Category Archives: airport community

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.”

Airport 101: Signs Point the Way at Chicago Executive

PWK-19As they do around town, signs tell pilots where they are on Chicago Executive Airport and point the way to the runway and ramp and the taxiways that connect them. The only difference is that airport signs are color coded, lighted, and much closer to the ground on their frangible mounts. And they are sometimes painted on the pavement, usually identifying positions on low visibility taxi routes. In all, there are six types of airport signs. They relay mandatory instructions, location, direction, destination, information, and runway distance remaining.

Mandatory instruction signs are red with white letters and identify critical areas, such as the entrance to a runway or areas where aircraft entry is prohibited. Runway hold position signs are adjacent to the yellow hold short markings on the pavement and their alphanumeric display identifies the intersecting runway. If the taxiway intersects the runway at midfield, the runway numbers on the sign correspond, left and right, to the respective runway’s threshold.  Similar signs that bear a runway number and APCH or ILS indicate holding positions that keep aircraft a safe distance from the runway in foul weather so they do not interfere with instrument approach operations or the electronic systems that are guiding pilots to the runway.

Location, direction, and destination signs use combinations of yellow and black. Taxiway location signs use yellow characters on a black background with a yellow border. Often they are connected to direction or runway holding signs. Direction signs use black symbols in a yellow background and identify the intersecting taxiway with its alphanumeric designator and an arrow pointing in the direction a pilot would normally be expected to turn.

Direction signs are generally located on the left side of the taxiway before an intersection. If there is more than one way to go, the taxiway designations and their associated arrows are displayed clockwise starting from the first taxiway on the pilot’s left.

PWK-17Information signs have black characters on a yellow background and provide pilots with all sorts of pertinent information such as applicable radio frequencies or noise abatement procedures. Their content is determined by each airport’s operator.

Runway distance remaining signs are white numbers on a black background and are installed along one or both sides of a runway. The number indicates the distance, in thousands of feet, of the remaining useable runway. The last sign—1—will be at least 950 feet from the end of the runway.

All signs work in conjunction with pavement markings, which correspond to each airport’s diagram. The diagram is the pilot’s airport map that shows and names each runway and taxiway that lead to ramps and hangars and fixed-base operators. And at airports with towers, like Chicago Exec, the ground controller provides them with a taxi clearance that delineates their route from point to point, and will provide progressive instructions to newcomers that will lead them, turn-by-turn, to where they want to go.

Airport 101: Pavement Markings Keep Pilots in Line

PWK-59Chicago Executive Airport is one of thousands of airports that dot the American landscape. Each of them is different, but pilots have little trouble navigating around them because each of them use standardized pavement markings on the taxiways and runways that safely and efficiently guide them from the ramp to the sky. (Although they didn’t offer much help to the runners who raced about the airport several years ago, but they did get to see them at close range.)

Runway markings are white, and the elements employed depend on the type of approach pilots make to it. Runways with visual approaches, where the pilot eyeballs his arrival, has the fewest markings, the runway number, which is its magnetic heading to the nearest 10 degrees, and a centerline. These are on all runways. If the strip is 4,000 feet or longer or used by jets, it will have a visual aiming point, two broad white stripes on either side of the centerline approximately 1,000 feet from the threshold.

If it is intended for commercial use, markings (either a series of longitudinal or one lateral stripe) identify the pavement suitable for landing. A number of airports, like Chicago Exec, have displaced thresholds, usually to ensure an airplane’s safe approach to touchdown. Arrows on the pavement point to where the legal landing area begins.

All runways served by a nonprecision instrument approach, which in bad weather provides horizontal guidance to the runway, have these four markings. Chicago Exec has precision instrument approaches leading to both ends of Runway 16, which also provides vertical guidance to the pavement, which is why it has a touchdown zone. The rectangular bars are arranged in symmetrical pairs spaced 500 feet apart. As the number of bars decreases, so does the length of the remaining runway. Precision runways also have side stripes.

