Lake Hood Seaplane Base: the center of Anchorage general aviation

bush-pilot-stapleton-lake-hood2-10-14-10Freezing nighttime temperatures have not stopped float flying in Southcentral Alaska, as activity at Lake Hood Seaplane Base continues to buzz like a beehive.

As the leaves turn and fall on the shores of Lake Hood (PALH) some planes are being taken out of the water while other float-equipped aircraft are making a last flight so their pilots can close up their cabins in the valley before winter sets in.

"This has not been our busiest year due to the weather and the economy," said Andy Hutzel, general aviation manager at Lake Hood. "This year we've had 60,000 operations to date."

According to Hutzel, in the past yearly operations at the seaplane base have been has high as 90,000.

Lake Hood is the largest and most heavily populated seaplane base in the world. Over 1,000 aircraft, mainly general aviation, use the facility year-round.

bush-pilot-stapleton-lake-hood1-10-14-10There are 500 float slips that cost $105 per month for those who are lucky enough to have one. The 500 tie-downs at the gravel strip and parking areas are $50 a month, according to officials.

"We have improved the waitlist to get a slip from an 18-year wait down to about a 10-year wait," Hutzel said. "Now there are only 302 people on the list, that's down from 1,500 ten-years ago."

The popularity of the lake is due to its proximity to the city and the easy access to Bush Alaska it provides for Anchorage residents.

Originally two separate lakes-Lake Hood and Lake Spenard-located far away from downtown Anchorage, were connected by a channel in 1938. Today the lakes are part of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport complex.

Despite the weather and wind which flipped a Cessna 180 over two weeks ago, life at Lake Hood has been pretty normal this season.

Those who have a slip know their worth. They are so valuable that many aircraft owners and some of those waiting a decade or more have lied and cheated to get a spot.

In the past all an aircraft owner needed was a student pilot's license to get on the list to get a slip.

"When we started enforcing the DOT Title 17 regulations we started to diminish the number waitlisted for a float slip," Hutzel added. "We had families who were using the names of their nine children to get a slip by applying for an FAA Student Pilot license for each kid."

bush-pilot-stapleton-lake-hood3-10-14-10One family Hutzel contacted paid $25 for 18 years to be on the waitlist. When the manager called the number to inform them that they were next on the list, a lady answered and said, "Oh that's my son's name. We applied for him when he was born, and intended to sell or rent the slip spot to pay for his college education," according to Hutzel.

Now the requirement for a slip is a valid medical, as well as a Private Pilot certificate with a float rating. The changes came after a 1995 legislative investigation over the corruption surrounding getting a slip.

One slip user who asked not to be identified expressed his perspective about the value of a float slip.

"You can kick my dog, mess around with my wife, but don't ever screw with my float slip at Lake Hood," he said.

Evidence of the value of the seaplane base can also be traced to operations around the aerodrome, with 53 businesses operating on the lake's edge.

Two of this year's largest operators at Lake Hood are K2 and Rust's. Each company operates Turbo Twin Otters, DeHavilland Beavers and Cessna 208s for flight seeing, fishing and hunting

"You can define this season as 'wet' for sure, but we had a relatively good summer, better than the last," said Chris at Rust's Flying Service.

But the rain helped at least one business at Lake Hood.

Shari Hart, marketing director for the Alaska Aviation Museum located on the south shore of Lake Hood, said that they had a good year with over 20,000 visitors - an increase from 2009.

"Because of the rain we had a better year," said Hart. "People came to the museum to get in out of the rain."

Rob Stapleton can be reached at robstapleton(at)Alaska.net.