Sunday, March 19, 2017

Incident occurred March 19, 2017 at Roberts Field Airport (KRDM), Redmond, Deschutes County, Oregon


Report of a private aircraft coming in for a landing accidentally ran off the main runway and into the dirt. Both occupants are out and appear to be fine. A faulty wheel brake, pulling the aircraft to one side, is the suspected culprit.


Redmond Fire-Rescue says everything’s okay. They’re clearing. 


Pilot Had Been Suspended By Federal Aviation Administration, Training Was 'Hurried': Dana Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83, 5N-RAM; fatal accident occurred June 03, 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria

The pilot-in-command of the Dana Air jet that crashed on June 3, 2012, Captain Peter Waxtan, had previously been suspended by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for violating safety regulations, according to a report released by the Nigerian Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).

The accident report, which was uploaded on the AIB website and examined by our correspondent, stated that the pilot, a 55-year-old as at the time of the crash, was suspended in 2009 by the FAA for misdemeanors relating to a heavy landing and fixing panels that were neither entered in the aircraft logbook nor reported by him.

The report also revealed that Mr. Waxtan submitted unsigned recommendation letters to Dana Air and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) before being employed by the airline. Furthermore, his pilot’s license was stamped by the NCAA, but not signed by any NCAA official.

The AIB report further disclosed that Mr. Waxtan’s training captain in flight school gave him a negative evaluation, saying that he needed to improve his callout and operating procedures. The training captain also commented that Mr. Waxtan needed to adhere to the Abuja Company Procedures and Pilot Monitoring and Radiotelephone Procedures.

The training captain issued this evaluation on April 26, 2012, just six weeks before the deadly crash.

The regulatory body, however, could not confirm if Mr. Waxtan made the required improvements before being issued a pilot’s license.

The report also maintained that the pilot’s training was rushed.

“The captain was employed on the 14th of March, 2012. He began flying line training operations under the supervision of a training captain on the 26th of April, 2012 after completing ground school and simulator training. The background checks were said to have been done with nothing found to disqualify the pilot.

“He started flying as a checked-out captain on the 2nd of May, 2012 and had accrued over 120 hours of flight time before the accident. There was no documented evidence that the crew performed the mandatory Crew Resource Management (CRM) training.”

The AIB investigator also discovered discrepancies in the fueling records of the aircraft.

According to the AIB, fueling records indicated that the aircraft uplifted 8000 pounds of fuel before departing from Abuja while the flight crew reported to the air traffic controller on duty that they had a total of 26,000 pounds of fuel.

The AIB, in its final report, observed that “the captain was new in the company, having been employed on the 14th of March, 2012, and was checked out as a line captain on the 1st of May, 2012. The captain had previous regulatory issues with the US FAA, which led to his suspension at that time. All the reference letters presented by the captain to Dana Airlines were neither signed nor authenticated.

“The background check on the captain was inadequate. The line training given to the captain was hurriedly carried out. There was no evidence that the deficiencies observed by the checkout captain were addressed before the accident.

“The aircraft was airworthy at the time of departure. The aircraft came out from a check and was released to service on 1st June, 2012. All deferred defects were cleared during the last check. The left aileron bus cable was replaced on 1st June, 2012. A test flight was carried out on 2nd June, 2012 after the replacement of left aileron bus cable,” the report stated.

It would be recalled that the Dana Air aircraft crashed in the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos, roughly 5.8 miles north of Lagos Airport.

All 153 persons on board, including six crew members, perished while another six died on ground.

During the impact sequence, the airplane struck an uncompleted building, two trees and three other buildings.

The wreckage was confined to a small area, with the separated tail section and engines located at the beginning of the debris trail.

The airplane was mostly consumed by post-crash fire. The tail section, both engines and portions of both wings, representing only about 15 percent of the airplane, were recovered from the accident site for further examination.

