Newly-Enforced FAA Policies Cause Problems For Alaska Airports

Alaska occasionally gets caught in federal rules that may work in Ohio, but not in Ozinkie. One such national policy that has been confounding airport managers and pilots may be close to at least a temporary fix for Alaska.

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The Federal Aviation Administration has begun enforcing a 37-year-old policy that defines the clearance area for airport approaches. Obstacles in that glide path entering or leaving an airport must be dealt with, or the FAA says those airports will be closed to night or instrument flying.

Alaska Air Carriers Association executive director Joy Journay says that’s a big problem for Alaska.

“So you can come in when the weather is good, when it’s clear. You cannot fly with instruments which automatically means for these closures, they’re all down at night. That’s a very grave concern when you talk about medical evacuations because effectively, the closure at Haines, the closure for two weeks at Sitka, it basically meant if you needed to be airlifted out of there at night, an operator couldn’t come in,” Journay said.

The obstacles may be trees, a new building, cell tower or in the case of one of Homer’s approaches, a dirt pile.

Journay says Association members have been frustrated by a lack of clarity as to which airports have problems and what the fix will be.

FAA Alaska region head Bob Lewis says about five of the more than 100 that originally had obstacle concerns are still being worked on, but he didn’t have a list.

Steve Hatter is the Deputy commissioner of aviation for the state department of Transportation. Hatter would only say the list is a moving target that changes daily.

“We’ve got a bunch of rural airports up in our Northern region and so that’s, we’re concentrating there right now,” he said.

Hatter says the state operates more than 250 airports and all have come up for review by the FAA. Hatter says they have whittled down the list of concern to a “hand full.”

“That said, they’re still going to continue reviewing approaches out into the future and that’s where we’re trying to get some help from them on when they schedule those reviews. So we’d like to push as many as we can out toward the spring time frame so that if we do discover that there is an obstruction problem, we’ve got reaction time and we can go address it in the spring and in the summer months,” Hatter said.

Hatter says the one size fits all national policy doesn’t work well in a state where 82 percent of the airports are not accessible by road. He says DOT is aggressively working on the issue with FAA.

“We simply can’t shut off access to our rural villages over the application of a safety standard that just doesn’t make sense and we need to make sure we can do medivac 24-7. We need to make sure people have the right ability to get in and out of those villages for whatever function they need,” Hatter said.

The Air Carriers Association’s Journay says Alaska’s congressional delegation has gotten involved and she’s hopeful there will be more clarity in coming days.


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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori