Al Marsh

Heading to the most challenging airport

October 9, 2012 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

UPDATE: The most challenging airport is Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Watch for an article in a future edition of AOPA Pilot.

AOPA members nominated 270 airports at the most challenging in the country and I had to pick just one for a story. I am headed towards that airport now, and you’ll see  it in the future. Next to me is a Maryland man in his 50s studying a Gleim book for his instrument written exam. On the aisle is a former Army helicopter pilot who says he burned out after 1,600 hours and is no longer in the Army.

We’re in a one-month-old Boeing 737-800 that seats 175. I am lifting one elbow up to type this without disturbing the instrument student. He and a friend bought a Cherokee Warrior for their training. He plans to keep it after training, and finds his purchase with a friend makes training more economical.

We went through the usual airport hassle to get on this nifty crowded jet. Since it seats 175, Southwest gate personnel started boarding early and I ended up getting on among the last 10 people. All 10 had boarding passes that would have allowed far earlier boarding. Got to keep that in mind for future “jumbo” 737 flights on Southwest, and get up at 5 a.m., not 5:25. Also, need to keep those three traffic jams I encountered in mind. Heck, since it’s a new airliner I might even lean my head back on the headrest without worrying about cooties. Umm, nah, better not go crazy. It’s been out there among the crowds a whole month.

When I flew a 172 last week for a “Flight Training” video on grass landings, I and editor Jill Tallman took off when it was convenient. Nobody got our favorite seats. We weren’t worried about being late for the flight. I asked myself if I had honorable goals for the flight, as in not hijacking it, and I did. I didn’t screen myself or my flight bag, even though there is a screwdriver in there that I could use to overpower myself if I was really intent on taking over me. I wasn’t. My shoes never came off–there was never a line. I didn’t get irradiated with a “safe” dose or any dose. Is there no way to get this through to nonpilots?

I’m not saying general aviation is perfect for everything. Certainly, an airline ticket from Baltimore to Denver, my current destination, is a lot less expensive at $480 and a whole lot faster. But if you are sitting in your living room one morning in Frederick, Md., wondering what the leaves look like in New Hampshire–as I did–then GA is the only choice. I bolted Maryland at 10 a.m. and was home by 7 p.m. in a Diamond DA40. This big airliner won’t take you down to 2,000 feet for a better look and then stop in Massachusetts on a whim at a restaurant you just heard about from a pilot in Keene.  Just some thoughts from Seat 16D.

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6 Responses to “Heading to the most challenging airport”

  1. Marty Weiss Says:

    Agreed…and dont let those “perfect” pilots who cite your failure to spell check “Charokee” get you down. I understand deadlines too. Which airport were you referring to in Massachusetts? If not Southbridge (3B0) and I have a sneaking suspicion it was, then try Jim’s Fly-In Diner next time you are up in our neck of the woods.

  2. Al Marsh Says:

    Hi, Marty. No deadline. You missed my misspelling of “aisle” too, but I don’t fault you for that. I know you are busy. Barnes Municipal Airport in Westfield, Mass., is the airport to which I referred. I think we should recruit new pilots in the TSA line at major airports. Just ask, “So…how’s your day going?”

  3. Glen Cunningham Says:

    I came here to find out what is ‘the most challenging airport’ since the title of this is ‘Heading to the most challenging airport’. But there is no mention of a challening airport and why it is a challenge. I already know why it’s better to fly GA than the airlines.

    This is why I rarely read websites—-big come on, little payoff. You should consider making your lead-ins represent the article.

  4. Sam Beale Says:

    Since your current destination is Denver, why am I thinking Leadville?

    While on the subject of spelling, let’s don’t miss hassel, and let’s remember that there are two spaces after the period at the end of each sentence, not just one. Also assume you really meant to say that Barnes Municipal “is the airport to which I referred.”

    Great idea on recruiting pilots in the TSA line. If you could speak to them while they were being groped, the success rate should be even higher.

  5. Al Marsh Says:

    The airport in Mass. where I had lunch was Barnes at Westfield. Great people at a great restaurant.

  6. Al Marsh Says:

    You have shamed me into ending the tease. The airport chosen as most challenging is Glenwood Springs, Colo. Since Aspen got LOTS of votes I did some extra flying there, too, to experience the problems. On the way back I stopped at Leadville and took a shot or two. They are busting with pride over a new terminal building. Leadville has clear approaches at both ends so I didn’t include Leadville even though it got many votes. Bell Helicopter was there testing new STCs for one of their models. I’ll say something here that is probably too controversial for the actual article. The management at Aspen virtually demanded that their airport not be included in the article. However, at least 30 members mentioned it, and it is a member-driven article. Jet pilots from Netjets and XOJets that I met at a restaurant and my hotel said it was challenging. The FBO owner thinks it is very challenging and mentioned several accidents related to mountain flying, more than Aspen itself. All the FAA controllers and one FAA management person said it was challenging. So I think the Aspen airport management is kind of outvoted on this one. Still, they refused me a pass to take pictures on the airport (I stood outside the fence expect when I was flying a Cessna 172 with instructor Gary Kraft who teaches mountain flying), and declined an interview, because they were sure my article would be about “scariest airports,” and insisted that if I said anything bad, it would be, “…picked up by Associated Press.” I tried to explain that in 20 years AP has never picked up a story from “AOPA Pilot.” The manager insisted his knowledge of what AP does was superior to mine, and we parted friends.

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