"Launch of General Aviation Weather Campaign "
Michael Huerta, Anchorage, Alaska
May 4, 2014

General Aviation Weather Campaign

Thank you for joining us this afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here at this great gathering.

Alaska has definitely got weather.

You’ve got winds, extreme temperatures, lots of icing, and even ice fog. That is why we knew this was the perfect place to officially launch a joint national safety campaign for GA pilots to focus on weather and weather-related dangers when flying this year.

GA leaders such as AOPA, NBAA, EAA and about a dozen others are taking part – asking pilots to join the cause  and prepare for potential weather challenges as this year’s flying season begins.   

Now I know that every season is flying season in Alaska.  The Cessna 180 is your minivan. This state has the greatest concentration of GA pilots in the country. And that is why it is so appropriate that we kick off this national awareness campaign about weather here in the Last Frontier.

While most GA accidents are caused by a loss of control, weather is the most lethal of all major causes. Nearly 75 percent of weather-related GA accidents are fatal, according to our partners at AOPA. Our nation has the busiest and most complex airspace in the world, with 188,000 GA pilots. It’s a robust community.

But we are not where we want to be on our general aviation fatal accident rate.  Last year there were 259 fatal G.A. accidents across the nation, with 449 fatalities.  This is way too many. This year, we are down below where we were at this time last year – and that’s good, but that’s no reason for complacency.

Our goal has been to reduce the GA fatal accident rate by 10 percent by 2018. This is a 10-year effort. During the last five years, the rate has been mostly stagnant. It’s not getting worse – but we’re not making progress either.

We all need to join together to raise awareness of the dangers of weather and the best way to prepare for it and handle it. We can’t do it alone. We need your help.

As part of our awareness campaign – “Got Weather?” – we are asking you to talk to your fellow pilots about the dangers of weather. Or to take a course and improve your pre-flight decision making skills. Be honest about your own capabilities and set a personal weather minima.  If you’re comfortable with visual flight rules, but you think you’ll fly into meteorological conditions – plan another route or go another time.

This safety campaign will run through December and each month we’ll ask you to focus on a different weather topic: turbulence, thunderstorms, icing, or crosswinds, for example.

Here in Alaska you have unique conditions and several different climate zones. Winds can be very disruptive because of the terrain. You’re flying fairly low – and significant wind shear and gusts can create an obstacle.

You also have complete whiteout conditions during snow storms in the Arctic, making it very difficult to distinguish sky from terrain.

As everywhere, icing is an issue, but it’s normal to see very low temperatures here, as cold as 70 below in the winter. Plus in the higher latitudes it can be dark 24 hours a day. You even have ice fog, where the humidity in the air freezes but stays suspended.

During the summer, the temperature can reach 100 degrees in some areas. Lightning strikes can spark massive forest fires with smoke that impacts visibility, not to mention the occasional volcano eruption with ash fallout.

This is not a place for the faint of heart.

Every area of the country has its own challenges. But what unites us all is the need to respect the weather.

With your help we can lower the fatal accident rate, and all of us can enjoy the skies safely. We look forward to working with you, and we appreciate your support for this campaign and your dedication to improving your own skills and helping others become the best pilots they can be.

Thank you for your attention. I’d now like to turn it over to the next speaker.