Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Airport Sleuths: Each and Every One of Us

Over my long and checkered airport-using career, I’ve had many occasions to grumble about the poor state of repair at airports I’ve visited from pavement markings to taxiway signs to wandering loose objects (1 steer, 1 saw horse) on the tarmac. Rather than just complain, I’ve made it a habit to be proactive and DO something about it.
The famous comment by JFK at his inaugural speech in 1961 ( “Ask not what your country can do for you but rather ask what you can do for your country”)  set me to thinking about how we, as vitally interested users of our airports could give something back to that real estate we call an airport which supports our passion for flight.  If you think about it, keeping our airports in good conditions is vitally important to all of us.
My oldest memory goes to my night checkout in July of 1969 with my first instructor, Tom Treadwell, at the Gnoss Field (KDVO). Amazingly, my logbook shows no night flights until after I got my private license, but we did an hour’s worth of practice that night, at the Santa Rosa Air Center (O01) an old Navy base airport with no lights, just moonlight.  Chalk up one good memory of having an experienced instructor on board who knew the terrain, making sure my landing light worked and a bright moon-lit night to keep me oriented.  I quickly began to appreciate the value of runway lights and those who maintained them. 
Several months later, I returned to this airport and while talking to the FBO, we heard a local pilot report something like “teeth on the runway” which made no sense. Asking him to “say again,” we got a better explanation:  “Beef on the hoof!” he yelled, and then followed up with “Cattle on the runway!”  Figuring that the mix of cows and airplanes was a recipe for disaster, we sprang into action, called the Airport Manager who I assume located the cow’s owners for a quick round-up. Remembering the night landings I’d made there a few months before, I’d decided to cool my plans for landing there after dark…moon or no moon.
Later, while running my own weekend ground school, I happened to land at Salina, Kansas one night in my N35 Bonanza, trying to beat the approaching thunderstorm.  My partner, a very experienced pilot, had often barked at me for not landing exactly on the centerline. Tonight I was dead on…and thus avoided disaster.   As we rolled out on runway 35, something flashed by me out the pilot’s window which was scary enough to make me taxi back (the runway was 12,300’ long) to take a better look.  To my horror I saw a wooden saw horse now just 20 feet or so left of centerline, used to block off an adjacent closed taxiway, which had been blown out onto the active runway. Had I done my usual “slightly left of centerline” landing…I’d have hit it with my left wing. I quickly reported it to the FSS (where I actually spent that night sleeping in a large armchair, awaiting the passage of that line of thunder bumpers) who issued a NOTAM on the spot.   That memory has served me well for many years, keeping most all of my touchdowns on the centerline, just in case.
As my airline career progressed, I found myself reporting more and more “hazards to aviating,” many of them noticed while sitting in line waiting for take-off.  SFO was particularly prone to quick growing weeds at the approach end of 1R. The signage for the split that n Taxiway Alpha makes into A1 and A2 was sometimes impossible to see due to the grasses fluttering in the breeze, covering the bank of taxi signs.  LAX was another spot where we’d often be asked to hold short of Sierra while taxiing east on Bravo.  One day I noticed there was no “S” marking on B, but only over on the adjacent Charlie taxiway.  On both occasions I gave ground control a heads up when the frequency chatter calmed down enough to explain the problem.
I often fly to KMRY and occasionally land on 28R.  The subsequent taxi often takes me down the centerfield taxiway and on one trip the tower told me to: “Hold short of taxiway Juliet on Bravo” before crossing 28L.  I was westbound and unfortunately the sign for “Juliet” for not visible to an airplane taxiing West as I was, only for those who were eastbound, assumedly heading for the approach ends of 28L or 28R.  Figuring it was important to know just where I was, I taxied just past the intersection, turned the airplane around in a half circle and looked to see if it was indeed Juliet.  Figuring us little guys should have good signage (since we were probably the only ones who ever came Westbound on that piece of concrete), I called the tower and later the Airport Manager to tell them “Juliet” needed another sign on the Westbound side to assist us in seeing just where we were.
You’ve no doubt got many memories of situations you’ve encountered, and hopefully you’ve called and/or written up your share of NASA reports (now renamed ASRS reports at www.asrs.arc.nasa.gov) when you’ve encountered a dangerous situation. The good news is we now have even more resources to help us report problems at our local airports, including www.airnav.com where you can quickly find out who’s responsible for the maintaince of your favorite landing sites. 
Please help the rest of us and be proactive when it comes to reporting situations that need attention. If it’s an issue that needs help from more than what may be available at your local level,  contact Cal Pilots (www.calpilots.org) with as much information as possible ( who, what, where, and when as well as the contact info – yours and theirs) so we can help make sure that the issue gets proper attention. 
Sleuth on, ye California Aviators…we need your eyes, ears, fingers and voice to make sure our airports are there to enjoy for many years to come.