How to disappear from an FAA map

How to move into a former federal building and disappear off the map

Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B) is a surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked.

I thought it would be interesting to track the planes in the area directly, without going through the internet. A couple of weeks ago I resurrected a project that had been on the shelf for too long. I have a Stratux ADS-B receiver that is based on a Raspberry PI. It has two Software Defined Radios and two antennas to track both the large commercial traffic, and smaller private planes.

I linked a cheap Amazon fire tablet that was running DroidEFB via wifi to the Stratux. I had everything plugged in and powered up and started receiving position reports from planes in the Anchorage bowl, both commercial airlines and private planes. When I zoomed into the Anchorage airport I was surprised at something I saw on the map. In black letters it said “FCC Monitoring Station”. I circled it in green here.

“That’s not right”, I thought to myself. Out of the thousands of buildings in Anchorage, why highlight one small one story building where a federal agency used to be? When the Anchorage Amateur Radio Club moved into the facility in 2018, the rumor was that the FCC had moved out 11 years earlier. I found it hard to believe that no one had fixed the map over the years.

This is the sectional map. If you want more detail for flying into Anchorage or Fairbanks, you would want the Terminal Area Chart, and guess what I found there?

This map is more detailed, and does point out some buildings that are used as landmarks for reporting your position as you are flying in and out of Anchorage. Places like West High School, the Tudor Bus Barn, the Polaris School, and a small one story building where a federal agency used to be, highlighted in green again.

Since I am a map geek, I thought that I’d check one more thing.

In the Anchorage Terminal Area, in the SEWARD HIGHWAY SEGMENT, it incorrectly shows the NEW SEWARD HIGHWAY.

In Anchorage, there is the Seward Highway, and the Old Seward Highway. The “New Seward Highway” is a persistent nickname for the Seward Highway.

I spent 9 years working for the Anchorage Fire Department Dispatch. I worked closely with the Municipal Addressing department and Police Department to fix addresses. Both Police and Fire systems had aliases in place to convert “New Seward Highway” into a legal street name.

So here is a federal agency using a nickname instead of the legal street name on an aviation map.

So in an hour or two I found four different errors that it appears no one else had spotted over a number of years.

So, how to fix these errors? I looked at the FAA web site, and made my way to the Aeronautical Information Services and found out that I had to create an account  in the Aeronautical Information Portal (AIP).

I had googled “FCC monitoring station Anchorage” and found some PDFs for entries in the Federal Register saying that the building was surplus and available for homeless housing 2013-08242, FCC Orders and announcements that Anchorage radio stations were upgrading equipment to be able to transmit at higher power now that the monitoring station was now down in Kenai.

I submitted four Aeronautical Inquiries on a Sunday, during a pandemic, to a federal agency.

How long for a reponse?

If you want to look at it pessimistically, it took four days to get a response. I submitted it on a Sunday, and got an answer at 2:11 AM on Thursday, four days later.

If you want to look at it optimistically, it was two days. They looked at it on Monday morning when they got in, and sent out a response before midnight central time on Wednesday.

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FAA Response:
Good morning.  After research it has been determined that “Seward Highway” is the correct name and all references to “New Seward Highway” will be replaced.  Thanks for alerting of us this change.

noreply  Aeronautical Inquiry AI-190544 has been closed

FAA Response:
Good morning.  Thank you for your inquiry.  After research, we will remove the landmark symbol and type for “FCC Monitoring Station”.  Thanks again for informing us of this change.

Not bad, 4 approved out of 4, and the FAA saying “thanks” six times. So it is possible to correct the feds and get thanked for it.

When will we see the changes?

My timing was off. I got the answers back from the FAA on the day when the newest version of the maps took effect, so we won’t be able to see the changes until the next editions of the maps are out on November 5, 2020.

So it will be a while until we can see if one of those stories of oddball loners moving to Alaska, moving into a former federal building and disappearing off the map is true!

Walter – KL7WY