Original article can be found here:

Aircraft Accident Report:

The investigation identified the following:

Probable Causal Factors;

1. Engine number 1 lost power seventeen minutes into the flight, and thereafter on final approach, Engine number 2 lost power and failed to respond to throttle movement on demand for increased power to sustain the aircraft in its flight configuration.

2. The inappropriate omission of the use of the Checklist, and the crew’s inability to appreciate the severity of the power-related problem, and their subsequent failure to land at the nearest suitable airfield.

3. Lack of situation awareness, inappropriate decision making, and poor airmanship.

Eight Safety Recommendations were made.

NTSB Identification: DCA12RA084
Accident occurred Sunday, June 03, 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria
Aircraft: BOEING MD-83, registration:
Injuries: 153 Fatal.

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

On June 3, 2012 about 1545 hours local time, 5N-RAM, a Boeing MD-83, operated by Dana Airlines Limited as flight 992 (DAN 992), crashed into a densely populated area during a forced landing following a total loss of power in both engines while on approach to Muhammed Murtala Airport (LOS), Lagos, Nigeria. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time, and the airplane was on an instrument flight rules flight plan. All 153 persons aboard the airplane, including the 6 crew members, were fatally injured. There were 10 confirmed ground fatalities. The airplane was destroyed, and there was a post impact fire. The domestic scheduled commercial flight was operating from Abuja International Airport(ABV), Abuja, Nigeria to LOS. 

The Nigeria Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has instituted an investigation. As the State of manufacture of the airplane and engines, a U.S. Accredited Representative has been appointed with technical advisors from the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration, The Boeing Company, and Pratt & Whitney Engines. Inquires about the investigation should be directed to the AIB at the following address:

Accident Investigation Bureau
P.M.B. 016
Murtala Muhammed Airport
Ikeja, Lagos

The airplanes that protect the Panhandle

With elevated winds, high temperatures and little rain, it is peak fire season in the Texas Panhandle for at least the next few weeks.

And since it is the most dangerous stretch of fire season, the Texas A&M Forest Service is on round-the-clock standby, ready to attack fires from the sky whenever necessary, designating to this area four aircraft that have already played key roles in fighting wildfires near Amarillo, Tulia and Perryton during the last three weeks.

Three of the airplanes are single engine air tankers (SEATS) that can carry and drop between 600 and 800 gallons of fire retardant per mission, along with one aerial supervision platform (Air Attack) that scans the area before SEATs arrive in order to determine the best course of action for trying to halt the advancing flames.

Gary Bustamente, the Forest Service SEAT Manager who is currently stationed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport with the aircraft, says determining where to station the planes around the huge state during fire season is like playing a game of chess.

“There’s no fire danger around Houston and San Antonio, so we don’t have resources there. They try to locate (the planes) where the fire danger is, which is basically the Panhandle right now,” Bustamente said. “So the resources are located up to here to try and respond to a fire when it starts.”

The aircraft and pilots are contracted through the federal government, with the SEAT planes coming from Plains and the Air Attack spotter coming from Kentucky.

So far the aircraft have been called upon to help fight four Texas Panhandle wildfires: the Dumas Complex Fire; the Tulia Fire; the Perryton Fire; and on Friday afternoon a grass fire in southeast Amarillo off Lakeside and Interstate 40.

Veteran relief pilots who have more than 15 years of experience in fighting fire from the air say the blazes this spring have been some of the worst they can recall.

“It’s probably about as bad as it gets as the fire spreads,” pilot Jim Watson said. “One fire was running six or seven miles per hour and the grass had 20 foot flame leaps, and that’s pretty extreme fire behavior. That’s attributed to all the fuel we had from previous rains and winters.”

Watson said the aircraft can travel at up to 175 miles per hour, making it so the planes can offer quick and accurate response to fires anywhere in the Texas Panhandle.

