USA — GRANT COUNTY On Saturday the National Forest Service presented the program Aerial Safety over Wildland Fires. Private, commercial, and air transportation pilots arrived at the Forest Service Aerial Headquarters at the Grant County Airport near Hurley, to learn from Robert Madill, the Forest Aviation Officer for the Gila and Lincoln National Forests on how to fly safely around wildland fires.
Last year in our region we had over 10,000 flight hours, and the majority of these were fire related, Madill said.
Madill reviewed overall fire operations, including operations on the ground and in the air, safety tips and awareness for non-fire related aircraft flying in or near an active fire area, and encouraged the room full of pilots who had a combined 100,000 hours of flight time to share their personal experiences related to flying in or near fire areas.
We are trying to keep general aviation pilots in our area, and from Arizona all the way to Colorado educated on what they need to know when they have entered a fire area with flight restrictions, Madill said.
Madill discussed what steps the Forest Service goes through when dispatch is notified of a fire or smoke; aerial and ground fire operations; where water resources come from, especially during times of drought; and means of information a pilot could use to find out information on Temporary Flight Restriction.
The key factor, he told the room full of pilots is communication, no matter their experience level.
Make sure you use every resource you have available to check conditions before you fly out, he said. If you see smoke in your flight path, check the fire traffic area (FTA). There will more than likely be a Temporary Flight Restriction a seven mile ring you must avoid due to there being air attack aircraft, air tankers, lead planes, and helicopters in the area that will be focused on the fire. The airspace gets tight with all these aircrafts in a fire area. It is natural instinct to want to check out the smoke. The best thing you can do is change your route. Smoke visibility can change in an instant.
I hope that other pilots understand the airspace is over active during a fire, said Steven Maxwell, Director of Operations at the Ponderosa Aviation Base in Safford, Ariz., which contracts for attack services with BLM, Forest, and State of Arizona. They cannot just come wandering in. It’s a danger.”
Maxwell, who has 30 years experience as a pilot, was involved in helping to fight many of the fires in Arizona last year. If pilots see smoke, he said, they need to turn and go the other way, and most importantly check their NOTAM Notice To Airmen created and transmitted by government agencies and airport operators.
Retired airline and Air Force pilot, Dave Hamann, of Los Lunas, said even with his 50 years of experience, he attended the presentation because there were still things he could learn.
I wanted to learn what to do, who we report to, and ways to stay clear of a fire region since I fly mostly through back country like the Gila Wilderness where we have dirt strips, he said.
The presentation was sponsored by the New Mexico Pilots Association ( www.nmpilots.org ), the US Forest Service, the Southwest Region FAASTeam and the Grant County Pilots Association, who provided lunch to attendees.