Monthly Archives: May 2016

Airplanes, Airspace & Chicago Executive Airport

Terminal ChartTo those on the ground, airspace is invisibly boundless. All that changes in an airplane. To make flying safe for pilots, their passengers, and people on the ground , the sky is subdivided into unseen slices delineated by altitude and distances from specific points on the ground, like airports. In each of five airspace categories, pilots and aircraft must meet specific training, equipment, and procedural requirements, from weather and visibility minimums to getting clearance from air traffic control before crossing one of these invisible dividing lines.

Naturally, the more airplanes and airports there are in a given area, the more complex the airspace, like that which covers Chicagoland. O’Hare International (ORD) anchors the angular funnel that is Class B controlled airspace, which is roughly 10 nautical miles in diameter where it touches the ground. When measured east to west, the top of the funnel, at 10,000 feet, is 60 nautical miles in diameter. If O’Hare was the only airport covered by this funnel, guiding airliners to and from it would be a simple matter. But it is one of roughly 16 public and private aerodromes, one of which, Chicago Midway (MDW) is encompassed with its own bubble of Class C controlled airspace.

Looking at the Chicago Terminal Area Chart above, Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is easy to find. It is in the notch cut into the 5-to-10-nautical mile ring that encircles O’Hare. That cutout raises the floor of Class B airspace, entry into which requires an air traffic control clearance, from 1,900 feet in the rest of the 5-10-mile ring to 3,000 feet, as do the corner slices adjacent to the PWK notch.  Those wide blue tinted lines cutting through the rings denote the recommended paths and altitudes for pilots flying under visual flight rules beneath the Class B airspace.

And it is a busy airspace funnel. The FAA’s Air Traffic Activity System tracks and reports the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) at airports with control towers and the number of airplanes fed to those airports by the air traffic control facility responsible for the airspace, which for Chicagoland is located in Elgin. In 2015, it handled 1,248,503 operations, with 782,905 of them being airliners, most of which were on their way to O’Hare or Midway. That same year Elgin routed 318,434 air taxi (aka charter flights) and 110,407 general aviation operations to their destinations.

PWK NotchPlugging Chicago Executive Airport into the Air Traffic Activity System showed that in 2015 its control tower handled 76,901 operations. Of that number, the FAA classified the majority of them “IFR Itinerant,” meaning the airplanes taking off or landing were going to or coming from some other airport. Of the 34,188 such operations in 2015, general aviation accounted for 21,719 and air taxi (charter) tallied 12,376. It’s a busy place that is a notched neighbor of an even busier place.

The point is that each operation represents an airplane that’s going someplace, either starting or concluding its flight. The floor of the Class B airspace over Chicago Exec starts at 3,000 feet and climbs to 10,000 feet. Nearly all business jets depart PWK on an instrument flight plan. Before takeoff, air traffic control  clears them through and out of Class B airspace on a specific departure route that keeps them safely separated from all the other airplanes flying in the funnel. ATC reverses the process for airplanes bound for Chicago Exec.

When the weather is good, most of the other general aviation traffic, from people flying their own planes on business or for pleasure and newcomers learning to fly, stay out of Class B airspace by flying beneath its floor. Over Chicago Exec, that’s 3,000 feet, but directly east or west it quickly descends to 1,900 feet with steps down in the adjacent transition areas. So when you look up at the sound of an airplane flying over, see no other airplanes in the immediate vicinity, and wonder why it is so low, remember that the pilot is avoiding the invisible layers of the Class B airspace, and that this single airplane is just one of more than a million making its way to or from Chicagoland every year.

An Old Friend Heads West

AlIt’s with great sadness that we announce the passing of one of our own, E. Allan Englehardt, a past Chairman of the Airport Board of Directors. Al died yesterday in Lake Bluff at the age of 69.

In addition to the years Al served on the airport board, he was, of course, a retired United Airlines pilot having flown his last airline trip in 2009. Al was also an active flight instructor all his life, having brought thousands into the world of aviation through his Flight Standards weekend ground schools during aviation’s heydays in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. As an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, Al Englehardt tested hundreds of new pilot applicants around Chicago for nearly every fixed wing rating. His annual flight instructor refresher clinics also kept many area teachers on their toes when it came time to renew their instructor credentials.

Al was an active member of the Leading Edge Flying Club at PWK and could be found at the club’s breakfast each and every month to meet new and old pilots and do what he was best at … gabbing. Everyone that knew Al will remember he was never shy about an opinion on anything related to the industry. He was also inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009.

He will be missed. BTW, if you have a fun remembrance of Al, why not share it here as a comment.

Visitation for Al is this Thursday May 12 from 3 pm to 8 pm at Burnett-Dane Funeral Home, 120 W. Park Ave (Rt. 176), one block west of Milwaukee Ave in Libertyville.

Summer Runway Closures Detailed

Arpt Construction 1

About a month from now, during the first week of June, PWK will become a beehive of construction activity.

Some 14 years after runway 16/34 was completely reconstructed, recent condition surveys tell us it’s time to resurface the runway again. Annoying as the inconvenience of runway construction disruptions might be, the thought of a piece of pavement crumbling beneath an aircraft is a safety threat that can’t be ignored.

In addition to runway 16/34, all adjacent taxiway turnoffs, such as K2, K3, L2, L3 etc. will also be resurfaced. Runway 12/30 and 6/24 will operate normally for the most part, although at times during the summer, there will be work where those landing areas intersect runway 16/34 in order to prevent most service interruptions in the future when it’s the two shorter runways turn for resurfacing.

In order to minimize interruptions, construction crews will only work on runway 16/34 over the weekends, weather permitting, beginning at 10 pm on Friday nights with the runway reopening by 6 am the following Monday. The work is scheduled to most likely begin June 3rd and run until mid to late September. Crews will not work the Fourth of July weekend, which means the Run the Runway and city event schedules will not be affected.

Ninety percent of the project’s funding is coming from the FAA, with another five percent from the State of Illinois and the final five percent being paid directly by the airport. That means no community tex dollars are used for this project.

Federal guidelines demand the runway 16 ILS is shut down temporarily during the entire project, from June through September. The airport’s RNAV GPS and VOR runway 16 instrument approaches will continue to operate normally. PWK Runway Rehab

Electrical improvements will include all new lighting cables and new runway edge lighting. Because the construction work means shaving the top three to four inches off the old pavement, crews will eliminate any possible bumps and keep the runway within FAA tolerances during the work by spreading any inconsistencies in the pavement over a 30-foot long piece of the surface. The new surface will also be re-striped after each weekend session.

At some point late in the construction season, the intersections where 16/34 crosses 6/24 and 12/30 will also require work dictating a complete closure of all runways during at least two weekends. Once all paving is complete, construction will be halted for three weeks to allow the asphalt to cure before the final runway grooving and striping with fresh reflective beads begins.

Have a question? E-mail us here, or comment below and we’ll do our best to get you an answer ASAP.