Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting ‘Parochial,’ Mark Begich Presses Federal Aviation Administration for Equipment for Aleutian Airport

If all politics is local, aviation should be no exception, whether the locale is big or small. So it was natural that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., argued at a hearing this week on the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen air traffic control modernization project that the FAA ought do more to ensure safety at Newark Liberty International airport, which had 17.5 million passengers boarding last year. 

So, too, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich could make the case for Unalaska airport on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian chain, which had 28,556 enplanements in 2013. (Unalaska is also known as Dutch Harbor and was bombed by Japanese planes in June 1942 as part of the diversion from the Japanese attack on Midway Island.)

Begich took the opportunity to press FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker about a topic he said was “very specific – very parochial,” adding wryly, “Not that anything I do is parochial.”

Begich told Whitaker “I was just in Unalaska which is not the easiest place to fly in. Short runway, high winds. I flew in with the Coast Guard and even they were wondering whether we could make it in.”

Unalaska needs an anemometer to measure wind speeds “on the tail end of the runway which is … near the mountain,” Begich said. “So obviously when you’re landing on that airport, it’s a short runway and your end of that runway is a mountain and there are high winds, they’d like to measure that wind. They have been struggling with the FAA for years — years — to get this one piece of equipment” that could ensure that flights can land more safely.

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