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Big changes coming to Mat-Su area flight charts

Colleen Mondor

When the Federal Aviation Administration releases new sectional aeronautical charts for Alaska May 29, they will include significant changes to the common traffic advisory frequencies to the areas north and west of Anchorage.

Common traffic frequency advisories, or CTAFs, are designated frequencies over which pilots communicate their locations and intentions in areas not managed by air traffic controllers. After more than two years, the efforts of a working group comprised of industry, government and user group representatives have culminated in approximately 77 CTAF changes to airports in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys. The changes are designed to prevent future midair collisions.

The working group was formed in response to a series of midairs including one on July 30, 2011 near Amber Lake that killed the four occupants of a Cessna 180. The pilot and passenger of the second aircraft, a Cessna 206, survived. The two pilots were transmitting on different frequencies, each believing he was correct, and were unaware of each other's positions.

In a recent email exchange, Tom George, Alaska representative for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which worked extensively on the project, said more than 500 pilots provided input to the working group.

"After developing alternative scenarios, considerable work was done to vet the proposals. Many refinements were made based on feedback from air taxi operators, flight instructors, and pilots that fly recreationally in the Valley. FAA provided radar track data which also helped validate some of the flight patterns. In spite of these efforts, however, we are aware that these changes may require more refinement. As a result the feedback link, through the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation’s website, is important so that pilots can pass on their experiences as these changes are implemented."

Based on the recommendations of the working group, not only will some Valley airport CTAFs change, but 36 airports will have CTAFs assigned for the first time. The FAA will send letters to 178 airport owners notifying them of the changes and they will be reflected on the charts, in the Alaska Supplement (an Alaska-specific addition to the agency's Airport/Facility Directory) and in GPS database updates. The information can also be found on the FAA website

Previously, the Alaska Supplement read "Airports south and west of the Parks Highway are assigned 122.8. Airports north and east of the Parks Highway are assigned 122.9.” Now the boundaries are defined largely by rivers and coastline, and four new CTAF areas have been established. This has resulted in numerous frequency changes for airports including Goose Bay, Wolf Lake and Anderson Lake.

The northern range of the Cook Inlet CTAF area has also had a boundary change.

According to George, the working group is looking beyond the Mat-Su CTAFs and will continue to come together to focus on other tasks. "This fall," he said, "in addition to monitoring the changes already made, we plan to look at the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer, to see if improvements may be made in that area as well."

For more information on how the new CTAF boundaries were selected, see the Alaska region blog at the AOPA website.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.