All posts by Scott Spangler

LAMP Looks Ahead With Sensible Aviation Weather Elements at Over 1,500 Airports

Most pilots are dedicated aviation weather geeks because, at the least, their lives, and those of their passengers depend on the crew’s current knowledge of what Mother Nature is doing at Chicago Executive Airport, the flight’s destination, and everything between them. To the list of the weather information sources that pilots frequent, the National Weather Service has added LAMP, for Localized Aviation Model-Output-Statistics (MOS) Program.

In other words, LAMP focuses on more than 1,500 airports (including Chicago Executive) and provides forecast guidance on “sensible weather elements.” Sensible means they are “perceivable elements” of weather, such as temperature, dew point, wind speed, direction, and gusts, sky cover, ceiling, visibility, obstruction to vision, precipitation and type, lightning, and convective activity. And as the capture from the PWK page shows, pilots can select the sensible elements they want to see. They can also get the same info in text form, if they are so inclined.

What makes LAMP a worthwhile weather product addition to any pilot’s weather briefing resources is that it is totally automated. On the downside, it might not be as accurate as a forecast tweaked by a human meteorologist, but the LAMP graphic is updated hourly. This hourly update incorporates the latest surface conditions to create hourly forecasts that look up to 25 hours into the future. Regardless of who or what is predicting the weather, no source is 100 percent, so LAMP pairs nicely with human-involved weather products such as a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF).

At each airport’s LAMP page pilots can access fresh forecast info for the next 24 hours. The page delivers both “categorical and probabilistic forecast guidance” on the given elements, and using the selection click-boxes at the top of the page, pilots can extract the information they want. When selecting the ceiling and visibility category forecast, it includes a “conditional forecast” that takes precipitation into account. “This data attempts to account for some of the temporary fluctuations that occur in flight.”

To learn more about the LAMP, visit its homepage on the Meteorological Development Lab.

Avoid Convective Weather With New Aviation Weather Center Forecast

Knowing what Mother Nature has in store is critical for pilots planning a cross-county flight. Generally, this research starts with the big picture, with specific interest in areas of convective activity such as thunderstorms between Chicago Executive Airport and their destination. The Aviation Weather Center has made this big-picture easier to grasp with its TFM Convective Forecast (TCF).

The forecast is a collaborative effort that creates a high-confidence representation of convective activity for those making traffic flow decisions. But pilots should find looking at it beneficial because they can see how Mother Nature might affect their cross-country flights out of Chicago Exec.

Available for this year’s convective weather season, which runs from March 1 through October, the TCF is the result of the two-year Collaborated Aviation Weather Statement (CAWS) demonstration. (An auto-TCF begins in November 2017 and runs through March 2018.) Succinctly, the TCF is an agreed upon forecast, compiled from a variety of weather sources, for use by all traffic flow managers.

Collaborated between the National Weather Service and industry meteorologists and available online at www.aviationweather.gov/tcf, the TCF is issued every 2 hours, with 4, 6, and 8-hour forecast projections 24/7. All areas depicted on the graphics will be “high confidence,” meaning meteorologists are better than 50 percent sure of it. TCF graphically indicates convective coverage. Tops of the convective activity are given in 5,000-foot increments starting at 25,000 feet and extending above 40,000 for you high flyers.

TCF is the primary convective guidance traffic flow managers use to plan their efforts to safely and efficiently guide rivers of airplanes across the country. If you’re interested in more information about TCF or Traffic Flow Management, visit its online Learning Center.

Don’t Lead Other Aircraft Astray With Improper ADS-B & Transponder Tests

Apparently technicians conducting ground tests of transponders and ADS-B Out system have not been following all of the recommended procedures because the FAA has received a number of reports that the aircraft being tested has transmitted position information, including a simulated altitude.

What makes this situation a problem is that aircraft in flight received this test information, and when the test aircraft’s simulated ADS-B altitude was too close to that of another aircraft in flight, let’s just say that the pilots of the flying aircraft were more than a little bit concerned.

