Flying Into Busy Airports Requires Planning and Flexibility

With the right preparation, you can fit right into the flow.

The best part of flying small airplanes is being able to use so many more airports than the airlines do. But if you need to visit an airport that has a mix of big jet and piston/turboprop traffic, it's best to scope out your plan well in advance. Even non-airline airports that have intense heavy-iron activity can be intimidating. Teterboro, New Jersey, is a good example, with as many as 600 operations a day. Other such fast-paced, non-airline airports include Van Nuys near Los Angeles, Addison near Dallas, Palwaukee near Chicago and Fort Lauderdale Executive, in Florida. Teterboro tower staff specialist Larry Brady said traffic there consists of 90 percent turbine and 85 percent IFR operations, regardless of weather. Flying IFR is almost always better when it comes to busy fields. Being in the system allows controllers to plan for your arrival and blend you into the flow. Brady advises pilots to review arrival and departure procedures carefully, but be prepared to be flexible as well. For example, the Teterboro VOR-DME A approach is designed to bring traffic from the west over the top of the airport to enter a downwind leg to either Runway 19 or 24. But slower piston traffic could be vectored, instead, to a right base leg to either runway to help expedite the flow of faster jet traffic. "That way, we can sometimes get in two operations for the price of one," said Brady.

Brady said there is a new website under development that is designed to brief pilots-at all levels-on most of the procedures needed to use airports like Teterboro safely and efficiently. (Look to the Flying eNewsletter for news on its launch.) Until that site is up and running, another way to get smart ahead of time is to contact one of the FBOs on the field and ask to speak to a local pilot familiar with the lay of the land. If there is a flight school on the field, that is another source of information that can be tailored to your aircraft's performance and your experience level. But do recognize that in some instances, it's just not prudent to venture into the hornets' nest. Discretion might dictate finding a smaller, quieter airport nearby.