On Stewardship | Utah Back Country Pilots Association

On Stewardship

Posted September 19th, 2022

For over 25 years, our volunteers have shared their time and their talents with our members while magnifying our four core values: Safety through Shared Experience, Preserving and Protecting Utah’s Backcountry Airstrips, Promoting Stewardship, and Building Community. Our strong working relationships with the Bureau of Land Management, State Institute Trust Lands (and other state lands) officials, the Nature Conservancy, our State Aeronautics department, and more have given pilots visiting Utah unprecedented access to hundreds of airstrips across our great state.

One thing visiting pilots may be unfamiliar with is the vast contention that exists between users of our public lands and those who seek to remove our access. Through many educational outreach efforts, we’ve been able to address many points of contention to a point of resolution. Some of these points include the aircraft noise, large formations of aircraft flying low through the canyons, and overall responsible use of these airstrips, and I’d like to address these points with you in the hopes that you can join us in our efforts to make backcountry flying safe and accessible to all.

Airplane noise: Unlike other trail users, our noise signature is quite limited. Only for brief periods during takeoff do aircraft make any appreciable noise. Where noise can be a concern is when pilots are visiting airstrips repeatedly, conducting multiple touch-and-go operations. Unbeknownst to many pilots, many of our airstrips are used by other recreational groups, such as those who enjoy hiking, hunting, or canyoneering. Even at some of the most remote airstrips in our state we have met these other users, and quickly we’ve learned they are seeking to enjoy these beautiful wilderness experiences just like we are. As an organization, we regularly tell our members the backcountry isn’t the best place to conduct these touch-and-go operations, as many airstrips have limited or no room for error. Some airstrips may be better suited for these kinds of operations, but again the impetus here is the potential impact to other users that many times we’ll never see or hear from.

Formations: Noise continues to be a concern to other recreational users when aircraft are operated within close proximity to one another in large gatherings well within the confines of the canyons across our state. The topography has the propensity to amplify and propagate aircraft noise much to the chagrin of those seeking similar wilderness experiences on the ground. Following the council of Sparky Imeson, Amy Hoover, Dick Williams, Galen Hanselman, among the other revered backcountry flying guidebook authors, we recommend pilots fly at a safe altitude well above the unforgiving terrain below. Through our relationships with neighboring backcountry aviation advocacy groups and the Backcountry Safety Coalition, we’ve learned that these large formations have become larger points of contention due to the noise issue. Therefore, we recommend pilots fly in small groups and provide ample spacing between smaller groups, which not only addresses this point but increases the safety margins of flying as a group as well.

Responsible Use: While we love to hear that other pilots are either learning the joys of or are reacquainting themselves with the Utah backcountry airstrips, again we want to reiterate that at many airstrips across the state you’ll likely find other recreational users who are in awe of the reality that we can fly airplanes into these amazing areas. While addressing the two points above helps foster a greater relationship between pilots and other recreational users, recently we’ve had repeated reports that large formations and groups of pilots were operating in and out of airstrips without communicating properly on the posted Common Traffic Advisory Frequency. Through our website and our ForeFlight Content Pack, pilots have the ability to learn the idiosyncrasies of their intended airstrips to include that CTAF is generally 122.9 across the state. CTAF, per the FAA, is primarily used to provide advisories to other aircraft users in the area. While operating near any airstrip, we advise pilots to maintain a listening watch on CTAF and to save the conversations for the campfire.

Utah is an amazing place with unprecedented access to some of the most beautiful airstrips I’ve visited across the world. While there are groups that seek to keep airplanes out of the backcountry, our strong working relationships with the various agencies and organizations responsible for these lands have proven that through this collaboration and mutual respect we can all enjoy our public lands responsibly. We’re grateful for the time you’ve taken to learn how together we can continue in this spirit of cooperation, and that together we can continue to make backcountry flying both safe and accessible for the future.

Roy Evans II
President, UBCP