In one instance, said FAA Safety Alert for Operators 17002, which addressed this problem, the ADS-B Out test that transmitted a simulated altitude triggered a TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system) resolution advisory (which way to go, such as climb, to avoid a midair collision) on a Boeing 737 on an approach.

Given Chicago Exec’s proximity to TCAS-equipped aircraft conducting terminal operations, it behooves everyone to invest a few minutes in reading the SAFO and ensuring that all test operations follow the proper procedures. And this applies to the operators of all aircraft equipped with ADS-B.

Following the proper procedures is the easiest way to avoid leading airborne aircraft astray with ghostly ADS-B position and altitude reports from aircraft being tested on the ground. There is little chance of this happening if the transponder and ADS-B system being tested has their transmission leads connected directly to the test equipment and not their respective antennas.

But depending on the aircraft, making this test-equipment connection is not always possible. In that case, the antennas must be shielded to prevent position and simulated altitude reports being transmitted to the air traffic control system and TCAS-equipped aircraft in the area.

To test the altitude reporting component of these systems, the test equipment is connected to the pitot-static system, which allows the technician to raise or lower the air pressure the system senses. This simulates the air pressure at different altitudes.

As a backup to following the proper transponder and ADS-B test procedures and effective antenna shielding, when required, technicians testing these systems should also notify the nearest air traffic control facility (that would be the Chicago Exec tower) about the impending tests.

Before they call, the should review the relevant guidance in the current Advisory Circular 29-151, “ Airworthiness Approval of TCAS II and Associated Mode S Transponders,” AC 43.6, “Altitude Reporting Equipment and Transponder System Maintenance and Inspection Practices,” and AC 20-165, “Airworthiness Approval of Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast Out Systems.”

Class B: Inside or Out, Be Aware of Invisible Lines in the Sky

Class B PWKClass B airspace is a three-dimensional sculpture defined by invisible lines of altitudes and radial distances from the airport that anchors this funnel of protected airspace to the ground. In our case, that’s Chicago O’Hare International. Before the advent of moving map technology that, if enabled, makes these boundaries visible, pilots had to keep close track of their position relative to them. Apparently, technology has not solved the Class B incursion and excursion problem. If it had, would the FAA have issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO 17001) dedicated to this issue?

Chicago Exec is tucked into a Class B notch in ORD’s 10-mile ring. It’s like an attic bedroom, with narrow walls that angle toward a narrow ceiling just 3,000 feet above the ground. Considering the number of aircraft the share this small alcove, and the speed at which they fly, it’s not a lot a room, especially when Mother Nature is in a meteorological mood. Making aviator awareness of aircraft position even more important are the winged behemoths above the line that are descending toward O’Hare.

The SAFO addresses both Class B incursions and excursions. Not singling out any specific Class B airspace, it says that some instrument approaches that take an airplane operating in Class B across the line, and then back in. Other excursions occur when pilots sink, for a moment, below a glide path that scrapes the floor of that Class B layer. If there’s another airplane outside of the Class B that’s crowding the boundary altitude, or if either airplane hasn’t accurately set its altimeter, bad things can happen. If they are lucky, they will escape with Near Mid Air Collision (NMAC) and the resulting increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Now pilots know that they need clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC) to enter Class B airspace, and it’s the controllers job to keep airplanes in Class B airspace from inadvertent meetings. And they do a world-class job of it. But they may not be working airplanes on the other side of the line. When these dedicated pros get busy, which means a heavy load of traffic, the SAFO explained, ATC may give an airplane instructions that will take it across the line, which is why pilots must always know where they are relative to that boundary. Why? Because “they may not be advised of such an event during times of high controller workload.”

And if ATC is busy, the chances of aircraft outside Class B getting flight following are nonexistent to not good. In other words, it behooves pilots on both sides of the line to not only know where they are relative to it, but to also keep their eyes open and searching and not depend on ATC to find and call out the traffic for them.

