I’ve been thinking a lot about airports lately. I guess that’s no surprise. I work at an airport. I vacation at airports. Airports are a big part of my life and I love them. So I find it very distressing every time I hear about another GA airport closing.
According to Statista.com, in 1990 there were 5,589 public use airports in the US. In 2016 there were 5,136. That’s over 450 airports gone in 26 years. And once gone they don’t come back. In the rare case where a new airport is built, it is often at the expense of an older airport which is closed (see Denver, for example).
Why do smaller airports matter? Well for one thing, that’s where most of the flight schools are and where the pilots of tomorrow begin their flight training. GA airports relieve congestion at major airports by providing alternate destinations for business jets and they are often much more convenient for business travelers. Perhaps most importantly, small, local airports enable emergency support to quickly reach communities in times of need.
Given all the important services that GA airports provide, why on earth are they disappearing? Often these airports are surrounded by homes and businesses which can lead to noise complaints and safety concerns. Developers desire the airport property to build additional homes or retail centers. Local governments want the increased tax dollars that commercial development would bring. Small airports often don’t have the means to fend off such attacks. Once an airport loses community support and is targeted for closure, it can be too hard for it to fight back effectively. (Santa Monica, anyone?)
So, what can we do to help? It’s simple, really – visit GA airports! If you are a GA pilot you are already helping by using these airports on a regular basis. Not a pilot? The good news is, you don’t need to have a pilot’s license to visit an airport. GA airports are often more accessible and people-friendly then their large commercial counterparts. When I thought about it, I realized I only visited 4 GA airports last year, and of those there was only one I hadn’t been to before. What?!?!? I can do better than that! And so the 2019 airport challenge was born!
The challenge is simple: in the next 12 months check out (at least) five GA airports not previously visited.
Two of the airports on my list are Chester County Airport (MQS) in Pennsylvania and Grimes Field (I74) in Ohio. I haven’t decided on the other three yet, but I’m looking for other locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. (If you’ve got a suggestion please comment on this post and let me know!)
As luck would have it, my friend Max Flight from the Airplane Geeks Podcast recently started his own quest to visit GA airports. Since he eats out fairly regularly, he decided to visit airports with restaurants. Brilliant! Nothing goes better with a meal than a heaping portion of airplanes and avgas! Max created eatattheairport.com which includes a google map that displays airports with eating establishments on the premises (or nearby). Check it out – it’s seriously cool! Have a favorite airport/restaurant that isn’t listed? There’s a form you can fill out to have it added to the map.
So, how much do you love aviation? What are you doing to support it? Consider this your invitation to join me! If you value GA airports and all that they provide to the community, then GO VISIT THEM! Head to eatattheairport.com to plan your trips and submit information to help other avgeeks plan theirs.
The 2019 Airport Challenge is on! Are you in? Great! I’ll see you at the airport!
14 thoughts on “2019 Airport Challenge”
The loss of airports is a major problem. My area, the L.A. area, has lost a number of airports, most recently Rialto. Banning is scheduled for closure, I believe. Santa Monica is going to be closed. And the deal the FAA made with SMO is going to set a precedent which will allow any community to obliterate the local airport, even if it’s important to the aerial infrastructure. Any publicity or support local airports can get is going to be a good thing. They seems to take herculean efforts to keep open, and just a few complaints to shutter. I’ve never understood that.
Thanks, Ron! I’ve never understood that either. It is critical for airports to find ways to engage with the community as much as possible – viewing areas, 5Ks, balloon fests, air shows, young eagles. Whatever it takes to build relationships with the community. One airport near me created kid-friendly spaces which got them massive support from local parent groups. Smart thinking!
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How about Oceano, CA, or Oxnard, CA or Tangier, VA (impacted by climate change really) and of course you already mention Santa Monica, CA. All have issues. I have written about these airports in the past. You can find the writings here:
So true – many airports are under threat. It is up to us to support them and be a voice for them in the community.
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I was just listening to Max’s podcast on the way home. He was talking about the danger San Jose’s Reid-Hillview is in. Recently someone interested in hosting an inflatable obstacle course event asked about using our local airport property on the side where, “nothing is going on.” I promptly pulled up an overhead shot and pointed out the businesses and FBOs which ring the field. People don’t know, they gotta be told. Challenge accepted! 🙂
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Thanks so much for reading and for joining the challenge! I just listened to Max’s podcast too and it breaks my heart! You are so right that people don’t know – which is why it is so important for us to speak up and help them understand! 👍
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Hi Jen! Thank you for speaking on this matter, challenge accepted! Carolina at GSE Solutions.
Yay! Glad to have you join us! And thanks for reading!
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I love all airports, and I used to fly to lots of small ones when I was active with my pilot license, back in the 1980s. I’d say that about a third or the smaller airports I flew into have since been closed. It’s a shame when they don’t have enough community support or when new development in the vicinity brings political pressure to close them down. BUT there’s a really key fact underlying all the small airport closures that’s extremely under-reported. The light aircraft segment of general aviation has been very seriously shrinking for a long time! This is the individual-user sector, with planes that carry 1 to 6 people, piston-powered, purchased for less than $200K, and operated for less than $100/hr total cost. The number of such planes active today in the USA is just a small fraction of what it was in the 1960s/1970s. As a result, many small GA airports have very little traffic and very few based airplanes. That means not enough revenue to support the cost of running the facility. The reasons are many, but mostly have to do with the now very high cost of owning and flying such planes: Fuel can be upwards of $6 – $7 a gallon. Insurance is expensive, as is the cost of getting and keeping a pilot license. A person has to sacrifice a lot more in life to own a piece of a GA plane and fly it. Less planes flying empties out the small airports. — Dave K/MDW
That’s all very true, Dave! And the pilot shortage plays into it as well. The good news is that I do think this trend can be reversed if we work at it. Won’t happen quickly and we’ll probably lose a few more airports along the way, but there is still hope.
The only airport near me is a tiny little one that gets nothing bigger than Embraer CRJ/ERJ jets, and private/FedEx Cessna’s. Any bigger airport is at least a 2-4 hour drive away. But it is nice to have smaller airports sometimes. It’s easier, as a planespotter, to wander through the terminal in search of the best locations to spot from. Outside, I can get very close to the fence and capture some great shots of planes. I’m so close to the runway! If you have time, maybe you can visit this little airport. It’s called UNV, it’s in State College, PA.
Thanks for reading, Matt! Small airports can be wonderful places to go spotting! I love GA airplanes and enjoy getting to see them up close – something you can’t always do at big airports. I pass near State College from time to time. I will definitely try to stop in one of these days!