For me, one of the biggest perks of working for an airport is getting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes. I got another opportunity recently when my department went on a tour at our GA airport. Surprise! I bet most of you didn’t know we ran a GA airport. Well we do! And guess what? It’s awesome!
The tour began with lunch at the BBQ restaurant. Every GA airport needs a good restaurant and this one fills the bill. The food wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and filling. Plus the service was excellent.
After we finished eating we headed over to visit the local community college. The classrooms for their A&P Mechanic program are located right on the airfield. I really wasn’t sure what to expect – I figured we’d see some white boards and books and maybe an airplane or two. It turned out to be so much more amazing than that!
The classrooms were just like any other classroom… except they were full of airplane parts! We got to see the avionics workshop and the sheet metal and composite materials fabrication lab. And we saw engines. Lots and lots of them, from piston engines to turbo props to jet engines. They were in all stages of assembly so you could get a really good look at the inner workings. There were big engines and small ones and engines for helicopters. I’m pretty sure I could have spent all day just looking at the engines! Fortunately the school had something even better out back… a hangar!
The college hangar is stuffed full of planes ranging from your basic Cessna all the way up to a Lear 25. They even have a helicopter. They all have working engines for the students to practice on, however none of the planes are airworthy. Most were donated to the school by their former owners who wanted their planes to continue to have useful lives even though they couldn’t fly any more.
Our tour guide opened the hangar and out on the ramp were even MORE planes, including a Boeing 727 that had once been owned by FedEx. It must have been a sight to see that big plane land at that little airport. I have to admit it made me a little melancholy to see so many gorgeous planes that will never again lift off into the sky. Then I remembered that these planes play an important role in training future mechanics who, in turn, will keep other planes flying.
After our visit to the college we headed over to the FBO and spent time checking out the various amenities including the pilot lounge, flight planning facility and conference rooms. We also visited the hangar and talked with the FBO manager. He told us about what it is like to run an FBO and about some of the challenges they face. The GA airport is one of 5 airports within the greater metropolitan area so they are always working on ways to attract pilots. It sounds like they have some fun events planned. They are also considering opening a flight school.
Of course the highlight of any airport tour has got to be visiting the ATC tower. This one is open 12 hours each day. It is a contract tower which means it is privately run (as opposed to being staffed by FAA controllers). It did not appear to have radar, although it did have weather data and an excellent view of the airfield. The controller said that most traffic is VFR so sunny days are the busiest and rainy days are pretty quiet.
Our last stop was the Airfield Maintenance Facility. It is very similar to other facilities that I have visited, only much smaller. I saw a plow and a broom truck but sadly no stairs trucks. I also got to sneak into the sand barn where the deicing materials are kept. (This involved climbing up and then back down a set of very steep, very sandy wooden steps. Yikes! Glad I don’t have to do that on a regular basis!)
The most important thing I learned from our day on the airfield is that small GA airports are every bit as fun and fascinating as large airports. Plus they are a lot more visitor-friendly! You can stop by almost any time – no badge needed! If you haven’t checked out the GA airport near you, what are you waiting for? These airports want and need local support so trust me – they’ll be thrilled to see you. And I promise you’ll be glad you went.