PWK-34All taxiway markings are yellow, and a centerline and markings denoting holding positions are common to all of them. A continuous strip 6 to 12 inches wide, the centerline does not guarantee wingtip clearance with other aircraft or obstacles. A line indicating the edge of the taxiway is applied when it does not correspond to the end of pavement.

Chicago Exec has an enhanced centerline, yellow dashes that parallel the continuous centerline, which tells pilots they are approaching a runway holding position and should be slowing down and preparing to stop, or hold short of the runway or intersections. Hold-short markings have two solid stripes on one side and two dashed lines on the other. Airplanes must stop when approaching the solid lines, which are on the taxiway side of a runway intersection. They may continue without stopping when on the dashed-line side, which they face when exiting the runway after landing.

Solid white lines on either side of a dashed centerline denote the edges of vehicle roadways that cross pavement also intended for aircraft. Some airports also use “zipper” markings, alternating white blocks. In either case, aircraft have the right of way. A thick white block on the pavement denotes where vehicles must stop at intersecting roadways or before crossing taxiways or other operational areas.

Working in concert with an airport’s pavement markings are a variety of signs of different colors that tell pilots where they are on the airport, and which way they should turn to reach their desired destination whether it is the departure end of a runway or a parking area. We’ll introduce them in our next Airport 101.

A Week of Great Airport Events

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Hangar 11 was busier than it has been in some time.

JetSmarter Party at Hangar 11

In case you missed some of the action this past week, both airport people and a number of star-like visitors gathered around the airport to learn about.

Last Friday night, hangar 11 became the center of attention for dozens of people cheering on the launch of JetSmarter. The night was highlighted by a visit from comedian Jenny McCarthy and her husband Donnie Wahlberg. Note the accompanying photo with our own Signature Flight Support honcho Al Palicki.

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Donnie Wahlberg, Jenny McCarthy and Signature Flight Support’s station manager Al Palicki

JetSmarter is making private air travel accessible through a mobile app that seamlessly connects travelers to private jets at attractive fares worldwide, in real-time. The company has also formed links with local helicopter companies to  speed the hook up for quicker transfers between downtown and the airports JetSmarter may serve, such as Chicago Executive, DuPage, Waukegan and of course, Chicago O’Hare and Midway.

Avidyne Explains ADS-B

Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, better known as ADS-B in airplane talk, is a new system the allows aircraft anywhere to talk to air traffic control without using traditional radar systems. Radar is expensive to operate and ADSB is not.

Avidyne’s regional rep Ryan Paul was on hand Saturday for the monthly Leading Edge Flying Club breakfast, this month also joined by a number of members from the Chicago Executive Pilots Association. About 50 people attended the hour-long session in which Ryan explained the intricacies of deciding what kind of equipment to add to a general aviation airplane and at what cost.

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Avidyne’s Ryan Paul

For aircraft owners, the real benefit of ADS-B will come once a new satellite system, soon to be launched by Aerion, allows aircraft to be tracked anywhere on the face of the earth, including over vast areas of ocean or in the deepest of the Amazon. For local pilots, installing ADS-B in a Beechcraft Bonanza or Cirrus SR-22 will offer a host of benefits including the ability to track other aircraft in the sky and to download radar weather reports. The FAA requires that all aircraft operating at airports like PWK be equipped with ADS-B by 2020.

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50 people showed up for the combined LEFC and CEPA breakfast with Avidyne

Everyone involved in airplanes knows that nothing in our industry is cheap. GA aircraft operators are still hoping the cost to equip with an ADS-B unit will drop prior to 2020. Ryan explained that while there may be a few sales here and there from the electronics manufacturers like Avidyne, the real issue is going to be finding an avionics shop to install the equipment. In some cases, the switch to the newer ADS-B equipment might be quick, a bit like taking your car to ABT for a new stereo. In others, an aircraft could be in the shop for a week or longer. Ryan also explained that as the 2020 deadline approaches, the few shops capable of installing the new equipment will be busier and busier in a last minute rush to update. And if the airplanes don’t have ADS-B by 2020, they will be grounded until the equipment is installed.