The aerial strategy for wildfires is to drop fire retardant rather than water. Scott Lang, a veteran pilot who has been fighting fires from the sky for 16 years, says instead of dropping water on the flames the goal 90 percent of the time is to drop retardant ahead of the flames to stop the fire’s spread, helping firefighters on the ground who are attacking the flames with water.

“We’ll arrive on scene and they’ll request what they need us to do for them on the ground, and that’s what we try to do,” Lang said. “Our main job is to help the boots on the ground, to help them get closer to the fire.”

Lang said the pilots are also called upon to provide protection for structures, as was the case in the Dumas Complex and Tulia fires.

During the Amarillo Complex fire, Lang said he dropped 10 payloads of retardant during the first day with about 20 minutes of turnaround time between each drop. Turnaround time can vary depending upon the distance between the reload airport and the spreading flames. For the Dumas Complex fire the turnaround time was short because it was just seven miles from their refilling post at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

“Several times we were doing structure protection, laying lines before houses so the fire will burn up to it (the retardant) and stop,” Lang said.

When an aircraft performs a drop it can fly as low as 60 feet over the flames but their goal, particularly because they are trying to stop the fire’s spread, is to stay out of the smoke and fire.

Despite being so close to the flames from within an airplane, Watson said the danger the aviators face is no worse than firefighters face on the fields.

“We have a drop height of 60 feet or above,” Watson said. “So we’re within 60 feet of the (fire) fuel and terrain, but the biggest danger is not any worse than the ground trucks running around.”

Approaching the fire the pilots have to take into account the wind, the size of the flames and the spread of the smoke in order to determine a clear path for them to make their run and drop, something they’re assisted with by the Air Attack plane and commander.

“We try to stay out of the smoke,” Lang said. “But now and then you do get caught in it. It’s not that dangerous for what we do, we have safety mechanisms in place.”

Their safety mechanisms along with the pilots’ coordinated teamwork helped them save a subdivision from being destroyed during the Tulia fire roughly three weeks ago, according to the Forest Service.

As for how long the planes will remain in Amarillo and around the Texas Panhandle, Lang says it’s all up to Mother Nature.

“It’ll have to be a significant weather event,” Lang said about what might cause them to move along to another area. “We’ll have to have some rain, because it will green up in the next two to three weeks, but if we don’t get rain, that’s not going to help much.”

When they do leave Amarillo, Lang said it’s likely head to the southwest region of Texas in the David Mountain area.

“That’s part of the scenario,” Bustamente said of their next stop. “Typically when it greens up here, the fire danger shifts down to the southwest.”


4 planes in Amarillo, 3 single-engine airtankers, 1 aerial supervision platform

600-800 gallons of fire retardant in one single engine airtanker drop

4 fires called to in the Panhandle

175 mph top speed for single-engine airtankers

60 feet drop height for fire retardant

Original article can be found here:

Cirrus SR22, N176CF: Names of donors, athletes released on Iowa Statue University private plane

Iowa Statue University officials released flight records identifying 126 passengers whom the university previously had kept secret after President Steven Leath made a "hard landing" that damaged the university's Cirrus SR22 single-engine aircraft.

The 670 pages of documents made public in response to a complaint filed by The Des Moines Register show that the 72 flights identified in the records cost the university or its foundation at least $804,000.

The passengers include dozens of well-known donors and athletes, as well as people whose ties to the university already have been publicly scrutinized, such as professional archer John Dudley.

Dudley, an Indianola native, accompanied Leath on four trips that may have mixed university business with hunting, according to records and a previous investigation published by the Associated Press show. That included trips to Sulphur Springs, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Louisville, Ky.

Leath has denied that Dudley hunted on those trips, describing the bow hunter's role in a recent interview with the Business Record as "to help Iowa State move forward."

Ames Realtor and ISU alumnus Dean Hunziker was the most frequent passenger, going on at least 10 flights, including some the Associated Press said were hunting-related. Hunziker did not return a call seeking comment.

