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Thread: Airport Closure

  1. #1

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    Airport Closure

    Haven't flown for three days - just thought I'd go around the patch once today. Nope - ground control said airport was closing in five minutes, and he couldn't let me.

    So I listened to the ATIS again, to make sure I hadn't missed anything. New ATIS in ten minutes - no mention of closure. Third new ATIS - no mention. You get the idea - George had to leave the area, and there was a 30 NM circle around NKX, which is the same thing as a 30 mile closure for the entire city.

    I understand the need for this closure - what I don't get is why they wouldn't put it on the ATIS. I even asked them to, sort of.

    So suppose you are inbound VFR, and got all of the TFRs (hard to do - there are a lot of them) and listened to the ATIS 50 miles out. By the time you call the tower, you are in the closed area, and violated. Folks lose their licenses for such things.

    One more subtle indication that General Aviation as we know it will not outlast me.

  2. #2

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    You're right, The information should've been put on the closing ATIS.

    As a rule when we close a runway at night we turn off the lights and disable the PCL (pilot controlled lighting) feature. I would assume if the actual airport is closed, all lights as well as the rotating beacon would be turned off too.

    I would take the time to call the FAA tower manager I'm sure it was just an oversight on the controllers part.

    Also... and I might get pounded on this. If you called FSS and received an airport briefing they would have told you the airport was closed at a certain time. If they didn't tell you... and you get jacked up, this would be your "get out of jail" card.

    Steve

  3. #3

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    TFR"S

    Another reason we should all have a 396 or 496 to let us know the TFR's are popping up.

  4. #4

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    And I heard rumours that the firefighters were shut down, due to the TFR.

    Anybody know if this was true, or just an Urban Legend?

    Thanks, eh?

  5. #5

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    I couldn't believe such an urban legend - except I just saw a firefighter spokeswoman (San Diego evening news, local channel 9) say that they really could have used an airdrop at Fallbrook, but had to make do with ground troops. The president's safety takes precedence over minor property issues. Fallbrook is about 18 miles north of George's departure runway.

    So - still a rumor, but it sure sounds like it is true. If so, it makes leaving details out of an ATIS sound pretty trivial.

  6. #6
    Dough Head's Avatar
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    As Calif. Fires Burned, Copters Grounded
    October 26th, 2007 @ 5:22am
    By AARON C. DAVIS and MICHAEL R. BLOOD
    Associated Press Writers

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - As wildfires were charging across Southern California, nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two massive cargo planes sat idly by, grounded by government rules and bureaucracy.

    How much the aircraft would have helped will never be known, but their inability to provide quick assistance raises troubling questions about California's preparations for a fire season that was widely expected to be among the worst on record.

    It took as long as a day for Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters to get clearance early this week, in part because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry "fire spotters" who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the powerful Santa Ana winds stoking the fires had made it too dangerous to fly.

    The National Guard's C-130 cargo planes, among the most powerful aerial firefighting weapons, never were slated to help. The reason: They've yet to be outfitted with tanks needed to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant, though that was promised four years ago.

    "The weight of bureaucracy kept these planes from flying, not the heavy winds," Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told The Associated Press. "When you look at what's happened, it's disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that's put tens of thousands of people in danger."

    Rohrabacher and other members of California's congressional delegation are demanding answers about aircraft deployment. And some fire officials have grumbled that a quicker deployment of aircraft could have helped corral many of the wildfires that quickly flared out of control and have so far burned 500,000 acres from Malibu to the Mexican border.

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials have defended the state's response, saying the intense winds prevented a more timely air attack.

    "Anyone that is complaining about the planes just wants to complain," Schwarzenegger replied angrily to a question Wednesday. "The fact is that we could have all the planes in the world here _ we have 90 aircraft here and six that we got especially from the federal government _ and they can't fly because of the wind."

    Indeed, winds reaching 100 mph helped drive the flames and made it exceedingly dangerous to fly. Still, four state helicopters and two from the Navy were able to take off Monday while nearly two dozen others stayed grounded.

    Thomas Eversole, executive director of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association, a Virginia-based nonprofit that serves as a liaison between helicopter contractors and federal agencies, said valuable time was lost.

    "The basis for the initial attack helicopters is to get there when the fire is still small enough that you can contain it," Eversole said. "If you don't get there in time, you quickly run the risk of these fires getting out of control."

    The first of the 15 or so fires started around midnight Saturday. By Sunday afternoon, fires were raging in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties.

    At the request of firefighters on the ground, at 4 p.m. Sunday the state Office of Emergency Services asked the National Guard to supply four helicopters. Under state rules, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection "spotter" must accompany each military and National Guard helicopter to coordinate water drops.

    The spotters have 24 hours to report for duty, and it took nearly all that time for them and the National Guard crews to assemble. By the time they were ready to go, the winds had made it unsafe to fly.

    The helicopters finally got off the ground Tuesday.