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Airport Considers Noise Abatement Procedure

 

PWK noise test map 7-2016

Runway 34 departure procedure proposes aircraft fly a 310 heading for a short while after takeoff.

Just ahead of next week’s quarterly airport noise committee meeting – March 9 at 6:30 pm – Executive Director Jamie Abbott is asking users for comments about a potential noise abatement procedure the airport is considering. The airport may ask for the procedure to be tested at night for a six-month trial period, to obtain public input on the noise associated with northbound nighttime PWK departures on residents north of PWK.

The procedure, included in previous Part 150 Noise Studies, would propose that turbine-powered aircraft departing runway 34, from 10:00 PM to 7:00 AM, to fly a 310 degree heading as soon as practicable after takeoff.

Aircraft would climb on this heading until reaching Lake Cook Road before proceeding on course, or to comply with further instructions issued by Chicago Departure Control. VFR aircraft would be asked to comply when able and with PWK tower approval.

The trial period would run daily between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM.

The airport would like to hear what users think before the airport requests the six-month trial from the FAA. Send your comments to Jamie Abbott at jabbott@chiexec.com.

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Airport 101: A Runway is More than an On & Off Ramp for the Sky

Palwaukee_Municipal_Airport_(USGS)A runway is what makes a defined area an airport. As the FAA’s exhaustive airport design and engineering standards suggest, it is more than a long, straight strip of dirt, gravel, grass, concrete, or, on two of Chicago Executive Airport’s three runways, asphalt cut with shallow grooves to help dissipate water so the wheels of landing aircraft will not hydroplane. The third is paved with ungrooved asphalt. This asphalt is but the top layer of several applied on top of a substrate graded to a precise longitudinal crown that ensures water will run to its shoulders.

Chicago Exec’s runways are identified by the magnetic headings to the nearest 10 degrees. The three-digit compass headings for each end of PWK’s primary Runway 16/34 are 161° and 341° to 16 and 34. Painted markings not only “name” each end of the runway, they identify the centerline, threshold, touch-down zone, which is right after the runway number, and the fixed distance marks, a diminishing number of longitudinal lines spaced 500 feet apart.

Surrounding the pavement is a runway safety area, a smooth graded area free of obstacles that would damage an airplane that inadvertently undershoots the threshold, over-runs the opposite end, or veers off the pavement to either side. The runway lights that parallel each edge are frangible, designed to break away from their mounts when hit. Because an airplane’s speed plays a significant part in undershooting the runway threshold or over-running its other end, the FAA requires runway safety areas to extend 1,000 feet beyond the pavement. When this space isn’t available, airports, like Chicago Exec, employ EMAS, engineered material arresting system. As recently demonstrated, EMAS reliably absorbs high amounts of kinetic energy without excessive damage to the aircraft.

Chicago Exec’s Runway 16/34 is 5,001 feet long and 150 feet wide. Runway 12/30 is 4,415 feet long and 75 feet wide, and Runway 6/24 is 3,677 feet by 50 feet, but their entire lengths are not available for landing. The threshold of Runway 12 is displaced 295 feet from the actual end of the pavement. Runway 30’s threshold is displaced 432 feet. Runway 6/24’s thresholds are displaced 372 feet and 1,249 feet respectively. Airports displace their thresholds for a number of reasons, from obstacle clearance and noise abatement or meeting the undershoot and over-run runway safety area requirements.

R30White arrows, like the ones here on Runway 30, designate the displaced threshold. Airplanes can taxi on and start their takeoff runs from a displaced threshold, but they cannot land on them. This reduces the runway’s available landing distance. Displaced thresholds do not shorten Chicago Exec’s Runway 16/34, so its entire 5,001 feet is available for landings.