The SAFO recommends that pilots review and brief the Class B boundaries when their flight will be in or near it. And they should compare those boundaries to the instrument approaches they might fly and where they are relative to the Class B airspace. Whether the approach begins just below or just above the floor of a Class B layer, think of it as scud running through a maze, a situation in which there is little or no room for error, especially when following ATC vectors. Pilots should always be aware of their position relative to the maze’s vertical and horizontal invisible lines and redouble their see & avoid scan when they get close to either side of the line.

FAA Publishes Practical Guidance for TALPA Winter Safety Ops

imageResponding to questions about what all the changes to the braking reporting system means to pilots and airport operators, the FAA published Draft Change 1 to AC 150/5200-30D, Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety. The updated AC guides airport operators, although much of the information will also interest pilots because their safety depends on their knowledge and understanding the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) programs. The industry has only until this Friday, January 13 to comment on the changes however, so read on.

The Seven Principal Changes

1. Airports will not report a Wet runway when a Slippery When Wet NOTAM is in effect

As part of pavement maintenance, airports conduct a friction survey to make sure it meets minimum prescribed values for skid resistance. If the pavement meets or exceeds this minimum value, when its Wet, according to the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix, it gets a Runway Condition Code (RwyCC) of 5, which stands for Good braking action. (The Runway Condition Codes replaces Mu values and indicate braking action, which is based on the Runway Condition Matrix that is based on the type and depth of precipitation.)

If the pavement does not meet the minimum friction requirements, the entire runway is Slippery When Wet, and it starts with a Runway Condition Code of (RwyCC) of 3, which means the braking action is Medium. As Mother Nature makes additional wintery deposits on a Slippery When Wet runway, the airport must downgrade the entire runway with a RwyCC of a lower value, 2  or 1 (braking action is medium-to-poor or poor respectively).

2. Emphasizing the unacceptable aspects of reporting friction (Mu) values to pilots

Airports still use Mu friction values for some things, such as friction surveys after pavement maintenance and determining the effectiveness of “friction-enhancing treatments” (such as putting urea on ice or brooming the snow off a grooved runway), but the FAA says reporting Mu number to pilots “is no longer acceptable” because there has been “no consistent, useable correlation between Mu values” and braking action.

3. Describing when a Wet condition report is associated with other winter contaminants

Airports will report  the runway as “Wet” when water 1/8-inch (3 mm) or less “is the only condition present on the runway.” The same applies to taxiways, aprons, and holding bays. Airports will also report the surface as ‘Wet’ conditions when other winter contaminants, or chemicals applied, appear in any particular third of the runway.

4. Explaining how airports generates their runway surface condition reports

A single runway surface condition report, generated for each active runway, allows pilots to identify Mother Nature’s winter “contaminants” on each third of the runway and understand how each will most affect aircraft performance. The new AC says, “Reporting from both ends of the same runway may cause confusion to pilots by advertising two sets of Runway Condition Codes for the same surface. This redundancy also unnecessarily clutters the NOTAM system which also adversely affect pilots.”

image5. Details on special mitigation options

Airports must update runway condition reports any time there is a change in the runway surface, this includes the airport’s efforts to improve the runway conditions, which could lead to a higher RwyCC. The takeaway for pilots is that they should monitor an airport’s Field Condition (FICON) NOTAMs for updates and changes for the best information.

6. Clarifying Use of Conditions Not Monitored NOTAMs

When a small airport’s staff, weary of fighting Mother Nature, needs some sleep, they’ll issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM, which includes the last field condition reported before going to bed. In this situation, airports should not use an Airport Unattended NOTAM as a substitute because it conveys inaccurate news about whether or not the airport staff, ATC, FBOs, and other airport services are available. When seeing “Airport Unattended” while planning a winter flight, prudence suggests a confirmation phone call to the destination’s FBO or airport operator.

