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Tag: Alaska (page 1 of 8)

NASA terrain avoidance flight system demonstrated

NASA is developing technology initially created for fighter aircraft into a tool to help general aviation aircraft to avoid collisions with terrain.  While many of us fly today with features in our GPS that will alert us to the proximity of terrain, the basic response is, “pull up—pull up.” If, however you are in a confined location that option may not be the best response—or even possible.  While still ‘work in progress,’ NASA is hosting a live, online demonstration of their Resilient Autonomy Activity, an outgrowth of a system developed for use in the F-16 fighters.  Mark your calendar for Wednesday, September 22, at 6 pm Alaska Daylight Time, to watch a simulation demonstration in some Alaskan  mountainous terrain.

Background
Most of the terrain awareness and warning devices that we see today in our general aviation cockpits do little more than flash orange or red, depending how close we are, with the only guidance being to climb.  But NASA has been working on something better.  The NASA Resilient Autonomy Activity is developing a system that provides more options on how to escape terrain, when you get too close.  Based on work in conjunction with the FAA and DOD, they have software under development that came from their Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS), developed for, and today in use in F-16’s.

A screen shot of a simulated flight indicating that a turn to the left is the only remaining maneuver to avoid the terrain ahead.  Credit: NASA/Mark Skoog

This work is being conducted by the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.  In an event coordinated with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, they plan to give an online demonstration of the system’s capabilities.  Instead of just directing a pilot to climb, the system uses digital terrain data to offer lateral escape routes, depending on the location.  Planned in stages, the system is anticipated to be coupled to an autopilot, and eventually into totally autonomous aircraft.

The virtual presentation will be conducted using Microsoft TEAMS, with time for questions and answers following the demo.  To check out this evolving capability, and ask questions of NASA staff,  join the meeting with the information below:

Wednesday, September 22, at 6 pm Alaska Daylight Time

Microsoft Teams meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

+1 256-715-9946,,104378964#   United States, Huntsville

Phone Conference ID: 104 378 964#

Find a local number | Reset PIN

 

Experimental Graphic Aviation Weather for Alaska

The National Weather Service is looking for your help to provide comments on the Experimental Graphical Forecast for Aviation (GFA) covering Alaska.  This tool has been operational in the rest of the country since 2017, and is now being populated with datasets to cover Alaska.  The public notice announcing the availability of this product indicates that it is anticipated to potentially replace the text-based Area Forecast (FA) for Alaska in the future.  But the GFA really is much more than a replacement for the string of text that used to spit out of a teletype machine.  It is really an integrated display that allows pilots to visualize multiple types of information in a graphical form. This includes aviation forecasts up to 18 hours in the future, and providing current conditions—METARs, PIREPs, satellite and radar products, up to 18 hours in the past.  Along with the increase in the potential amount of weather information provided, there are additional tools for pilots to use to select the specific weather information they are looking for. These tools are different and will take some getting used to but are well worth the time to learn. For example, the ability to display a multi-leg route can help the user apply the forecast conditions to the route they are intending to fly.

Using the GFA
As a new user to the system, it helped me to realize that one first must choose whether to look at the future (Forecast button) or current and past conditions (Obs/Warn button), and that for each of these products, selecting the Map Options button allows the user to change features such as the base map, size and opacity of map features.  This is especially important when dealing with some elements, such as PIREPs.  The default for PIREPs is to display those no older than ninety minutes but using the Map Options control allows one to display them in 90 minute increments back to a maximum of 12 hours.  This is a very dynamic system—each map product has its own legend displayed at the bottom of the frame, and most have different feature settings, allowing a high degree of customization.  I personally like the ability to display airports and rivers, for geographic reference.  Learning the nuances of each map and how to customize them to your preferred view will take time and some willingness to understand the new system.

Graphic Forecast: A view of the Experimental GFA looking at the forecast ceilings and visibility for a route between Fairbanks and Anchorage via Healy River and Talkeetna. Being able to display a multi-leg route helps relate to the forecast conditions along each leg of the flight.

Some of these custom options include controls for layers that allow a user to select times and altitudes to display information specific to those settings.  These options demand some study to ensure you have correctly adjusted your settings to display the desired information.  Winds, turbulence, and icing forecasts can be selected for different altitudes. Care will also be needed when viewing PIREPs.  An altitude selector scale is provided but it might be good initially to use the ALL option to get the complete picture before focusing on a single altitude range.

For those of us long-time users of the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website, the GFA is different—and will take getting used to.  This system combines point observations such as METARs and PIREPs with graphic layers showing the lateral extent of sky cover and includes yet a third element– spot features that forecast cloud bases, tops, and sky cover at regular intervals.  This last layer shows what we used to get in a paragraph of text for an entire forecast zone, but it is now broken into smaller elements, providing additional spatial resolution (see figure below).