Available landing distance isn’t the only number important to jets; the accelerate-stop distance is another. It’s the distance a jet needs to reach V1, and then stop using maximum braking, if an engine fails before or at this airplane-specific speed. If an engine fails after V1, there isn’t enough pavement to stop safely so the pilot continues the takeoff on one engine, which is a design requirement for commercial and corporate jets. In planning every flight, pilots look at their destination’s runway information to make sure the runway meets the airplane’s requirements.

A runway’s requirements can also extend off an airport’s property. At most airports, a 3-degree glideslope ensures that a landing airplane will have an obstacle-free approach slope between its final approach fix and the runway’s touchdown zone. Several different light systems help pilots fly this approach path in good weather. Addison uses a PAPI, a precision approach path indicator composed of four lights that shine red or white depending on the airplane’s elevation. Four red is too low, four white is too high, and two of each is just right.

When the weather is bad, pilots follow their instrument landing system instruments, which align them with the runway centerline and keep them on glide path. Each instrument approach has weather minimums classified by ceiling and visibility. With its ILS, Runway 16 minimums are 300 feet and a mile, which is why it’s served by an approach lighting system, a combination of light bars and strobes that help pilots quickly make the transition from instruments to the runway and a safe landing.

99s Chicago Aviation Expo IFR/VFR Safety Seminar a Resounding Success

By Madeleine Monaco

DSC00560The Chicago Area Chapter 99s – the international organization of women pilots – ran another successful IFR/VFR Safety Seminar January 30th, drawing just over 300 local pilots and aviation enthusiasts. The 99s have been co-hosting the event at no cost to attendees since the late 70’s. In recent years the seminar’s co-sponsors were the FAA-DuPage FSDO, the FAASTeam and the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics. As in the past, this year’s Annual Chicago Aviation Expo, IFR/VFR Safety Seminar required people to speak on a variety of useful and pertinent aviation topics that ran from 8:45 am until 3 pm in three large conference rooms at the Itasca Holiday Inn.

You may be aware that our great State of Illinois has been having a budget lockdown. This year, without a great deal of advance notice, our Chapter was told there would be no funding assistance. In previous years the hotel expenses were covered by the Division of Aeronautics. We decided as a Chapter to step in and provide the funding to continue the tradition. Our Chapter funded the entire Expo using vendor table sales, 50/50 raffle ticket sales and donations from supporters and attendees and managed to cover our costs and show a very small profit that went to our education fund.

The Expo also allows local and regional aviation vendors and organizations to present themselves in their best light to the many pilots present. This year’s vendors were: Aviation Universe, Avidyne, Inc, Chicago Flying Advisor, Chicagoland Glider CouncilCivil Air Patrol, DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, Foresters Financial, Fox Flying Club, FSX Flight School, Hilton Software/WingX Pro7, International Flying Club, Naperville Flying Club, Pipistrel USA / Soar Free LLC, Poplar Grove Airmotive, Recreational Aircraft Foundation, Rochelle Avionics, Savant Capital and Stick and Rudder LLC. The hotel provides coffee and pastries in the morning and a buffet lunch mid-day.DSC00530

In the absence of our Chair, Ellen O’Hara, Madeleine Monaco agreed to take charge of this project, acting as liaison and worked closely with Carol Para of the Division of Aeronautics who had chaired the event the past several years. The working team included Leslie Prellwitz as Vendor Table Sales Chair/Manager; Rita Adams and Diane Cozzi as registration and front of house managers; Jill Mann and Deanna Close as Flying Companion instructors, and Natalie Berman as 50/50 Raffle ticket seller.

We had good weather and the vendors were set to go when pilots and companions started flooding our space in the morning. The first session was a joint event, beginning at 8:45, introducing the sponsors, explaining the FAA Wings credits and getting the day going. The audience gave the 99s a standing ovation when told the chapter had funded the event in full.

Here’s a look at this year’s safety sessions.

