Forsaking the Ferry: Five Island Destinations for Pilots

General aviation offers quick access to offshore attractions.

One of the best things about flying small aircraft is the ease of access they afford to desirable places that are otherwise difficult to reach. Island destinations are a classic example. 

Typically they require earthbound travelers to drive their cars onto ferries whose schedules and capacities often are limited. They also tend to be slow and time-consuming compared with other modes of travel. Even if you book faster passage with an air taxi service, you are still beholden to someone else’s timetable. Making the trip in one’s own airplane gives the sense of control that is lost in most other forms of travel.

Below are some of the islands at the top of our wish lists that have general aviation airports and lots to do once you get there.



Martha’s Vineyard Airport (KMVY)

Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

Northeasterners know that even if you live in Massachusetts it can take all day to get to Martha’s Vineyard—unless you fly there. And while the well-known island hopping airline Cape Air and several charter operators can get you to this vacation hotspot quickly, landing on the vineyard in your own airplane feels like the ultimate expression of freedom. The island also offers a diversity of airports including the towered Vineyard Haven (KMVY), Katama Airpark (1B2) in Edgartown, with three turf strips, and Trade Wind (MA44), a private (permission required) grass strip in Oak Bluffs run by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission.

[Photo: NightThree]

Islesboro Airport (57B)

Islesboro, Maine

Maine has a vast collection of interesting airfields, from numerous private turf and gravel strips as short as 1,000 feet to the deactivated Loring Air Force Base with a runway 12,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. You can still land at Loring (ME16) if you get permission in advance. Islesboro’s modest tree-lined runway does not detract much from the sense of being pleasantly lost in time when visiting the island. In many ways the place seems to have changed little since the 1600s when European traders and explorers traversed the area. Yes, you will see modern cars and boats, but there are miles of quiet, wooded hiking trails that help visitors forget the trappings of civilization.

Beaver Island Airport (KSJX)

Beaver Island, Michigan

Beaver Island in Lake Michigan has long been a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. From fishing and hunting to boating, bicycling, hiking, and camping, there is much to take in on this remote spot. Local companies rent bikes, kayaks, and other outdoor gear while guides lead island tours. Visitors can check out the Toy Museum, Marine Museum, and the Mormon Print Shop Museum, which followers of religious leader James Jesse Strang built in 1850 as the community’s print shop. Visitors can also climb the 46-foot Beaver Head Lighthouse, which was built in 1856 and was active until 1962, when it was decommissioned. 

A look at some of the Ocracoke Banker Ponies. [Courtesy: Ocracoke Township Tourism Development Authority]

Ocracoke Island Airport (W95)

Ocracoke, North Carolina

This island in the Outer Banks region was long known as a rustic, minimal spot that did not receive telephone service until 1956 or establish a public water system until 1977. But its natural, untouched, and unfussy style is a big part of the appeal. There is plenty to see and do here and lots of history worth noting. One of its most interesting stories involves the Ocracoke Banker Ponies, a herd that descended from Spanish mustangs who survived a shipwreck hundreds of years ago and have occupied the island ever since. For most of that time they ran free but now live in an enclosed 188-acre area under National Park Service care.

[Courtesy: Washington State Department of Transportation]

Friday Harbor Airport (KFHR)

Friday Harbor, Washington

There is a lot going on at Friday Harbor, often called the gateway to the San Juan Islands, from farmers’ markets and film festivals to shops and sightseeing. There are many restaurants serving locally produced food and venues for the arts, including the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, which holds quarterly exhibitions of visual art from around the world. The waterfront is a popular destination for its shops and food, and as the departure point for whale-watching tours. Orcas, Dall’s porpoise, humpback whales, minke whales, sea lions, and harbor seals are known to frequent the waters around the island.

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