The DCI last month announced it would not charge Leath over allegations he used school airplanes for personal benefit, determining "there was no probable cause to substantiate a violation of Iowa law."

Gene Meyer, the former West Des Moines mayor and former director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, was on one of the flights to Stillwater, Fla. He traveled with ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard to see a game in 2014, leaving and returning to Iowa on the same day.

Meyer, who is now president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is an ISU alumnus. Such trips help build relationships between donors and the university, he said. In 2015 the university's athletics department named Meyer "Cy's Favorite Alum for 2015."

"I'm just a big supporter of Iowa State athletics and the foundation, and I'm a donor. Jamie invited me to join him, and I accepted," Meyer said.

The Register reached out last week to others on the list, including Dan Culhane, the Ames Chamber of Commerce president, and Troy Ross, the executive administrator of Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust in Muscatine.

Culhane and his wife, Stacey, traveled with Pollard to Toledo, Ohio, on Sept. 19, 2015, the same date as the Glass Bowl between ISU and Toledo. Culhane did not immediately return a request for an interview. Their travel cost the university or its foundation $1,265, the records show.

Ross, whose charity is recognized as one of the largest private philanthropic foundations in the state, said the travel between Muscatine and Ames was to attend meetings. The trust has provided tens of millions of dollars in grants to ISU in a relationship that has spanned more than 25 years.

The travel for Ross and some of his staff in 2014-16 cost the university or its foundation at least $7,160, records show.

"That's an offer that's provided by the ISU Foundation for those meetings that we attend at Iowa State on campus," Ross said.

The Associated Press previously had made public some of the donor names using flight billing records that had been online and removed by ISU shortly after questions were publicly raised about Leath's use of the aircraft.

Leath last year said the unredacted billing records enabled the AP to identify who he was meeting, contact that person and ask "totally inappropriate" questions about donations raised as a result. The AP has said the questions were about the purpose of the trip rather than about donations.

ISU's athletics department is the primary user of its flight service, often during the student-athlete recruitment process and athletic events, the school has said.

NCAA rules allow schools to provide travel expenses to student-athletes to their athletic competitions. And the rules specifically allow colleges to use their own planes to transport prospective athletes to campus for a visit or sites of competition.

One of the names initially redacted from ISU records was ISU cross country runner Thomas Pollard, the son of Jamie Pollard, the school's athletics director.

Thomas and Jamie Pollard accompanied ISU's former cross country and track coach Bill Bergan and former ISU runner Brett Carney to Lawrence, Kan.; then to Sioux Falls, S.D., before returning to Ames, the records show.

ISU had not provided a reason for the trip before publication.

Records were previously online

Before Leath's use of planes faced public scrutiny, flight records were available on the school's website. They were taken down in October after the Associated Press investigation unveiled Leath, a pilot, had damaged one of the university aircraft during a hard landing.

Weeks later the school reposted the records with the identities of many of the passengers removed. Those passengers were students or potential donors, and the university maintained it could choose to make them confidential under Iowa's public records law.

The Register argued the redactions were illegal in a complaint before the Iowa Public Information Board. The documents fit the definitions of neither student educational records nor donor records, which could be concealed under the state's open records law, the paper argued.

The Register had downloaded 78 pages of the records before the university removed them from its website.

The university provided the records in an unredacted format earlier this month to resolve the complaint. ISU attorney Michael Norton said the school decided to release the records since the Register already had the information, although the newspaper did not have the entire record.

Dudley, the bow hunter, helped facilitate meetings with prospective donors and assisted with a wildlife program at the university, Megan Landolt, a spokeswoman for Iowa State, told the Register.

The "purpose" of the flights were all classified as business by the university.

The Register matched travel dates and destination cities with several sporting events but could not determine an official reason for dozens of the trips.

There is little way for taxpayers to judge the value of the trips without basic information about the travel, said Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and the Register's former opinion editor.

