Go or No Go: a legal alternate?

You’ve been looking forward to this trip for months, as you and some buddies are headed to beautiful Bandon, Oregon for a long weekend of golf–five tee times in three days. Better yet, you get to fly there in your Piper Malibu. While “ordinary” folks have to fly into Portland and drive four hours or make multiple connections on the airlines, you can fly directly to sleepy Bandon (S05) from your home in Boise, Idaho (BOI) in just over two hours. This is what general aviation is all about.

You have over 2500 hours total time, with 500 of those in the Malibu. You are instrument current and accustomed to flying in the Pacific Northwest. The only concern is the weather. Bandon State Airport is strictly VFR, with no approaches, and coastal Oregon is famous for two things when it comes to weather: overcast skies and gusty winds. Can you make the flight legally? How about safely?

Your proposed departure time is 1700Z. Read the briefing below, then tell us if you would fly the trip.

Overview

There is no major weather system in your way and the radar is clear on your route from Idaho to the coast of Oregon:

AF route OR

The surface analysis shows no organized fronts in your area:

AF surf

In addition, there are no SIGMETs, AIRMETs or pilot reports that affect your flight.

Text Weather

Bandon State does not have any weather reporting, and there are very few airports close by, so it’s a bit of a guessing game. North Bend Airport, 21 miles north, is the only option. It’s reporting marginal VFR conditions, with strong winds out of the south (typical for coastal Oregon):

KOTH 091555Z 20022G30KT 10SM OVC028 19/14 A2996 RMK AO1=
KOTH 091455Z 18018KT 10SM BKN030 19/14 A2998 RMK AO1=

The forecast shows more of the same, with some lower ceilings moving in as the day goes on:

TAF KOTH 091141Z 0912/0914 18020G28KT P6SM OVC030
     FM091600 22025KT P6SM OVC025
     FM091900 22028G35KT P6SM OVC007
     FM092300 24020KT P6SM OVC015

The only other airport within 50 miles is Roseburg (RBG), which is much further inland, but its ASOS is out of service so you don’t know what the weather is there.

An alternate?

Legally, you must file an alternate for this flight, since Bandon State has no instrument approaches (see FAR 91.169). Practically speaking, it’s also a good idea, since conditions are marginal.

Unfortunately, the forecast weather is below alternate minimums at OTH:

OTH alternate

The next closest alternate is Roseburg, but without the ASOS it is not approved as an alternate:

RBG alternate

So it’s off to Eugene (EUG), which is over 80 miles away. Finally, you’ve found an airport that can qualify as a legal alternate:

KEUG 091554Z 19012KT 10SM FEW015 26/11 A3001 RMK AO2
KEUG 091454Z 19013KT 10SM FEW015 28/10 A3001 RMK AO2

You decide

Finding a legal alternate is only part of the challenge, though. What will you actually fly?

The TAF at OTH isn’t too encouraging, considering your arrival time of 1915Z. But you know from experience that OTH is right on the water, so it often has lower weather than S05 (which is inland by a few miles). The current METAR at OTH looks better, but you really don’t know if that trend will hold. The temptation is to “go take a look,” and descend as low as you can to see if you break out over Bandon. Unfortunately, the lowest ATC will vector you over S05 is about 4000 ft.–probably too high to get under the broken layer.

What’s Plan B?

You could gamble on a VFR descent. It’s often the case in this part of the country that the skies are clear over the ocean, with a layer of clouds just on shore. So you could overfly S05, descend over the water, then turn back towards the shore (under the clouds) and land at Bandon.

For Plan C, you could go shoot an approach at OTH, then scud run down to S05 after breaking out. But the only approaches at OTH are to runway 4, so you’d be flying them with a blistering tailwind. And if the TAF is correct, it would be quite a low scud run.

Actually landing at OTH doesn’t look great either, since the forecast ceiling is below the circling minimums for the ILS to runway 4 (and you don’t like landing downwind):

OTH plate

Going all the way to Eugene would be a fairly significant hassle, and would remove most of the convenience of flying yourself. But it is the only sure thing right now (other than the airlines).

