Improving Situational Awareness with Alaska Seaplanes
Southeast Alaska is known for its challenging geography and weather conditions. It’s rugged in terrain and remote in location, where the landscape contains steep, ice-capped mountains and large bodies of water. With land transport mainly surrounding populated towns and cities, there is a great reliance on boats and aircraft in the wider region to import and transport people, produce, and equipment. Consider weather elements such as coastal fog, rain and wind to complement the terrain - it’s rare to see a day without extensive planning and discussion before take-off!
This is where Alaska Seaplanes come in.Originally founded in 1997 by Craig and Aral Loken, they have continued to build and expand their fleet and service offerings during the past decade, under the guidance of co-owners Mike Stedman and Kent and Mike Craford. With both wheeled and float aircraft in their fleet, seven of which are float or amphibian, versatility is something that Alaska Seaplanes pride themselves on.
We spoke John Loverink, Director of FlightControl at Alaska Seaplanes to get more insight into what the team accomplishes and how they utilise Spidertracks to stay connected.
100 commuter flights a day - no matter the season!
In Southeast Alaska, daylight hours are significantly shorter in the winter months, and while there are more flights in the Summer, the team still maintains a high level of service throughout theyear. The compressed timeline means planning and preparation is essential to ensure transportation is on-time and efficient.
“Generally, nobody wants to travel at 5:00am!”
In the summer months, the day starts at 4am with mail deliveries, where it moves before the people do. They utilise their wheeled Cessna Caravans for this, which have large cargo holds and collapsible seats to make room for netting, which makes for an easy transition into a passenger plane.
With the volume of flights the pilots complete on a daily basis, it’s important for them to be able to stay in contact with the teams on the ground.
“When our teams land somewhere and we don’t have a person in an outstation that can talk to them - in a remote lake, or in the middle of the ocean for example,” says Loverink, “The pilots use Spidertxt to let us know what is on board, and how much fuel they have. For years, it was so hard to communicate!”
Safety, training and considerations
Weather is always a big discussion with pilots when planning for scheduled flights, where they utilise weather cameras provided by FAA. Locations of aircraft are confirmed, pilots are allocated to flights, and risk assessments are filled out for their own safety programme, which is designed by Baldwin Aviation. Dispatchers will then go through and re-check the weather, and if the risk is appropriate to what flight the pilots are going to do. “After that, we just hold on and try to keep up with the day,”says Loverink.
Seaplanes are unlike aircraft that solely fly airport to airport, tarmac to tarmac. Experience and knowledge of ocean swells, wave conditions, and specific areas of the region are paramount to ensuring journeys are travelled safely. Loverink notes how intense and rigorous the safety training is that pilots undertake when flying with the team.
“Every company would tell you safety istheir number one priority, but to really take the steps where you're making decisions that might not be the best financial decision at that moment,” he says. “But having processes in place that protect the safety of the company,the safety of your staff, and of your passengers are the things that need to beprovided as an incentive for the industry.”
Taking out the guesswork
The logistics of managing so many flights in a day is also something the team at Alaska Seaplanes have a better overview with, thanks to the utilisation of Spidertracks’ real-time tracking system, powered by Virtual FDR™.
“Our old tracking system had some dead zones where we couldn’t see anybody,” says Loverink. “Spidertracks allows us to track our pilots, which has been incredible - it’s a huge relief as a dispatcher. We’ve also set parameters to tell us when they’re landing and taking off, and receive hundreds of texts from our aircraft equipped with Spidertracks.”
Alaska Seaplanes have multiple systems in place to ensure they have as much visibility of flights as they can, and the best connectivity to their aircraft, especially when flying to remote areas of the region. Loverink is appreciative of the progress the industry has made over the past decade.
“Technology has really brought a big safety increase in the last 15 years, it’s incredible how different it is compared to what we started with,” states Loverink. “Tools like Spidertracks take the guesswork out and give us absolute assurance that we’re in a safe position for our staff and for our customers.”