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The Community of Flying

Steve Blonstein, General Manager WVFC

Changes and Challenges


A day doesn’t seem to go by without some change at Palo Alto or San Carlos airports.  I thought I would take this opportunity to bring you up to speed on what is changing, why, and how the timeline looks like for various upcoming projects.


Let’s start with San Carlos tower and operations at San Carlos.  First, the airport has renamed some of the departures and arrivals.  The expectation is that you know these new procedures if you’re using that airport.  


For example, the “Belmont Slough” departure that we have known for decades is no longer.  You would now ask for an “Oracle” departure.  The club has placed documents at both locations that show the new procedures.  This is a good time to also review the voluntary noise abatement procedures at San Carlos.  


Then there’s the situation in the tower.  As background, there are two types of control towers, FAA control towers and so-called “Contract” control towers managed by a company called Serco.  They do all kinds of things and it just so happens that running control towers, like SQL, is one of them.  They’ve been struggling with staffing for quite some time and it’s become obvious at San Carlos that the staffing shortage is taking a toll on the services they can provide.  We need to be patient (there are no silver bullets that we know of) as they struggle their way through these difficult times.  Their stress often shows up as less than ideal communications to the pilots using the services.  In the meantime, you’ll have to enhance your tolerance levels and let the bad stuff slide by.  We’re working with both the FAA directly and the folks at San Mateo County to try and get some improvements.


Meanwhile, at Palo Alto, copy down this taxi instruction. Taxi to West Valley via Zulu, Yankee 3, Yankee, Hotel, Golf, Hangar Side, hold short of the fuel island for opposite direction traffic.  Got that?  In contrast to the tower woes at San Carlos, the controllers at Palo Alto seem to do an amazing job rerouting aircraft on and around the ramp as the airport gets configured, reconfigured, and reconfigured again.  We’re in the final stages of phase 2 of the construction. Phase 3 (the final ramp phase) is likely next year when the club will be most affected as they tear up the ramp right outside our back door.  And they’ve still got to redo the runway, but that’s likely a 2021-2022 project.  


Then there’s the higher approach minimums for the GPS and VOR/DME approach to runway 31.  The standard minimum is (was) 460 feet but it went up to 640 and then 840 feet. Why?  Well you can thank the construction cranes down near Shoreline and Moffett.  When they rise to their maximum height, they protrude into the protected airspace and hence the minimums increase.  Oh, and did we mention that you might find yourself in left hand traffic for an entire pattern session at PAO.  Why is that? Well, Moffett has started to limit the number of times PAO has “extensions” into their airspace, so PAO handles that by keeping folks in left hand traffic.  This puts you over the homes in Palo Alto along highway 101 and it’s likely they’re not going to be thrilled with the new noise this creates, so please make every effort to fly as quietly as you can on that left downwind.


If you fly often at either airport you’ve probably already seen and experienced some of the above, but maybe now you understand a bit more of the why.  If you have not flown recently and show up in the next few weeks and months, be ready for these and other changes.


Fly Safe.