7. Time is the difference between “Conditions Not Monitored” and “Surface Conditions Not Reported” NOTAMs

When the staff at a small airport is unable to report changes in the field conditions because they are getting some much needed sleep, they should issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM with the expectation that after a short nap, they will return to work and resume reporting the airport field conditions. If, for some reason, the airport staff is unable to report airport conditions for 24 hours of more, the airport should issue a “Surface (SFC) Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM that covers the entirety of their absence.

A caveat for pilots: If an airport has published in its Airport Master Record a set schedule when it will not monitor conditions, like weekends or National Holidays, it does not have to issue a “SFC Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM. In other words, to avoid being caught unaware in winter, when flight planning to smaller airports, always check the destination’s Airport Master Record for the pertinent schedule.

Snow & Ice Control Meeting Signals Winter’s Approach to Chicago Executive Airport

BlowerThe FAA’s new runway Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) was the major change discussed at the recent Snow and Ice Committee meeting the tenants and users of Chicago Executive Airport, said Andrew Wolanik, PWK’s operations coordinator. Not only does it change how the airport operations crew determines the runway conditions, it changes how those conditions are reported to the airport’s users.

The federal NOTAM (Notices to Airmen) system will now be the primary method of disseminating runway conditions to all users at every airport including air traffic control. To test the system’s latency, the time it takes the surface condition NOTAM to reach the control tower from the the operations keyboard, Wolanik conducted several tests. The results were the same: the tower’s fax machine spit out the test NOTAM 90 seconds after he punched the submit key. Per a freshly revised Letter of Agreement between the air traffic control tower and airport management, airport operations must either radio or call the surface condition NOTAM directly to the control tower as well.

How runway conditions are assessed and communicated aren’t the only changes in the airport’s snow and ice control plan. In revising the plan for the 2016-17 season, the staff used Part 139 requirements as a guide, said Wolanik. “We are not an airport that serves commercial airlines, but we strive to meet and exceed the level of safety, and working to Part 139 snow and ice control requirements further improves Chicago Exec’s general operating standards and safety.”

Those standards include staff review of all applicable standards right down to the height of snow banks. If they are too high, not only can they damage aircraft they can block signs, lights, and markings and impede the accuracy of essential navigational aids. Training is another requirement, and the entire operations crew is cross-trained on every piece equipment. And that fleet of plows, brooms, and blowers will grow by one with the arrival a new Oshkosh H-series rotary broom, which will be designated Airport 20, in February 2017.

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NPIAS Report to Congress Lists Five-Year Airport Improvement Program Eligibility

ILThe FAA recently sent Congress its National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) for Fiscal Years 2017 to 2021. Since 1984, the report has identified the airports that make up the national airport system, they role the play in it, and the types of airport development they are eligible for and the amount of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding to help pay for it over the next five years.

Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is one of 3,340 public-use airports (3,332 existing and eight proposed) “that are important to national air transportation. This year the FAA estimated that these airports will need approximately $32.5 billion in AIP-eligible projects between 2017 and 2021. All commercial airports are included in the report, as are a smaller number of general aviation airports that make specific contributions to the NPIAS.

Digging deeper into the report, the FAA lists Chicago Exec as a National Reliever, and it is eligible for $83,851,701 in AIP funds. That’s not a guarantee, just the estimated maximum amount of AIP funding the airport is eligible to apply for. The report does not list specific projects. That involved process, which involves the airport, local and state authorities, as well as the FAA are the next steps.

As the report explained, airport improvements grow out of current and forecasted traffic at each airport, the use and age of their facilities, and changing technology that requires airports to upgrade or replace the equipment and infrastructure that supports them. The FAA works with state aviation agencies and local planning organizations to identify public-use airports for inclusion in the NPIAS.

imageThe FAA said AIP projects are expected to decrease at large and medium-sized hub airports and increase at small hubs. “Development at all other airport categories remain flat.” Contributing to this is the conclusion of the FAA’s decade-long airport capacity effort and runway safety area (RSA) initiative. This included Chicago Exec’s EMAS, which recently demonstrated its contribution to safety and is pictured in the report.

