AFTERBURN REPORT 2011
- Record numbers; traffic, hot air balloons, gift flights
- Runway closed earlier at 7:30 p.m.
- Second medevac helipad not used
- UNICOM radio platform and communications improvements
- Charter flights time-consuming for briefers
- More office space available in 20' cargo container
- Customs improvements, needs, and the view
The 2011 Airport boasts a record for most takeoffs and landings in one day. In airport lingo, one tallies airport traffic by counting individual "operations" – each landing or takeoff is one operation. We had 482 operations on Friday. This number includes ultra light aircraft using a separate area. In 2012, we'll tally ultralight operations independently for a more accurate traffic picture on the main runway.
We had a record number of hot air balloons flying in 2011. One morning there were three launching in the calm dawn air. Another probable record was the number of passengers who enjoyed the gift of flight. We have no records from previous years, but pilots on the email list were asked post-event and the count was 441 flights for 1,083 passengers. Over a thousand gift flights! These are sightseeing flights given by private pilots to fellow Burners. The fantastically good weather throughout the week and a much better surface than recent years undoubtedly played a large part in this record.
The runway closed each night at 7:30 p.m. In prior years, night was defined as the end of civil twilight, which is typically 8 p.m. but varies by minutes each day. Volunteers were at risk guiding late arriving aircraft to parking spots. We chose a fixed time for simplicity and an earlier time for staff safety. An additional benefit was the water truck drivers had a little bit of light to find the end of the runway. Watering the runway just after it closed was a big improvement over watering at dawn or waiting for a slow time in the middle of the day.
A last minute request for a second medevac helicopter landing pad had setup crew scrambling for needed materials. Both landing pads were installed and ready on time. Thankfully, the landing pads were scarcely used. This installation is one we don't mind sweating to build and then find it's not needed.
The UNICOM radio station moved from its own tower to a secure landing atop a new office cargo container. This improvement was planned for 2012 but a support beam failure pushed the change to 2011. Another improvement was a new volunteer position called Ramp Dog. Ramp Dogs have some aviation experience and hang about the UNICOM station listening to traffic on the aviation frequency. They used handheld radios on a different channel to direct Interceptors to greet new arrivals.
A significant challenge was dealing with a large increase in charter flights and briefing the professional pilots. Many dedicated Burners find themselves short of time. Burners arriving in Reno on an airline flight will charter a small plane from Reno to BRC, rather than renting a car. These pilots often have multiple flights and can't wait until the next scheduled briefing. It was very time-consuming to do many one-on-one briefings. We are considering options for pre-playa briefings or other solutions.
A small camper trailer had served as the general airport office since 2004. It's worked very well but was bursting at the seams accomodating the Airport Box Office, staff meetings, internet access to download weather, storing supplies, etc. A 20' cargo container was outfitted by the DPW with air conditioning, windows, door, flooring, lights and electricity. The Box Office reigned supreme in the little red and white trailer and the rest of office functions moved to more spacious accommodations.
Customs needs more personnel pre-event to handle early arrivals and setup. We also found a need for more staff very early in the morning, possibly due an increase in charter flights. The Box Office started putting data into a spreadsheet. This eliminated time-consuming data management with pen and paper and made the job easier for the Interceptors who greet and document arriving aircraft.
Polite and helpful "Border Control Officers" staffed our charming gate. Yet the ease of stepping over the trash fence led to many taking a short cut. It's essential for safety and crowd control to have everyone (including Airport staff) use the gate. Making the fence higher is an obvious solution, but we also want to preserve the view for ourselves and for the many Burners who visit the Airport each year.