"It sure seems in the eyes of Iowa State University that every person who walks the Earth or flies on a plane with the university president is in theory a prospective donor," Evans said.

Leath pays nearly $37,000

The records obtained by the Register are for one of the four planes — a Beechcraft King Air 350 — the university has owned since 2012.

The university's flight service did not retain flight records or maintenance logs for two of the aircraft that have been sold. And flight records for the fourth — a smaller plane often flown by Leath — had not previously been maintained, although some information was available through a flight tracking data company, according to an ISU internal audit released in December.

Donor relations and outreach are considered a business purpose and an acceptable use of the aircraft under university policies. However, because of incomplete records, the business purpose could not always be verified by auditors, who reviewed the university's aircraft travel since 2012.

That audit found seven trips where the ISU Foundation did not have any records. Four were identified as sporting events considered allowable for Leath to attend as a business purpose regardless of meetings with donors. But three could not be validated, the internal audit shows.

The audit identified a March 2014 aircraft stop in Elmira, N.Y., en route to a basketball tournament as unnecessary. The stop was made to drop off Leath's brother and sister-in-law.

University aircraft also transported Leath at least seven times to Rochester, Minn. Leath said the sole purpose of three of those trips was a medical appointment. Leath's contract does not address the necessity of a required annual physical or whether associated travel is covered by the university, the audit noted.

Leath paid $17,500 in donations to the ISU Foundation to cover the damage to the plane that resulted from the 2015 hard landing while he was the pilot. Following the audit's review of his trips, he paid another $19,113.

The audit recommended the university maintain comprehensive flight logs in the future, which the university has agreed to do. The Iowa Board of Regents, which ordered the review, did not take action against Leath following the December audit. Regents President Bruce Rastetter said no ISU policies or laws were broken.

"President Leath's acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the plane reassures this board — and I hope all Iowans — that the president deserves our continued trust and support," Rastetter said in December.

Read more here:

Two Bear Air Rescue: Helicopter rescues fishermen stranded in ice jam on Clark Canyon Reservoir

BUTTE — Mother Nature had a surprise for two college students who wanted to spend a sunny St. Patrick’s Day leisure fishing at Clark Canyon Reservoir south of Dillon.

Two large pieces of ice jammed a row boat carrying two casually dressed University of Montana-Western students unable to paddle to shore against heavy winds on Friday.

A helicopter from Two Bear Air of Kalispell eventually rescued the two after Beaverhead Search and Rescue had trouble reaching them with a rescue sled due to poor ice conditions, said Beaverhead County Undersheriff David Chase.

“We took two boats out there, but because they were locked in this ice ring, we couldn’t get to them,” said Chase. “The warm weather made the ice too inconsistent a formation to get the sled out there, and we couldn’t carry or push it. On solid ice, though, it works great.”

The unnamed male students, ages 22 and 23, started fishing from the boat close to shore, but soon winds blew them out into the lake. The boat anchor broke, then the two oar locks that guide the paddles broke, he said.

“The weather was nice when they started, but then the wind picked up,” Chase said. “They couldn’t get enough momentum without the oar locks to carry them to shore.

“The wind blew them up against a solid piece of ice, and they couldn’t row away from it. Then a second piece of ice locked them in.”

Wearing sweatshirts and non-fishing clothing, the two were stuck until search and rescue got the call at 5 p.m.

It was a long wait, though, for the two fishermen.

Strong headwinds hampered the Two Bear Air rescue helicopter as it flew to the site then as it attempted rescue.

By 10:30 p.m. Friday, both fishermen were safe and sound when Two Air Bear set them down in a nearby landing zone. They refused medical treatment and suffered no injuries, confirmed Chase.

“It took two trips out to the lake … to rescue both of the guys in the boat,” said Chase. “The boat is still out there, locked in the ice.”