In the NPIAS hierarchy, there are 395 primary airports (think O’Hare and Midway) that handle the majority of the nation’s commercial (airline) traffic. Logically, the remaining 2,937 NPIAS airports are nonprimary.

On this list, Chicago Exec’s listing assigns it a National role, meaning it “supports the national airport system by providing communities access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the United States. National airports have very high levels of aviation activity with many jets and multiengine propeller aircraft.”

And it is categorized as one of the nation’s 259 Reliever airports, defined as “An airport designated by the Secretary of Transportation to relieve congestion at a commercial service airport and to provide more general aviation access to the community.” And doesn’t that succinctly summarize Chicago Exec’s contribution to the communities that surround it as well at the nation in which it plays a significant role?

To Keep Your Proper Distance, Use the Correct CNS Capability Code on Every Flight Plan

Few pilots flying today would turn their backs on the aviation advances made possible by digital communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) avionics. Newer aviators grew up in the GPS generation, so really know nothing else. And for the VOR generation of pilots, maybe it has been so long that they take technology’s benefits for granted. But in either case, all the wonderful stuff modern CNS equipment does to make an aviator’s life easier comes with responsibilities. First among them is using the correct CNS capability code on every flight plan, so ATC can employ the proper separation standards and keep everyone safe.

Some may say that they always provide the proper CNS code, and this may well be the case with you. But it is not universal, which is why the FAA issued Information for Operators (InFO) 16015. “The Federal Aviation Administration continues to experience operators/pilots filing the incorrect CNS codes due to aircraft system deferrals, aircraft not properly equipped or approved, or pilots not qualified for CNS capability on the FPL [Flight Plan Filing]. Given the congested Chicagoland airspace, making sure your aircraft is properly equipped and approved, and that you are properly trained and qualified on that equipment, and that you use appropriate CNS code on every flight plan makes life easier, more efficient—and safer—for all who share the sky.

All of this became especially important in November 2012 when the FAA harmonized its flight plan with the International Civil Aviation Organization flight plan box 10, Equipment  & Capabilities,  and box 18, Other Information such as RNAV and Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) capabilities. To make sure you are employing the right CNS codes you can start with the handy FAA ICAO FPL Quick Guide. To get deeper into the topic, see FAA Operations Specifications/LOA [Letter of Authorization]/Approvals Required to File Various Capabilities. It is an overview and portal with links to the related regs and requirements.

New Runway Takeoff & Landing Performance Assessment Starts October 1

matrixWhen the weather is not sunny, dry, and clear, pilots preparing to takeoff or land need to know what condition the runway is in. To improve these reports, the FAA and aviation community have developed new standards to improve safety during inclement weather. Airports will begin using the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) standards on October 1, 2016.

The new standards communicate runway conditions in terms directly related to their affect on aircraft performance. Airport operators will employ the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) to report runway conditions. The matrix is a standardized format that is based on aircraft performance data supplied by the airframe manufacturers for the type and depth of each runway contaminant.

The new standards replace subjective judgments of runway conditions that are now reported with a Mu number that describes a coefficient of braking friction. Using the FAA example of this system, a runway covered with 2 inches of dry snow would be reported as: “FICON 2IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145” along with Mu values as “TAP MU 29/27/29 OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145.

Starting October 1, these conditions would be reported this way: DEN RWY 17R FICON (5/5/3) 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 50 PRCT 2 IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145. With this information, pilots would then consult the aircraft flight manual to determine what performance they can expect from their airplane. Note that the numerical Runway Condition Codes, based on the RCAM, subdivide the runway into three segments when the contaminants vary.