IFR

IFR Charts and Procedures, Part 1 & 2 by Jason Unger, Chief Pilot/CFII Fly There LLC

Spatial Disorientation by Dr David Schall, FAA Regional Flight Surgeon

ARTCC Operations, Part 1 & 2 by Guy Lieser & Steve McGreevy, Chicago Center

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Avoiding Class B Airspace Incursions by Lou Wipotnik, the 1996 FAA Flight Instructor of the Year & Nicole Sparger & Aaron Barclay of NATCA’s Bridge the Gap Program

Crosswind Landings Perfected by Alan Zielinski, Designated Pilot Examiner

Aviation Weather Impacts to the National Airspace by Kevin Fryar, Meteorologist-in-charge ARR

Loss of Control: The Stabilized Approach & Go Around by Carolyn Remol, FAASTeam Program Manager Ret

Your Next Flight Review,Next Rating or License by Dave Klopfleisch, CFI ChIcago Executive Flight School

Flying Companions/Aspiring Pilots, presented by 99s Deanna Close and Jill Mann

Why Does it Fly?

Aviation Charts

Helping Your Pilot & Dealing with Emergencies

Planning A Trip 

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What your e-mail later this year for updates on the 2017 Chicago Aviation Expo

EMAS: It Just Works

EMAS FalconIt seems as if it was just a few months ago that we published a story explaining that the airport’s new engineered materials arresting system (EMAS) was operational.

Actually, come to think of it, we did just write that story in November, explaining the safety benefits of a new EMAS now stationed at each end of the long, essentially north to south, runway 16/34.

The EMAS was installed after the FAA published a requirement for a safety barrier at each end of the runway at most airports. Unfortunately, Chicago Executive airport is land-locked with no extra open space to simply lay down an extra 1,000 feet of concrete at each end, of the runway to create that barrier, known as a Runway Safety Area. EMAS was the next best option.

In the early morning hours of January 26, just three months after the final EMAS work was completed, a Falcon jet pilot had trouble stopping his aircraft as he landed to the south from over Wheeling.

As the pilot approached the crushable EMAS blocks at the south end of the airport near Palatine Rd., the barrier performed precisely as it was designed. The blocks began to crumble under the weight of the 20,000 lbs. airplane and halted the aircraft in about 150 feet, preventing it from entering nearby Palatine Road. Neither of the two pilots was injured and damage to the aircraft was minimal. The aircraft has since flown out of the airport and back to its home base in Michigan. The reason the pilot was unable to stop is still under investigation by the FAA.EMAS still

What’s really important about this story though is that the EMAS worked perfectly in January and brought the airplane to a safe stop with only minor damage. While an EMAS installation is not cheap, the Falcon pilots, as well as everyone in the community can rest easier knowing that the large aircraft that use runway 16/34 can indeed be stopped within the airport boundary in an emergency. Until repairs – estimated to cost about $396,000 – the barrier is still operational, except for the few blocks damaged by the Falcon that were removed. And in case you’re wondering, the airport doesn’t have to pay for the repairs. That bill gets sent to the insurance company of the Falcon’s operator.

Other business aviation airports that also thought ahead enough to install EMAS include, Greenville Downtown SC, Hyannis Barnstable MA. Dutchess County NY, Teterboro NJ, St.Paul Downtown MN, Kansas City Downtown MO, Newcastle Wilmington DE, Telluride CO, Martin County MD, Republic airport NY, Groton New London CT, Cleveland Burke Lakefront OH, Addison TX, and Monterey CA.

Chicago Executive Airport, Part of the National Airport System

pwk photoAviation is all about systems, and it’s no different for airports. Most people in the Chicago Exec community know that PWK is a “reliever.” Aside from the obvious, that it “relieves” commercial airports like O’Hare and Midway of general aviation traffic, did you know that Chicago Exec is one of nearly 3,400 hundred airports in the National Plan on Integrated Airport Systems?

If the NPIAS is new to you, it identifies airports that are significant to national air transportation, and becoming part of this system is one of the qualifications for federal Airport Improvement Program grants that fund airport infrastructure improvements. Being just one of 3,400 such airports doesn’t sound like much, but consider this:

U.S. law defines an airport as “any area of land or water used or intended for landing or takeoff of aircraft including appurtenant area used or intended for airport buildings, facilities, as well as rights of way together with the buildings and facilities.”

