Who would ever want to come here? Garberville and Shelter Cove on the list for airport improvements

Photo caption:

From left to right are: John Norberg, EAA1418; Steve Bowser, past president EAA1418; Hans Koster, technician; Dave Sandige, EAA1418; Lou Davis, president NCVAS; Jill Archibald, secretary, EAA1418; Dr. George Jutila, Avi8CanDo; Lindsay Locke, president EAA1418; Jacquelyn Hulsey, Humboldt County Airport manager, Archie Archibald, EAA1418.

By Don Aubrey


Imagine being on a road trip, stopping at a gas station or truck stop and not being able to find a map or any information about the road conditions ahead. Imagine if there was no one to talk to, no food, (not even snacks), and nothing to drink but water from a bathroom sink faucet. And the only way you have to communicate with anyone is with the unsheltered payphone on the outside of the building. (It’s a good thing most of us have cell phones these days.)

Now imagine instead of driving a car, you are flying an airplane and you land at Rohnerville Airport in Fortuna and find yourself in the same situation. Even if you don’t fly, you can appreciate that pilots don’t get to "just pull over" when they need fuel or when problems occur. They plan their flights carefully and check the plan continuously, especially at each stop along the way. They certainly need to know the weather conditions at their destination and along their route. Their lives and the lives of their passengers depend on it.

With no FBO (Fixed Base Operator) at Rohnerville, not even the rudimentary flight information and convenience services are available, which are offered by the majority of general aviation airports, including many airports that are smaller than Rohnerville Airport and which are supported by communities much smaller than The Friendly City of Fortuna. A visitor’s log, which was left in the Rohnerville "pilot’s lounge" (and abandoned) had a number of rather harsh comments from aviators who had flown in, including one pilot who wrote, "Who would ever want to come here?"

In a long and difficult effort championed by Dr. George Jutila of Avi8CanDo, the aviation community in Humboldt County came together with the support of Humboldt County Airport Manager Jacquelyn Hulsey, and Network Technician Hans Koster, and on Feb. 5 turned on the first working open WiFi access at the airport and finally started the process of putting the word "lounge" in "pilot’s lounge."

Dr. Jutila and the staff of Avi8CanDo raised the original money for the project, as well as paying for much of the equipment and overhead themselves. The Redwood Coast Flyers chapter of the Ninety-Nines donated $500, and many people volunteered their time and expertise trying to get a working Internet connection and runway/horizon camera system installed. There were no funds provided by Humboldt County, however there was support and encouragement by Airport Manager Hulsey that inspired everyone involved.

But even with all the hard work, money and good intentions, the system was still non-functional when Lindsay Locke, the newly elected president of local EAA Chapter 1418 (Experimental Aircraft Association), decided on Jan. 15 to reinvigorate the effort to finish the project. With the support of her friend Dr. Jutila, and her EAA1418 staff and members, she was able to locate the person with the expertise and willingness to make the system function -- Hans Koster. Hans identified the problems, recommended solutions and then offered to do all the repairs, re-installation and post-installation support for free. Lindsay purchased the new gear requested by Hans and then purchased a refurbished computer system custom made for the airport from Emerald Technologies in Garberville. She also donated spare computer hardware she had so she could create a "Faux FBO."

A "Faux FBO" is a stand-alone, un-manned computer station located in the pilot’s lounge, which will allow everyone who visits the Gates-Meade Building at Rohnerville Airport to go on-line instantly and do so without charge. They will be able to print documents and access e-mail and all of the FAA, weather and other Internet sites they need. By using salvaged and rebuilt "boat anchor" hardware, like a 35-pound CRT type monitor, and a funky looking but up-to-date CPU, the system is likely safe from harm mostly because no one would want it. Of course the fact that cameras inside and out surround the building and that only authorized people are allowed on the airport grounds pretty much guarantees the system can remain un-tended.

Anyone will be able to log onto a number of different websites and see real time weather pictures every 15 seconds from two new cameras strategically placed looking down and high over both ends of the runway. The tops of the surrounding mountains will be in the frame and will allow pilots to determine quickly and with confidence if it is safe to fly into the area. That means pilots will be able to see the actual weather and ceiling levels from a ground perspective rather than an overhead satellite image. Having this information available in real time on the Internet should actually increase usage of the airport and result in more outside revenue being generated in the local community. Pilots eat, sleep and spend money like everyone else, maybe a little more. It will also make flying in the area a safer experience for everyone.

The next enhancement project being planned by Lindsay Locke and EAA1418 is Garberville Airport, which is the airport she uses the most and where she learned to fly. A similar system as the one at Rohnerville is planned for Garberville as soon as Lindsay and her aviator friends can secure more funds. And once again no government money is being used. Third on the list is Shelter Cove Airport, an airport that is not even a county managed facility but most certainly could benefit from real time and accurate weather information.

Dr. George Jutila is universally regarded in the local aviation community as being the most vocal advocate for youth in aviation in Humboldt County. For many years he has pursued project after project, often with his own money, all with the intent of promoting aviation to kids and enhancing aviation in Humboldt County. Humboldt County Airport Manager Jacquelyn Hulsey has persevered through controversy, tragedy, sliced budgets, new and vital security and safety issues, evolving and cash strapped airports, and continually changing regulations from city, county, state and federal agencies and regulators. As busy as both these people are, they continue volunteering their own time, and lots of it, to make things better and to make things work for aviation and the community it supports. And they and others have inspired the young president of EAA1418 in her quest to bring the entire aviation community together. In a cynical and stressful time, this project, and the ones to come, are good examples of what the public and private sectors can do together when they share a common vision.