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"Gawking pilots forced airspace restriction"



Monday, June 24, 2002

Gawking pilots forced airspace restriction
By Thomas Ropp
The Arizona Republic


WINSLOW - Gawkers aren't only a problem on the ground, but in the air.

Too many curious private pilots contributed to the Federal Aviation
Administration's decision to close airspace above the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire
to general aviation Sunday.

Greg McDonald, 38, a lead plane pilot for the Forest Service out of Ogden,
Utah, said poor visibility makes it difficult enough to see other
firefighting aircraft, let alone civilian craft.

McDonald's job is to scout ahead of air tankers and show those pilots where
to dump fire-retardant material. He said fighting this fire has required
extreme concentration.

"The fire is demonstrating fire behavior never seen before," McDonald said.

The airspace also had to be cleared because of stepped up air attacks by the
Forest Service. Four air tankers were originally available. Now there are 14
arriving from bases in Silver City, N.M., Prescott, Sierra Vista and Mesa's
Williams-Gateway airport.

The primary base for refueling and retardant reloading is the airport at
Winslow, which has no air tower. However, on Sunday, the Forest Service
requested the FAA send two air-traffic controllers to Winslow to help.

One of those controllers is David Watts of Tempe, who normally works out of
the Scottsdale Airport. On Monday afternoon, Watts watched as workers
hurriedly constructed a temporary air-traffic control station atop a
50-foot, 10,000-gallon tank of retardant.

Watts said it takes two to three minutes for one lumbering air tanker to
take off and another to land on the single Winslow runway.

"We're here for sequencing, to increase safety," Watts said.

This has actually been a boon for the normally quiet airport at Winslow.
Airport Manager John Gallucci said hundreds of private pilots are leasing
space at the airport because they've been diverted from others in the fire
zone.

"All our ramps are filled," Gallucci said. "We're doing $20,000 days in fuel
sales alone."

The FAA restriction is called a Type A-1 TFR (temporary flight restriction).
It prohibits flights in a loose circle over the fire area up to but not
including 12,000 feet. Most commercial aircraft fly above this level at
cruise altitude.

The FAA reports no violations, so far.

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