Gridded Forecast: This example shows a forecast predicting sky cover, bases, and tops on a gridded basis. The pilot selected route depicted as the pink line is superimposed along with rivers and public use airports in this example help provide for geographic reference. The legend, displayed at the bottom, is never far away.

This weather evaluation product is highly customizable.  The number of features displayed change as one zooms in and out of the product, while continuing to show the route selected in the first place. I particularly like being able to turn on the major rivers for situational awareness.

Share Your Thoughts
The comment period for this experimental product is slated to run through September, 2022.  Please take some time now, during the short dark days of mid-winter, to try planning some routes you normally fly, and see how this system delivers the data. If you are unfamiliar with the GFA, a short video tutorial is available to help get started.  The Info button at the upper right corner of the window will provide a brief description, with links to the tutorial video, the product description document, and a link to the survey to provide feedback. You may also use the “Contact AWC” link in the “fine print” at the bottom of the page if you want to comment on the product.

NWS wants our feedback.  Using the Survey button near the top right corner of the frame to provide feedback will help the product designers and interface experts at the NWS better understand how to adjust the weather evaluation tool as required for Alaska and ensure the system is user-friendly and meets the needs of pilots. Please also share your thoughts on this system with AOPA by email at [email protected]. The time you invest in this today will impact the quality of the product we have to work with in the future!

 

Neither rain nor COVID defeats practice runway at Fairbanks

It took a little longer than normal, but despite setbacks with weather and equipment, the practice runway is set up at Fairbanks International Airport. Only five days before the start of sheep hunting season, pilots again have an 800 by 25-foot wide strip to brush up on short field operations before heading to the field.

Background
For the past nine years, a partnership between the Fairbanks General Aviation Association (the airport user group) and Fairbanks International Airport and other local aviation stakeholders including volunteers from the Ninety Nines, EAA, Alaska Airmen Association and the UAF Aviation Technology Program has provided an enhancement on the gravel runway. This gravel runway is referred to as the “ski strip” because during the snow-covered months it is used exclusively for ski equipped aircraft. During the summer, this 2,900-foot by 75-foot gravel runway sees a lot of use by tail draggers, especially those with big tires that have an aversion to pavement.  In 2011 the FAA Airports Division approved a Modification to Standards allowing the runway to be marked by painting two by four-foot rectangles on the gravel to outline a simulated much smaller “bush” runway.  The rectangles are spaced at 100-foot intervals, providing a convenient reference to estimate landing or take off distances.

Paint being applied to the runway, while other members of the crew move a second template to the next mark. With two templates, it only took an hour to mark practice runways on both ends of the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

This year was different
Not much of a surprise that with all the other changes associated with the COVID pandemic, it took a little longer this year to get the job done.  Painting doesn’t get scheduled until the runway is graded and packed for the summer, which took longer than normal.  Added to that, interior Alaska has experienced a rainy summer, and finding a weather window was a challenge. The final hurdle was a clogged paint sprayer causing further delays.  In spite of all these impediments, during the third attempt– on August 4th— a crew of eight volunteers appeared and completed the project.

Masked crew members admiring the threshold on Ski Strip 02, after painting was complete.

Value beyond safety
While the concept of creating practice runways of this nature was born out of a desire to reduce off-field accidents, a project of this nature has other benefits.  It provides an opportunity for airport stakeholders to work with each other and airport management on a project all see as a positive contribution to the community.  Having a local airport group to coordinate the project and bring the individuals and organizations together is very helpful.  In the course of these efforts, relationships are formed and reinforced, and can carry goodwill when working on other airport issues.  Getting to know each other in this relaxed setting can make it easier to tackle other potentially contentious airport issues, which has certainly been the case at Fairbanks.

Ski Strip 02 at Fairbanks after painting is complete. Both ends of the runway are marked in this fashion.

Practice at your airport?
Five other airports in Alaska already have the “paperwork” approved to put paint on their gravel runways.  I am sure the FAA would be willing to consider issuing similar approval at other airports, after looking at the details and weighing the benefits to pilots.  It might be too late this year to launch a project at your airport, but while we are still a little constrained by the pandemic, consider talking with others about a project for next year.  For more details on the mechanics of a project like this, see the article Practice Runways: A Low-cost Pilot Proficiency Tool or the Guide to Creating a Practice Runway. And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email for more information.

Meanwhile, pilots around Fairbanks—go sharpen your skills on the practice runway!

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.

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