Original article can be found here:

Cub Crafters CC11-160 Carbon Cub SS, CC11-160, N153JM: Accident occurred March 18, 2017 near Borrego Valley Airport (L08), San Diego County, California

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: GAA17CA227 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, March 18, 2017 in Borrego Springs, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/31/2017
Aircraft: CUBCRAFTERS INC CC11-160, registration: N153JM
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot reported that he landed off airport to an unimproved surface. He remarked that the “airplane only needs about 60 feet of ground roll to become airborne.” During the attempted takeoff, the airplane ascended about 2 ft above ground level before the landing gear wheel impacted desert shrubs, and the pilot aborted the takeoff. The airplane touched down and developed a side load, and the right main landing gear collapsed. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the lower fuselage tube struts and the firewall.  

The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s selection of an unsuitable takeoff area, which resulted in impact with obstacles. 

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; San Diego, California

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: GAA17CA227
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, March 18, 2017 in Borrego Springs, CA
Aircraft: CUBCRAFTERS INC CC11-160, registration: N153JM
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot reported that he landed off airport to an unimproved surface. He remarked that the, "airplane only needs about 60 feet of ground roll to become airborne." During the attempted takeoff the airplane ascended about 2 ft. above ground level before the landing gear wheel impacted desert shrubs and the pilot aborted the takeoff. The airplane touched down and developed a side load and the right main landing gear collapsed. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the lower fuselage tube struts and the firewall.

The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

The first indication that a plane was down came Saturday afternoon when the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida picked up a signal from an emergency locator beacon transmitting from somewhere in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The center alerted the California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. A search plane dispatched from Fallbrook found the wreckage in the mountains nine miles northeast of Borrego Valley Airport.

But when a helicopter dispatched by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department reached the crash site, there was no one to rescue. The pilot and any passengers on the mysterious flight were gone.

On Sunday, the authorities had pieced the story together, mostly.

Lt. Rich Williams of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said the pilot, whose identity has not formally been released, was tracked down at his home in Pacific Palisades. He told investigators that he and his passenger, his brother-in-law, were uninjured and walked away from the wreck.

“They were going to report it to his insurance company,” Williams said. “He considered it an incident causing damage to his plane and nothing more.”

But some details remained fuzzy.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the crash, released a statement saying the “single-engine Cubcrafters CC11-160 crashed under unknown circumstances immediately after taking off from Borrego Springs. The intended destination was Palm Springs.”

But Williams said the pilot told authorities a different story — that he had landed the aircraft in the park about 8:30 a.m. Saturday to visit and crashed taking off. The pilot and his brother-in-law walked away and went home — by what means Williams was not sure.

“We think he hitch-hiked,” said said Maj. Dave Kalahar, spokesman for the Civil Air Patrol.

“Let me just say,” Kalahar added, “I have never run across a circumstance like this before. He was able to walk away from putting the aircraft down. That we would call a successful outcome.”

The FAA, which does not release the identities of people involved in crashes, did disclose the plane’s tail number.

It is registered to David S. Segel of Pacific Palisades. Segel could not be reached Sunday.


Montana airports reporting record business

Another glowing airport press release arrived at the newspaper a couple of weeks ago. This one came from Glacier Park International north of Kalispell.

Citing record-breaking passenger counts in 2016, airport director Robert Ratkowski announced United Airlines would be adding daily flights to San Francisco for a couple of months starting in July. United, the Chicago-based giant, is also sending larger airplanes to handle passenger loads on direct summer flights to Chicago and Denver.

It’s one verse to a familiar song in the air travel industry.

Across Montana and the nation, airports are hustling to keep up with record traffic flows, and they’re spending or planning to spend billions of dollars on upgrades and expansions to do it. Major and medium-size airlines are putting their best wings forward to cultivate the demand, in some cases consolidating to get the biggest bang for their bucks.

"It's a changed game," Kevin Ploehn, director of aviation and transit in Billings said. "Now air service is so important to communities, all communities, the airlines have more options than they know what to do with, than they have planes and pilots to fly."