    Mike Padilla, aviation chief for the forestry department, acknowledged the Guard's helicopters were ready to fly before the spotters arrived. He said state officials were surprised.

    "Typically we're waiting for them to get crews," Padilla said.

    In a conference call with reporters Thursday, state officials rejected the notion they were ill-prepared, noting that more than 20 helicopters and airplanes were stockpiled in Southern California ahead of the wildfires because of the danger of flames erupting.

    But high winds after the fires began meant "there was very little opportunity" to fly, said the forestry department's director, Ruben Grijalva.

    "This is not a resource shortage on those days, this is a weather-condition problem," he said.

    That explanation doesn't jibe with what U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray said state officials told him Tuesday night. Bilbray, who represents parts of San Diego, and other lawmakers were informed that 19 Navy and Marine helicopters were ready to fly, some as early as Sunday, but didn't take off because there were no state fire spotters to accompany the crews, said Bilbray's spokesman, Kurt Bardella.

    Alarmed, Bilbray quickly helped broker an agreement to waive the spotter requirement, allowing flights to begin Wednesday.

    "We told them, 'You don't want the public to be asking why these units weren't flying while we had houses burning,'" Bilbray told the AP.

    By the time the helicopters got airborne, the area burned had quadrupled to more than 390 square miles, and the number of homes destroyed jumped from 34 to more than 700.

    Criticism from Bilbray and other lawmakers on the call helped lead Grijalva on Wednesday to abandon the state's long-standing policy to have a spotter aboard each aircraft and instead let one spotter orchestrate drops for a squadron of three helicopters.

    "I directed them to do whatever was necessary to get those other military assets into operation," Grijalva said.

    He said he could not explain why more spotters were not deployed before the flames spread to ensure that every aircraft ready to fly could take off.

    Padilla said state spotters do training exercises with the Navy and National Guard and are used to working with them on fires. That's not the case with the Marines, so when helicopters from that branch were made available, the state was caught off guard and had no spotters available.

    Regardless, he said, safety _ not availability of spotters _ was the overriding concern in determining when to allow aircraft into the skies.

    Padilla said he didn't want the Marines to participate because they "would have been a distraction" since they weren't trained.

    "It's no different from me walking into Baghdad and saying, 'I'm ready to fight the bad guys,'" he said. "They would no more want me in their arenas, not being trained, prepared and equipped, than I would want them if they were not trained, prepared and equipped."

    The C-130 saga is a much different story.

    More than a decade ago, Congress ordered replacement of the aging removable tanks for the military planes because of safety concerns and worries that they wouldn't fit with new-model aircraft. California's firefighting C-130 unit is one of four the Pentagon has positioned across the country to respond to fire disasters.

    New tanks were designed, but they failed to fit into the latest C-130s. Designers were ordered back to the drawing board. Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly said Congress was assured the new tanks would be ready by 2003.

    Four years later, the U.S. Forest Service and Air Force have yet to approve the revised design. Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Paula Kurtz said "technical and design difficulties" have delayed the program.

    Rohrabacher and Gallegly are angered by the delay, which has left no C-130s capable of fighting fires on the West Coast. The last of the older-model C-130s with an original tank was retired by the California National Guard last year.

    "It's an absolute tragedy, an unacceptable tragedy," Gallegly said.

    The situation meant that rather than deploying C-130s from inside the state, Schwarzenegger was forced to ask Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to call in the six remaining older C-130s from other states as far away as North Carolina.

    None of them began fighting the fires until Wednesday afternoon.

    In the meantime, the state relied mostly on smaller retardant tankers that carry about a third of the C-130's 3,000-gallon capacity.

    Gallegly said such firepower was sorely needed earlier.

    "I have actually flown in one and pressed the button," he said. "I know what they can do."

  7. #7
    Speedo's Avatar
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    When it comes to fighting fires from the air (or responding to most disasters, for that matter) it's not a perfect world. Sometimes it makes sense to wait until the experts who can coordinate things arrive. It's human nature to want to jump in and help when one thinks one can - in the ICAS safety training they refer to this as "drag race to the accident scene." But their point is, if you're not a trained responder and you're in the drag race, you're likely to make things worse for the pros.

    In California if the aircraft that were available but not used had acted independently and had a mid-air there would have been all kinds of screaming that the pilots were behaving like cowboys. Do you wait for the pros to show up and coordinate all the assets, or hop in your plane and hope that the other pilots know what they're doing, too? Neither option is very appealing - this was a no-win situation.

    Maybe next time the Interagency folks will have better luck anticipating where fires will break out, and they'll be able to stage men and equipment together.
    Speedo

  8. #8
    Marty57's Avatar
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    What time did the TFR go to yesterday? I drove by Fox field in Lancaster, CA yesterday on my way home from work about 4:30pm. At that time there were about 8-10 fire fighting aircraft on the ground near the forest service ramp, none in the air. There was, however, a banner towing aircraft at 3:30pm with a banner that read: LOST CHIHUAHUA Call XXX-XXXX, not kidding here !

    Marty

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