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State's Airport Safety Inspector Doesn't Mind Going At It Alone - Jan. 25, 2013

It may not be as lonely as a Maytag repairman, but serving as Oklahoma's lone airport safety inspector can often times mean tedious work, traveling long distances by car and spending nights in cheap motels.

Grayson Ardies doesn't mind, however. He's been inspecting Oklahoma's airports for a couple of years now. The recent University of Oklahoma graduate, who is also a Certified Flight Instructor, has traipsed  all over the state inspecting many of the state's nearly 140 public-use airports as an employee of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

While serving as guest speaker during this month's Oklahoma Airport Operators Association's quarterly meeting in Edmond, he jokingly told airport managers in attendance that he has seen it 
all -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

"I drive from Boise City to Broken Bow, from Miami to Hollis, and go through just about every town in between. As you know, every airport differs in size, runways, traffic, activity and function. Some are very good and others maybe not so good," Ardies said.

As an airport inspector, Ardies has many responsibilities including making sure runways and taxiways are marked properly and are safe from debris, cracks and various obstructions, whether man made or natural; ensuring runway lights are functioning properly; and making sure the rotating beacons are in working order.

"Think of an airport inspection as an opportunity to get things fixed," Ardies told the crowd. "It's not like a health inspection where you get a certain grade and may be in danger of being shut down. It's also not an opportunity to compare your airport, better or worse, to another airport."

Ardies explained that inspecting the airport is his primary responsibility during his visits, but it is also a time when he can sit down with airport managers and explain just how important their airports are to their communities, and encourage them to promote their airports whenever they get the chance.

"It's important that people in your city or town understand that general aviation is not about rich guys playing with their big toys. It's used in business and industry, agriculture, disaster relief, emergency medical services, fire fighting and in many other sectors. It's an economic development tool that helps create jobs in your communities," he said.

Making sure the information listed in each airport's 5010 Master Record is correct between inspections is also very important, he said.

The 5010 form is a document that the Federal Aviation Administration uses to collect safety data information for pilots to use. Airport inspectors transfer the data they collect from each airport inspection onto the 5010, which in turn appears on a website that provides information about that airport such as runway length, number of based aircraft and what services and facilities are available. 

"Please update information as soon as it changes, not the next time I come to inspect your airport three years down the road," Ardies pleaded." A lot happens in between inspections. Please give me a call or shoot me an e-mail with the information that needs changing and I should be able to help you out."

Ardies noted that one of the biggest problems he sees is grass growing on runways, especially in joints and cracks and along the pavement edges. This can damage the pavements further and create unsafe runways for pilots and their passengers.

"It's amazing to me how many times I've seen grass grow on a runway edge after just having a new runway put in. Grass is one of the worst things that can damage your runway," he said.

He stressed that all runways and taxiways, regardless of what they are made of, should be kept clear of grass, holes, gravel, rocks and airplane parts. Cracks should be filled to prevent further deterioration, and the drop off on the pavement edges should not exceed one-and-a-half inches, he added.

He concluded his presentation by reminding attendees that they are responsible for providing a safety area around runways in case a pilot lands long or short of the runway, or goes off the side.

"The safety area is supposed to be clear enough and firm enough not only for aircraft, but for any emergency equipment that might need to drive on it," Ardies said.

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Ardies OAOA speech

During the Oklahoma Airport Operators Association's quarterly meeting in Edmond this week, OAC Aviation Programs Manager Grayson Ardies discussed the many activities involved in airport inspections.