Category Archives: Airport Safety

Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Builds Career on Chicago Exec Internship

PWK-17A full-time position as the assistant airport operations coordinator was the last thing Bryce Walter expected when he secured an internship at Chicago Executive Airport. Receiving the offer in mid-December 2015 for the internship that started with the New Year, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native’s immediate concern was finding a place to live. “All my friends told me I needed to get a place in the city, because there are a lot of fun things to do there,” he said, and they were right. Now building a career and future at Chicago Exec, he’s looking for a place closer to the airport.

Completing his degree in aviation management operations at Western Michigan University in August, Walter briefly considered a flight degree, and earned his private pilot certificate in the process, but quite a bit of job shadowing at the Grand Rapids airport revealed greater opportunity and a more diverse series of challenges. “But the initial hurdle is that nobody wants to hire someone in operations who doesn’t have experience, so I knew I needed an internship to get some. I started looking and found that not a lot of airports want to help people get started with internships.”

In the end, he found three, and his final choices were Aspen, Colorado, and Chicago Exec. “I’ve been to the Chicago area quite a bit, and it was more appealing than Aspen,” said Walter. And it’s closer to home, where he and a partner run a wedding DJ business. “During the 2016 season I’m only doing one wedding a month,” he explained, adding that his business partner is “really slammed.”

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Chicago Exec Hosts Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session

PWK-35Mitigating wildlife hazards is especially important to Illinois airports because they are smack-dab in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s main migratory thoroughfare between north and south.

Approximately 50 staffers from airports large and small, Aurora Municipal (ARR); Bult Field (C56); DuPage (DPA); Joliet Regional (JOT); Lake in the Hills (3CK); Rockford International (RFD); and University of Illinois Willard (CMI); attended the Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session held June 28 at Chicago Executive Airport (PDK).

The FAA has required wildlife assessments and management plans at Part 139 commercial airports like O’Hare and Midway since 1990, and strongly recommended that general aviation airport’s (like Chicago Exec, where the USDA recently completed a wildlife assessment) voluntarily do the same because wildlife and airplanes have had unfortunate meetings from the dawn of powered flight. US Airways Flight 1549, brought down by geese in 2009, is the best-known incident. Calbraith Perry Rodgers didn’t have the same happy outcome when he met a flock of birds in midair shortly after he became the first pilot to fly across America in the Vin Fizz, a Wright Flyer Model B. Flying another Model B, he died on April 12, 1912 in Long Beach, California.

Starting at 9 a.m., representatives from USDA Wildlife Services, the FAA, and the Illinois Aeronautics Division discussed their roles in wildlife hazard assessment, management, and mitigation. For any airport, having the USDA complete a wildlife assessment is the key that unlocks federal and state funding that enables them to develop and act on their unique plans to reduce the wildlife hazard.

Reporting wildlife strikes is a key element, and the FAA Wildlife Strike Database collates all of them. Since it was established, the number of strikes has increased every year, not because their numbers are increasing, but because of better reporting. At the same time, those reports show that airport wildlife management plans are working because the number of strikes resulting in damage is decreasing.

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Chicago Executive Airport Viewing Area: A Safe Place to Watch Planes

PWK-18Designated spots at airports where people curious about or interested in aviation could watch airplanes take off and land used to be a lot more common than they are today. Most of them were at commercial airports, like Chicago Midway and Chicago O’Hare, where people could pass some time before their flights boarded. They were popular with families with energetic kids because it better focused their attention. Dedicated viewing areas at general aviation airports were—and are—rare. People, families, just drove to the airport, usually to a fixed-base operation or the airport office, and found a spot on the grass.

And then 9/11 happened. And wandering around a commercial airport like Chicago Midway or Chicago O’Hare became nearly impossible. And 10-foot-tall chain link fences surrounded a good many general aviation airports. But not at Chicago Executive Airport. It is one of the rare general aviation airports with a dedicated viewing area. If you haven’t seen it, it is located on Palatine Frontage Road. And to a degree, it’s famous. It is first on the list of airports nationwide when you ask Wikipedia about “public viewing area.”

Wikipedia defines a public viewing area as “a space set aside for members of the public to safely view sites of interest, such as airports, railroads, construction sites or other facilities…. In locations that have inherent dangers and would not normally be accessible to the public, viewing areas provide a way to satiate the public curiosity without exposing inordinate risk.” This describes Chicago Exec’s viewing area, but not completely.

Situated outside the airport fence, with a safe and unobstructed view of the approach ends of Runway 34 and Runway 30, PWK’s viewing area includes a sizeable parking area, seating in either the bleachers, benches, or at a picnic table. Next to the bleachers, a protected bulletin board displays notices and posters of upcoming airport events and activities.

PWK-20.jpgPassersby may usually observe at least one or two cars parked in the lot and many spectators return at different times of day or days of the week because there is always an opportunity for surprise. As an airport serving all of general aviation, no one can predict what type of airplane will next take the runway. Business aircraft are Runway 16/34’s usual patrons, but others run the gamut from current, classic, and antique single-engine prop planes, with an occasional military veteran now serving its civilian pilot. But these surprises do not appear without notice. If spectators listen in to the tower conversation, they’ll know what will soon fly into view.

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.

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.

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.

If you’re not already a subscriber to the PWK airport news feed, add your e-mail in the subscription box on our Home Page.

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.

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.

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.