?
The GPS testing will take place within the ten-day windows of the Red Flag Exercises.  At a briefing last week, the dates of this years exercises were shared with civil aviation operators.  We also learned that some of these exercises will have as many as 120 aircraft, participating, including visitors from several foreign countries.  These are dates you may want to put on your calendar, and pay attention to as you plan your flying activities:

JPARC Airspace Complex, largest military training airspace in the country, will be again host Red Flag flying exercises this summer.

26 April – 11 May
7-22 June
9-24 August
4-19 October

On the dates within these ranges that GPS testing is planned, NOTAMs will be issued at least 72 hours in advance, with defined date and time ranges that will limit the testing.  Even though the testing is highly directional in nature, aimed at military participants, the potential for it to disrupt GPS signals outside their airspace is significant.  As we progress into the NextGen era, where GPS is the primary basis for IFR as well as VFR navigation, this is something we all need to plan for.

What if I lose my GPS?
We still have a lot to learn about the impacts of GPS testing.  If you lose GPS signal while flying please do two things:

(1) Notify ATC, whether it be Anchorage Center, approach control, a control tower or a flight service station.  Let them know when and where you lost GPS signal, or experienced any other problems with GPS navigation. This holds for both IFR and VFR operations.

(2) After your flight, please fill out a GPS Anomaly Reporting Form to help us learn the extent and nature of impacts that may be caused by this testing.  https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/nas/gps_reports/

AOPA is working this issue on a national level and getting reports from Alaska will help define the impacts of this training activity—which influences all segments of civil aviation. Through time, we hope this will result in more accurate NOTAMs, or other accommodations to provide more precise understanding of the impacts of these training activities.

What else can I do?
As pilots, we are trained to have back-up plans.  If you are operating IFR, remembering to tune in the VOR and ILS frequencies from our “legacy” equipment.  For those of us that fly VFR, it might be a good idea to make a flight or two this summer just navigating with a good old paper chart—and re-discovering the joys of pilotage.

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

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