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Training Tip: The secret lives of airports

On sunny days with little or no wind, a sudden thump of turbulence down low on the final approach is the flight condition local pilots watch out for, and you’d be surprised how big a jolt can come from a small thermal current rising from pavement or a hot roof.

That’s the not-so-good way to find out about a potentially critical characteristic of an airport you will visit.

Here’s a better method: Start with the airport’s listing in the chart supplement. In the example noted above, the airport’s listing mentions trees on the approaches, and a 350-foot threshold displacement for Runway 32. Airport remarks refer to the presence of migratory birds and wildlife in the vicinity and discuss voluntary “NS ABTMT” (noise abatement) procedures, taxiway restrictions, and landing fees for larger aircraft.

All good stuff to know, but as we now know, not the whole story. Next you could look up your destination in the AOPA Airports and Destinations Online Directory and see if any reviews that might mention nice-to-know-about features have been posted by visitors or locals.

Some airports or their pilot communities have a social media presence. Or you could try searching online discussion threads in AOPA’s online Pilot Information Center.  A thread started by a single-engine airplane pilot about a wake turbulence encounter with a much larger Bell Boeing V–22 Osprey at Billy Mitchell Airport in Hatteras, North Carolina, elicited comments from pilots about other airports, including a Texas aviator based at Scholes International At Galveston Airport who noted hospitably, “KGLS [is] a busy helicopter airfield for sure. Lots of movement to and from the off shore oil rigs. Come visit and be aware of wake turbulence.”

At Bangor International Airport, a former U.S. Air Force base in Maine, any student pilot can tell you that you could be sharing the pattern with airline traffic or a military aircraft, probably from the local Air National Guard refueling unit. (Don’t let their name, the Maineiacs, scare you—they’re great aerial neighbors!)

Whichever way you find out about a destination airport’s “personality”—often a low-tech phone call will produce results and make you new friends—the information is invaluable and the crew will be delighted you reached out.

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