Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Cold weather not grounding pilots: Manistee County-Blacker Airport (KMBL), Manistee, Michigan (with video)

MANISTEE COUNTY -- With snow returning to northern Michigan, plows are working to keep not just the roads clear, but runways clear as well.

The Manistee County Blacker Airport Authority just bought a new snow brush and blower to make clearing the runways go a little more quickly.

And it’s not just for the commercial flights, but the private pilots and students pilots as well.

Granted, traffic this time of year at Manistee’s Blacker Airport isn’t what it is in the middle of summer.

“Plenty of people will hibernate during the winter,” says Robert Ericson, a charter pilot and flight instructor for Orchard Beach Aviation.  “But usually aircraft rentals are more available.  And all of sudden on a very nice sunny day with no wind, all of a sudden people will come back out and decide to go flying. ”

For those pilots, new and experienced, not to mention the daily commercial flights to Chicago, the airport needs to stay ready.

“You’ve got to start worrying about runway, airport conditions typically,” says Ericson.  “Airframe icing while flying; those are the primary concerns during the winter months.”

For the runways: plows, that new brush, snow blowers and chemicals are used to clear the snow and control the ice.

And pilots are asked to report on runway conditions as the fly in and out.

For the planes, there is a de-icing truck that is available to melt any ice that might build up overnight or while the plane is sitting outside.

“Cold weather can wreak havoc on any aircraft, big or small,” says Ericson.  “But usually there are some ways around it, whether it be de-icing, heated hangers, or even pre-heating the cabin for passenger comfort.”

And once airborn, Ericson says the cold air can actually be a good thing as it improves the plane’s flight characteristics.

“The colder, more dense air really helps an aircraft,” says Ericson.  “So, usually, they can take off with much more weight than they typically would, say than on a hot day in Denver.”

During last year’s record snowfall, the FAA shut down a portion of the airport’s instrument landing system because the snow was so deep.

It was the first time that happened in nearly 20 years.

The Manistee County Road Commission used bull dozers to clear away the snow so that equipment could be turned back on.

The downside to flying this time of year:  many planes, especially older planes, have a very, shall we say, basic system of heating the cabin.

So if you can handle that, there’s no reason not to go flying.

Story, Video and Photo:  http://www.upnorthlive.com

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