Airport operators will assess the runway surfaces, report the contaminants, and use the RCAM to determine the Runway Condition Code. The same code can cover the entire runway when there is no variation in the contaminant. These codes will replace Mu numbers, which the NOTAM system will no longer use.

This does not mean pilots should stop reporting braking action. They will still be used and shared. However, the terminology used in these reports will change on October 1. “Medium” will replace the “Fair” braking action assessment. And airports will no longer be able to report a “NIL” braking action condition. Under the new system, NIL conditions require airports to close that surface until they are satisfied that the NIL braking conditions no longer exist.

Chicago Exec urges aircraft operators to review the appropriate performance sections of the aircraft flight manuals for their airplanes and develop procedures that will enable them to take full advantage of the new runway condition reports. For more information, see Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 16009.

Airport Interns at Chicago Exec Get First-Hand Air Operations Area Experience

PWK-28Mowing grass and whipping weeds may seem a mundane, menial summer job, but that’s not true at Chicago Executive Airport. As the four airport interns are learning this summer, these tasks are an excellent first-hand lesson in life in an airport operation area. Often referred to as the AOA, it is defined as any area of an airport used or intended to be used for takeoff, landing, or surface maneuvering of aircraft. This includes paved and unpaved areas, including runways, taxiways, taxi lanes, ramps, and aprons.

In other words, the AOA is everything inside the airport fence, and nothing moves within it without the FAA control tower knowing about it. Anything that moves on the airport, airplanes, helicopters, trucks, lawn mowers, or interns with a weed whip, must be cleared for the movement by the tower so there is not an unfortunate, unintended meeting of any two of them, explained James Kelly (below), a Tinley Park-native who will start his senior year at Lewis University, where he’ll earn a degree in aviation administration, with a minor in flight dispatch.

The students started their internships with a class that certified them to drive on the AOA. Working with an airport diagram they learned where they could and could not drive, how to identify their location on the airport and read the signs and pavement markings that identified them, and how to communicate with the tower’s ground controller.

“We got a tour of the tower,” said Conner Wagner, (on right, with Will Thompson and “their” truck, Airport 8) who hails from Jackson, Michigan, and graduates in 2017 with a degree in aviation management operations with a minor in business from Western Michigan University. “It was interesting to see how the controllers coordinate all the activity on the ground and in the air, all the vehicles and planes in the airport operating area.” A classmate, Brendan Stauton, is also interning at PWK this summer. Working toward a professional pilot degree, he’d returned to campus to take the FAA checkride for his instrument rating, which he passed, said Wagner.

PWK-34In accordance with the airport’s wildlife management plan, the interns mowing efforts are coordinated so that the grass stays between 5 and 8 inches in height. Any shorter and insects would be readily visible, attracting their predators, and any longer would provide too much cover for mammalian prey from their predators. And while they are mowing or whipping weeds, the interns are looking for animals, inspecting the fence line for places where animals have dug under the fence, and keeping an eye out for burned out airport lights.

After reporting a burned out light, the interns learned how to replace them under the watchful eye of a member of the airport maintenance crew. Airport Operations Coordinator Andrew Wolanik and Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Bryce Walter are the interns’ primary supervisors. Mowing and whipping occupy roughly half their time. They have undertaken any number of different airport projects. In the week before Independence Day, they were building 180 sets of wheel chocks from scratch. They will secure the airplanes moved from their usual homes in Areas 2 and 3, so the airport would have someplace to park cars for Chicago Exec’s July 4 weekend activities.

Three of Chicago Execs four summer interns learned about the opportunity through the aviation degree programs in which they are enrolled, and their summer efforts are bookended by the end of the last school year and the start of the next. Will Thompson of Winnetka, a political science major who just finished his freshman year at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, learned about the program from PWK Civil Air Patrol unit he joined in 2014. His internship is shorter than the others. With his sights set on being an aviators, “I’m in U.S. Marine ROTC, and I have some training to do before school starts.”