What would you do? Add a comment below.

11 Comments

  • What’s the forecast for home base and the endurance of the Malibu? We have the same kind of issues here on the East coast and I’ve had to retreat to my departure point more than once.

    • Good question, David. The weather at BOI is severe clear so it would be a fine alternate.

      Fuel is another matter. With you and your three friends on board, weight and balance is an issue. Flying to S05, then turning around and going back to Boise would be very tight on fuel.

  • @David Reinhart – agreed. Nothing wrong with listing your departure point as an alternate if it’s within range and the is forecast to be at/above minimums when you’d be reaching it.

  • It seems like there are a lot of things working against you here. I would say to shoot an approach into OTH and see if you popped out high enough that you felt comfortable flying along the coast to your destination. Personally I’m not comfortable with this as I do not know the area, but if you’ve had experience in this area then I would consider it. If the ceiling did fall while you were flying over the water you could make a turn to the west, begin a climb, and request IFR. This would alleviate any of my fears of smashing into terrain. If this didn’t work then I would just go up to Eugene and rent a car. It may be a hassle but at least you are still alive to deal with the hassle. Trying to scud run over rising terrain to me is just not worth it.

  • Easy run. Make the destination KOTH with KEUG as the alternate. The Ocean Air FBO in North Bend has courtesy transportation to and from the Bandon Dunes golf resort, so that’s probably where you want to go anyway. Monitor the weather at KOTH as you get closer. If it looks like it is below about 2000′(to give a comfortable circling approach to 22) divert into Eugene and get a car. It will only add about an hour and a half to the trip and its a nice drive down the coast. The airlines couldn’t get you there any better; they have to go into Eugene also.

    • Yours is a good solution, and yes, better than the airlines. There could be other choices, balancing the fuel and weather and making some decisions enroute.

      I’d go.

  • Doesn’t really apply here, but if possible, I like to use an alternate that I’ll reach before I get to my destination. For example, in California the LA basin can be really socked in but the upper desert, west of the Costal Range or the San Bernardino Mountains is fine. So if you’re flying from Las Vegas to Van Nuys and the weather is cruddy, land short at Apple Valley or Daggett. That kind of decision making is easier to do with on-board weather, but a call to Flight Watch can work just as well.

  • I have been flying from Everett, Washington in and out of Southwestern Oregon for 50 yeaars +/- My usual destination is Powers State Airport 6S6, located about 28 miles on the 152 radial of the North Bend VOR. With the weather conditions noted above, I always plan more than enough fuel to get back East of the Coast Range mountains to Eugene, Medford of Klamath Falls, Oregon. (If I leave Everett topped up I can round trip without fueling) When it’s blowing hard with marginal VFR ceilings along the coast there are often breaks in the ceilings and viz that allow legal VFR canceling and landing VFR.

    I am usually coming from Everett, and file for the VOR/DME Bravo approach via Coose Intersection (about 10 miles East fo the OTH VOR) at North Bend. This approach steps down on a Westerly heading of 254 to 740 ft. and one mile minimums. The miss is an easy straight out West over the ocean and then a turn back to the VOR to hold. More often than not, with the windy conditions, the vizibility will let you cancel and slip down the coast to Bandon or in my case the Coquille River valley to 6S6. North Bend airport or the published miss is an easy out if needed.

    If you file for the ILS into North Bend and ask for the Southerly Arc approach to the ILS you interesect the IAP LUPCI and can then descend to 2400 feet on the arc to meetthe ILS. This arc is pretty much over the Coquille River Valley that meets the ocean at its mouth and in the windy conditions open cloud breaks you can often cancel and get into Bandon or Powers State.

    • Great comments. And you’re right – when it’s windy like this there are usually some good holes around. Maybe a case for “taking a look” if you have lots of fuel?

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