AFTERBURN REPORT 2009
Burning Man has a real airport? Yes, really! Real airports have identifiers with three or four alphanumerics, such as SFO or JFK. "BRC" was naturally the first choice of the Airport community. Unfortunately, small airports don't get to choose their code and must settle for a more obscure designation such as 1A8 for the Empire Airport. The new standard requires the two-letter code for the state plus two digits, and Black Rock City Airport is now officially known as 88NV. Perhaps a coincidence or perhaps not, "88" is a ham radio code for "hugs & kisses".
We did not apply for a code when the airport was first built, because we didn't want pilots looking for a non-existent airport 51 weeks of the year. But the safety benefits outweighed the negatives and we submitted the required paperwork. The FAA obviously agreed on the safety issues, the approval was processed with unusual speed, and the identifier was assigned shortly before the event. Now pilots can get advisories for 88NV from anywhere in the country and file a flight plan directly to our location. Pilots will also find it easier to get basic information from online airport databases.
To go with our new identity as 88NV, we designed and built a new terminal building. The old terminal gave a solid three years of service, providing shade and shelter for Customs Officers and airport visitors but the desert is not kind to wood structures and a replacement was needed. A new design also provided an opportunity for expansion. This year, an this enormous shade structure covered the Customs Inspection area, Gate One, the waiting area, and the Phoenix Bar & Lounge. We are looking forward to many more years of activity in the new terminal building.
The UNICOM Radio tower stood taller this year with an outstanding view from the top, but hearing radio transmissions was a problem due to wind. We had a headset, but the base unit wasn't designed to plug it in. A transparent windscreen would help but that brings up another set of problems. Glass is heavy and breakable. Plastic is lighter but scratches easily. Both types are hard to keep dust-free and are too hot on a calm sunny day. Any bright minds with creative solutions, please let us know.We are currently soliciting ideas for a creative solution.
Also new this year was a Black Rock City Municipal Airport logo. The artist shared the design in advance and many brought gifts with the logo on t-shirts, hats, patches, decals and one volunteer painted it on the UNICOM tower.
A helicopter towing an advertising banner caused an uproar on Saturday afternoon. The helicopter did not land or take off from our strip, and the pilot did not reply to radio calls. Outraged Burners contacted the business owner post-event. He has promised to never do it again and is now much more knowledgeable about Burning Man culture's, do's and don'ts.
Sunday afternoon the airport was surprised and delighted by a visit from a very rare Sikorsky Flying Boat painted in zebra stripes. It's an S-38, built in the United States in 1929. Only 101 were built and only two are flying today; the other is a replica with no original parts. Three planeloads of Airport staff and volunteers were treated to a ride in this radial twin-engine, awe-inspiring vintage aircraft. Burning Man is truly the land of unexpected gifts.
An on-going challenge is training volunteers with the complicated tasks of Box Officer and Interceptor. There might not be any arrivals for 2-3 hours and then a shift is nearly over before a volunteer has the chance to see how things are done. The solution for Box Office is to use fewer volunteers doing more shifts, and to have the Box Office crew travel to San Francisco for computer training in the summer. We are still brainstorming improvements for Interceptor training.
Our admittedly complicated procedures for tracking aircraft, tie down numbers, etc. paid off this year with a 100% compliance with rebar removal and aircraft/passenger registration. In past years there were always a few pilots who put in tie downs (often rebar stakes) and left without removing them. And there were always a few who avoided registration, and perhaps hopped over the fence to avoid buying a ticket. This was a perfect year, with no undocumented aliens, and no rebar left behind.
A slow economy may have contributed to the lower turnout of pilots and airplanes, but that didn't mean less fun and activity. Lots of pilots gave rides, the skydivers and their passengers were constantly in and out, up and down, and we had a good turnout for the traditional Thursday morning pancake breakfast. We also had a 100% compliance score from the Nevada State Health Department for the breakfast.
Lissa Shoun, aka Tiger Tiger
Airport Manager, Black Rock International