The sunny outlook clouded over somewhat Thursday when President Donald Trump released his federal budget proposal. It calls for eliminating the Essential Air Service program, which could have a devastating effect on seven rural Montana airports and an impact on Billings, which is the hub for five of them.  

Nearly 3.9 million people stepped on or off commercial airplanes in Montana last year. That was 330,000 more than ever before, according to the Aeronautics Division of the Montana Department of Transportation.

Four of the state’s six busiest airports – Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell and Helena – set passenger records in 2016. Only No. 5 Great Falls International saw a decrease, while Billings Logan International went up slightly.

Bolstered by two key revenue guarantees, not to mention the attractions of Yellowstone National Park and Big Sky Resort, Bozeman Yellowstone International topped the 1.1-million passenger mark in 2016 and has grown by 52 percent since 2010.

Billings lost its decades-long hold on Montana’s top spot to Bozeman in 2013. It remains a strong No. 2 and cultivates consistent annual growth numbers – an average 1 percent to 2 percent going back 20 years, according Ploehn.

Missoula International established record passenger marks in 2014 and 2015, then soared over the 700,000 mark for the first time last year. Its final count of 758,331 was almost twice that of 20 years ago, when 383,000 people flew in and out of what most locals still called Johnson-Bell Field.

Missoula led all Montana airports in 2016 with a 9 percent increase in passengers, even as it homed in on a terminal expansion projected to cost $50 million to $70 million. Construction is targeted for the fall of 2018.

Assistant director Brian Ellestad attributes the Missoula airport’s rapid growth to a combination of a rebounded economy and a “very strong inbound market for Montana as a tourism destination.”

“Also, the business community has really taken off,” Ellestad said.

In Flathead country, passenger counts were at all-time highs for the fifth consecutive year at Glacier Park International.

“We’ve been discovered,” director Rob Ratkowski said. “Obviously the park up here is really driving our numbers. Glacier had a record year again, and we had a record year again. But we’re also seeing an increase in our shoulder seasons.”

Next year the Kalispell airport will begin a planning process for a new terminal as well. It’s too soon to pin down a cost, though Ratkowski said “it’s not going be anything as drastic as Missoula does.”

To be sure, the spike in air travel isn’t confined to Montana. From coast to coast, airports reported all-time high numbers of passengers.

At hub airports out west, Sea-Tac in western Washington set passenger traffic records in each of the past six years. Salt Lake City celebrated a 12-month record of 23 million enplanements in November in the midst of a $2.9 billion reconstruction project to replace terminals and concourses. Denver’s record-setting incline reached 58.3 million passengers in 2016. Minneapolis-St. Paul added 20 routes and fell just short of its record 37.6 million set in 2005, just before the economy swooned.

The CEO of Dallas-Fort Worth said last week his airport needs $10 billion, with a 'b,' for upgrades. Los Angeles International broke ground on a $1.6 billion terminal a couple of weeks ago. San Francisco International is on a seven-year streak of passenger load records.

Jonathon Nield has watched the industry balloon in the years since the recession.

“Three big things are happening,” said Nield, senior consultant for Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting in Seattle. “One is that we have an environment where fuel is very, very cheap for airlines right now. Airlines typically like to grow quickly when fuel is cheap and there’s a lower risk in doing so.

“On top of this, we have the good kind of perfect storm. I’m not sure if that’s the right phrase for it, but it’s a situation where fuel is cheap when the economy is actually very strong and healthy. That doesn’t usually happen together, but it is.”

The final factor, Nield said, is the impact from a wave of airline consolidation.

Delta and Northwest in 2008, United and Continental in 2010, and American and U.S. Airways in 2014 were major mergers affecting Montana markets, among many others. Most recently, Alaska Air, going head-to-head with Delta on its home turf of Seattle, acquired smaller rival Virgin America of California. Alaska announced last week it would add 13 new markets out of San Francisco, the largest expansion in the airline’s history.

