In the Alaskan Brooks Range, weather can deteriorate rapidly, and airports are few and far between. Bettles Airport, located in the small village of Bettles on the Koyukuk River, is a key regional facility connecting Fairbanks and Barrow that serves a wide variety of aircraft and flight operations. Because of that, AOPA believes it is important that the airport provides a high-level of IFR service.
AOPA is opposing an FAA proposal to decommission the airport’s approach lighting system because such a move could negatively impact IFR operations at the airport. AOPA Alaska Regional Manager Tom George wrote to the FAA, explaining that, “It is virtually the only IFR airport along this 436 nautical mile route which has IFR approaches, weather reporting, fuel and other infrastructure to support stranded travelers, and as such is important as a regional facility.”
George noted that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is having the airport surveyed to determine if an LPV approach can be supported at Bettles and if the current medium intensity approach light system with runway alignment indicator lights (MALSR) will allow for lower approach visibility minimums. He urged the FAA to table the decommissioning proposal until that study is complete. The agency already has decommissioned a localizer approach at the airport, leaving two RNAV and one VOR/DME approach with minimums of one mile or more.
Because the airport serves tours, search-and-rescue missions, government officials on travel, fire-fighting, aerial photography, and data collection for much of the Brooks Range and North Slope, it needs to offer the best IFR access possible. The airport is also the only access the community has to the outside world during much of the year. The Dalton Highway does not extend to Bettles, but in the winter an ice road is built into the village.
“The remoteness of this airport and lack of other facilities in the central Brooks Range area makes this airport far more valuable to the Alaskan aviation system than the population of the community would appear to warrant,” George wrote. “Given the availability of fuel, weather reporting, and other facilities, it is important to improve the infrastructure at Bettles, and not to further diminish it.”
AOPA encourages members to send their comments on the lighting system’s importance to Bettles Airport to the FAA via email or mail to FAA, Manager, Operations Support Group, Western Service Center, 1601 Lind Ave. SW, Renton, WA 98057. Members should include “Aeronautical Study Number: 14-AAL-12NR” in their comments. Comments are due Sept. 25. Please also send a copy of your comments to AOPA.