Posts Tagged ‘GA versus airliners’

Heading to the most challenging airport

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

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.