“What you’re seeing with all this is the airlines starting to execute their plans to become more dominant in the markets they serve,” Nield said.

They're finally getting the hang of it, said Ploehn, of Billings.

“The airlines have been deregulated since 1979, but it took them until a few years ago to figure out how to make money on a consistent basis,” he noted. “When they can make money as easy as they’re making it now, it gives them the wherewithal to potentially make their systems more efficient.”

Montana communities have become aggressive in recent years in attracting new routes and airlines.

Coalitions headed by chambers of commerce and the likes of Big Sky Resort in Bozeman, the Missoula Economic Partnership, and Glacier AERO in the Flathead Valley are cobbling together revenue guarantees meant to alleviate the financial risk to airlines.

In 2011 Bozeman solicited United Airlines for direct service to the New York City by promising an incentive package of $1.7 million. A key element to the success of the application was the $725,000 pledged by a public-private partnership of state tourism councils and local resorts. Last year another revenue guarantee package went far in securing for Bozeman the first American Air service to Montana, nonstop seasonal flights to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Read more here:

Record-breaking 823M passengers traveled on US airlines in 2016

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — New figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation show 2016 was an all-time high for air travel.

U.S. airlines carried a record-breaking number of 823 million passengers last year – that’s more than a three percent growth from 2015.

The record was anticipated as airlines have continued to show growth since the recession.

Just last week, American Airlines announced nonstop service from Colorado Springs to Chicago and Frontier Airlines announced seven new destinations out of the Springs, including San Diego and Washington D.C.

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Orlando Health’s helicopter teams saving lives around Central Florida

LEESBURG – If you're clinging to life after an accident, stroke or heart attack, you might look up and see an angel of mercy coming in for a landing.

That "angel" will probably be Orlando Health's Air Care team based at Leesburg International Airport.

The sleek red state-of-the-art choppers are staffed with a pilot, nurse and paramedic that can whisk a patient to Orlando Regional Medical Center, the only Level One trauma center in Central Florida, in 12 minutes or less.

It is one of three helicopter teams the health care system has positioned in the area. One team is stationed at south Seminole County and the other is at the Kissimmee Airport. Teams include communication specialists and mechanics.

The Lake County team had been stationed at South Lake Hospital, but the rapid growth of the Villages, north Lake and the Clermont area were all factors that led the hospital to move to Leesburg, said Karen Thurmond, chief flight nurse.

Air ambulances are crucial tools in the so-called "golden hour," when a patient's chances for survival increase dramatically if he or she receives immediate care.

To be designated a level one trauma center, a hospital must staff the appropriate personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including neurosurgeons and other emergency specialists.

First responders determine if a patient should be airlifted to a trauma center.

Every case is different. The flight crew can assist in extricating a patient from wreckage, or wait. "We can then work with a patient in the back of an ambulance or in the helicopter," said Rick Clow, chief flight paramedic.

The teams spend countless hours emphasizing safety with ground rescue teams. Crews have always been trained to watch out for power lines and tree limbs, especially at night. Pilots have now been issued military grade night vision goggles, Clow said.

The helicopters have also been equipped with everything a patient might need, including ventilators, Thurmond said.

The EC 135 helicopters are manufactured by American Europcopter, a company which was bought out by Airbus.

"They have airplane and helicopter avoidance systems and cruise at 120 knots," Thurmond said. "We can fly all over the state without refueling," she said.

The idea is to get the patient to the closest, best equipped hospital as soon as possible.

About half of Air Care's mission is transporting patients from one hospital to another.

The company has flown thousands of hours since it began the service in 1984.

The pilots themselves come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Randy Stokes, now retired, had flown into Hamburger Hill in Vietnam.

"Some are civilian trained, pilots who have worked on oil rigs," Thurmond said. "An extensive number are Gulf War vets."

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