This definition is the common denominator for the 19,299 airports in the United States. This includes seaplane bases and heliports, counted in 2014 (the most recent data) by the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Of that number, only 5,145 are public use; 13,863 are private; and the military owns 286.

The FAA categorizes airports by their activity. Commercial Service airports are publicly owned and have scheduled airline service that board at least 2,500 passengers a year. If it boards more than 10,000 passengers a year, it is a primary airport. Passengers boarded also categorize an airport’s hub status, Large, Medium, Small, and Nonhub.

A commercial service airport may also be designated Cargo Service if it has an annual “landed weight” of more than 100 million pounds. “Landed weight” means the weight of aircraft transporting only cargo in intrastate, interstate, and foreign air transportation.

Officially, the FAA defines (and designates) reliever airports as those that “relieve congestion at Commercial Service Airports and provide improved general aviation access to the overall community.” The FAA has designated nine Illinois airports as relievers, and six of them—Aurora Municipal (ARR); Chicago Exec (PWK); DuPage (DPA); Lake in the Hills (3CK); Lewis University/Romeoville (LOT); and Waukegan Regional (UGN)—surround Chicago.

Completing the system are general aviation airports. These public-use fields do not have scheduled service or board less than 2,500 passengers a year. They account for nearly 88 percent of the airports in the NPIAS. And reliever airports like Chicago Exec often offer them relief as well because its snow removal and other services that provide “improved access” to those who need it year-round.

Laser Pointers: Tool, Toy & Anti-Aircraft Weapon

faa-photo-laser3-highest-res-1936x1296When focusing the audience’s attention on the pertinent portions of a PowerPoint presentation, the laser pointer is a tool. When exercising your cats by giving them a red or green dot to chase, the laser pointer is a toy.

When you point it skyward, it can be an anti-aircraft weapon.

And when you point it with purpose at an airplane, it is a federal offense subject to stiff fines (up to $250,000 and $11,000 for each violation) and possible relocation to a secure facility that will limit your view of the sky for up to 20 years.

As aviation-aware readers of the Chicago Exec blog, you already know this, and you fully understand the multitude of unhappy consequences for a pilot—and his or her passengers—blinded by a laser pointer. But members of your extended family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and colleagues may not know that thoughtlessly aiming a laser pointer skyward—especially around any airport—can lead to bad things. So we urge you to share this story with them through your social media connections.

Looking at the period-size dot of light the cat chases, you may wonder why pointing a laser (which stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”) at an aircraft is such a bad thing. What are the chances of hitting a moving target with that little dot of light, anyway? (Better than you think, which is why laser sights on assault weapons are so popular.) Without getting too deep into Big Bang physics, spatial coherence focuses the light into the dot cats love to chase, and it allows that dot to be projected over great distances.

But the dot does grow with distance, and by the time it reaches an aircraft flying at 1,000 feet above the ground, it is many times bigger that a period of light. When it hits the minutely scratched surface of an aircraft windscreen, it instantly diffuses, creating a flash of intensely bright light. If you want to experience this for yourself, find a friend and good-sized camera strobe, go outside on a dark night and wait 20 minutes for your night vision to stabilize, then have your friend hold the strobe at windscreen distance from your open eyes. When your friend fires the strobe, without warning, into your open eyes, he or she should note the time to see how long it takes for you to see anything other than the flash.

Now imagine that you, if you’re a pilot, or your pilot, if you’re not, were on final approach and cleared to land at Chicago Executive Airport when the laser flash blinded you. This is but one example of the hazards and effects of a laser strike.

For more information, the latest laser news, laws, and civil penalties, and a pilot safety information brochure, visit the FAA’s Laser Safety Initiative website. Pilots can also report a laser incident on the site, and they can rest assured that the FAA, FBI, and local authorities will use this information to identify—and track down—repeat offenders.