Saturday, February 26, 2011

ASOS: Aborted Landing in Koliganek, Feb 11, 2011

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Pastor Holy Rosary Mission, Alaska

While flying to Koliganek, Alaska on February 11, 2011 the ASOS reported the wind calm. It was far from calm. I ended up aborting the landing.

Below is a picture of Koliganek, Alaska approaching runway 27, taken in December of 2010.

Weather reporting equipment failures are but one factor Alaskan Bush Pilots must deal with. Many of the remote runways in the Bristol Bay area have Surface Weather Observation Stations (ASOS, AWOS). These stations are also referred to as Automatic Terminal Information Services (ATIS).

These automated reporting stations report the current weather conditions at a particular airport. AWOS is a God send to bush pilots flying around Alaska because they have their own radio frequencies and they can be monitored by the Flight Service Station (FSS) in Dillingham or all airports with Flight Service Stations or Towers.

Before flying to a village to offer Mass I normally go to the FSS in Dillingham to pick up the current weather for the airport I am flying to. Once airborne and within 20 miles of the airport I punch in the ASOS frequency and listen to the weather recording once more to make sure there are no surprises/changes, i.e. wind direction, wind intensity, fog, ceiling level.

Unfortunately the ASOS can (1) become inoperative and (2) report erroneous weather. When flying to Koliganek February 11, 2011 the ASOS reported calm winds, when in fact the wind was blowing at least 30 knots with unknown gusts of greater severity.

As I approached Koliganek runway expecting a nice leisurely GPS approach into runway 9, I started to realize things were not quite right.


For more information on the runway at Koliganek, CLICK HERE.

After aborting the landing I flew South to Clarks Point and landed on an snowy and icy runway 36. The wind was not nearly as bad. For weather updates when landing Clarks Point I use the Dillingham ATIS because Clarks Point is only 12 miles to the Southeast.


The Federal Aviation Administration always asks for pilot reports. The reason why pilot reports are so crucial in the Alaskan Bush is because some of the weather reporting equipment may not be reporting accurately. Another flying lesson learned.

Fly safe out there.

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