Providing information to inbound pilots is the primary function of UNICOM radio volunteers. Since 1996, inbound pilots approaching Black Rock City have radioed for landing advisories and “Black Rock UNICOM” has responded. Dedicated volunteers have held steadfast to their post through dust storms, winds exceeding 50 mph, and extreme heat while amidst incredible distractions. In 2012, UNICOM volunteers were able to focus on their task in comfort in a wind-proof, air-conditioned, large-windowed “box” with a great view. A battery backup unit kept UNICOM advisories going when generator power shut down briefly.
We implemented a major change to the runway and Airport layout that worked out well despite initial concerns. Runway placement is critical and subject to many constraints. We want the runway aligned with the prevailing winds so pilots don’t have to deal with cross-winds in addition to desert challenges. We need to keep pilots from flying over the event on landing or takeoff, to keep the landing and scenic flight paths separate, and to keep clear of desert trails, especially those open to the public. We also want the runway close enough for UNICOM to see, and a safe area for planes to taxi between the runway and tie down ramp.
Surface conditions were unusable where we normally place the runway and tie down ramp. There was a large patch of firm surface “around the fence corner”, and we made a few compromises to move the runway and
Airport facilities to solid ground. We tweaked the runway orientation to minimize conflicts in the new location, made a change to the ultralight aircraft flight pattern, and informed pilots of the
last-minute changes through the website and aviators email list. Everything worked well in the end and airport staff is now prepared to have two layouts ready each year; Plan A and Plan B.
The BLM started issuing permits to a limited number of commercial charter flight services in 2011. In 2012, permits were approved for eight charter services. Several of the more active services combined resources to build and staff a check-in counter. This service helped non-commercial passengers as well by providing a resource for Lost & Found and general questions.
A new physical feature was a fenced walkway leading to a shade structure at Transient Parking. The shade was convenient for pilots and passengers loading and unloading, and served as an obvious landmark for new arrivals.
Pilots who wanted to experience every minute of Burning Man were able to arrive a day earlier. The “gates” opened at 5 p.m. on Sunday, rather than midnight. In previous years, pilots had to wait until sunrise on Monday because the airport is closed at night. The Ministry of Customs was struggling with last-minute preparations and identified the need for an advance crew to be ready for opening day.
The team that manages the main gate Box Office stepped up to run the Airport Box Office working side-by-side with Passport Office. Airport volunteers who were called “Box Officers” in 2011, took shifts instead as “Passport Officers” in 2012 and were responsible for the documentation and paperwork that is needed to monitor the aircraft. The separation of ticketing and information management was a huge improvement for Customs.
Customs had a serious challenge during shift changes. There are five roles for each daytime shift, with each role having very different duties. Possible strategies to meet this challenge include fewer and longer shifts, offsetting shift start times for different roles, and more pre-playa training.
A new role at the Airport is Nightwatch, whose primary responsibility is nighttime border control and airport safety. The importance of keeping this night “fire watch” was evident when a sky lantern came down in the aircraft tie down area.
Another night, there was a rather unusual incident. A radio alert went out regarding a truck driving over the trash fence and posts. Nightwatch stopped the errant truck after it passed the Terminal, and the “nearly naked” driver jumped out and ran off. The owner of the truck was found, and he drove it back to the Sanitation Camp. Yes, someone stole a potty pumper truck to go joyriding at the Burning Man Airport. The mangled trash fence was quickly repaired the next morning, and we were thankful no airplanes were damaged.