PAFA Taxiway B Closed

So the rain did heed yesterday’s pleas and today is sunny and pretty – but this morning, the planes had a lot of ice on them (27degrees F this morning). Okay, maybe I should really reevaluate my planning of morning flight blocks as we move into winter. When the ice melted, my plane had a small electrical problem. Even if it got fixed right away, all the instructors we already scheduled to work with the Nenana school kids (lucky high schoolers get free flight lessons). Lesson: always be specific when you ask the universe for something. Cauz it’ll mess with you. πŸ˜‰

Anyways, while waiting for my morning flight block (ice melting), I decided to write about the current taxiway closure at Fairbanks International Airport.

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PAFA_AOPA
Airport diagram of PAFA-FAI. All rights belong to…not me.

Fairbanks’ airport is divided into 2 sides. West ramp is for commercial aviation (2L-20R), East ramp (2R-20L) is for general aviation. The runways are connected by taxiway B which runs from the tower (on east ramp) straight to the commercial airport terminal (My flight school is located on east ramp, the building right next to the tower).

A while back I noticed my ATIS information started concluding with a notice that taxiway B would be closed until further notice but didn’t think much of it – “it must be general maintenance or something” I thought. Turns out it was closed because people following iphone maps were driving through the gate on east ramp next to the tower and onto taxiway B/the runways, headed for the terminal to catch their commercial flights.

Good grief….however it is hard not to sympathize a bit with the drivers. I drive up to the same gate they did all the time and I’ve never noticed signs telling you that you can’t get to the terminal (I mean, assuming you have taxi clearance, you most certainly can…). The articles I’ve read all say there are signs…but even not in a rush, I’ve never noticed them. Judge for yourself:

Here is a google streets image of the airport:

airport
Fairbanks Airport, east ramp, google streets view. Runways are parallel to the road the google car is on.
Tower on left, my flight school on the right. The road ahead goes straight onto taxiway bravo (see the taxiway just to the left of the rudder of the parked plane?). The white buildings in the distance are the terminal buildings.

As a non-aviation person, there aren’t any indications you are driving onto an active runway with 737s landing. Even as a student, it took me forever to figure out where the runway was [what it looked like] from the main road (vs the parallel taxiways charlie and alpha). Hey now, don’t laugh, it takes time to get used to the new signs you’ve never seen before (unlike learning to drive since those signs are everywhere you are).

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This photo is from airport officials. I can’t tell which angle the picture is taken from. You should either see the tower or the terminal in the background if it is at bravo. I think this is what the signs at bravo look like up close though. I’m never close enough to them during takeoff to tell.

Even up to a month ago, before this whole flight school thing, if my GPS directions told me to drive straight onto the runway, I would have been mildly confused at the weird line markings, but I probably would have done it anyways. The airport needs more menacing signs…..and maybe a fence. I’ve seen gated apartment complexes that look more secure than east ramp.

This situation really speaks to the fact that there need to be more ways to get people familiarized with aviation. Not just general airport tours – I did one of those in May and I still didn’t learn the road/taxiway/runway lines and where you can and cannot drive at the ramp.

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/national/apple-map-app-lands-drivers-airport-runway/nZ7tc/

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130924/iphone-map-app-directs-fairbanks-drivers-airport-taxiway

I hope things get fixed soon. I told CFI2 that I wanted to land on 2L-20R just to try it out….it would be cool, but I have no way to take the plane home to its parking spot without taking off again (I know, I say that like it’s a bad thing).

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