The Importance and Relevance of General Aviation Airports

By Richard Caso, MD.

I recently reviewed a monograph from the United States Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration entitled General Aviation Airports: A National Asset. The article was based on an extensive and comprehensive 18-month study of general aviation airports in the United States. One interesting fact is that 75% of takeoffs and landings at U.S. airports involve general aviation aircraft and most of these flights occur at general aviation airports.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 defines a general aviation airport as one that either does not have scheduled service or has scheduled service with less than 2,500 passenger enplanements each year. The most recent figure for general aviation airports in the United States is 2,952 landing facilities (2,903 airports, 10 heliports, and 39 seaplane bases) to support aeromedical flights, aerial fire-fighting, law enforcement, disaster relief efforts, and to provide access to mountain or rural communities. Included in this group are 121 airports that provide limited scheduled air service boarding (more than 2,500 but less than 10,000 enplanements per year). As of February 2018, California has 217 general aviation airports, 26 commercial service airports (23 report greater than 10,000 enplanements per year), 167 hospital, 22 federal airbases, and 1 joint use facility (March ARB).

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A Whole Lot of Nothin’

By Eric McCarthy

I recently flew from southern California to Henderson, NV for an aerial photo assignment. It wasn’t my first time up that way, but I had forgotten just how desolate the desert between here and there is. You see, as someone who grew up in the Boston area, the desert southwest is whole new experience – we don’t have anything like this in the northeast! The remote, unending barren wastelands are both mind-boggling and -numbing. In the wilderness of the northern New England and upstate New York, practically all undeveloped land is covered in trees; if you spot an opening in the trees, it’s probably a pond or lake, or possibly a meadow where a pond used to be. Not so in the desert southwest – there are very few signs of any life on the barren surface below. I’m sure there’s actually quite a lot of very specialized life– insects, rodents, snakes, etc. each adapted to survive the harsh conditions of the desert – but not a lot of humans down there. From our perch 8,500’ up we could see 40 or 50 miles in any direction, and there’s just more barren landscape! No settlements, no towns, few roads even – and, really, who would want to live out there anyway?

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Basic Med

By Ed Downs

The third-class medical certificate has long been a point of controversy. Medical examinations as a required prerequisite for being a pilot were not in place when Orville and Wilber took the leap. Prior to the federalization of the national airspace system in 1938, aircraft certification and pilot training were handled at the state level, by random federal agencies, and even the U.S. Postal service. With the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the Civil Aeronautics Administration was formed, predecessor to today’s FAA. Within the Civil Aeronautics Act were provisions for a government sponsored (and paid for) Civilian Pilot Training Program, the “CPTP.” This program was touted as being a reconstruction plan for civil aviation and community airports as part of rebuilding our country during the Great Depression. In fact, CPTP was developed by none other than the General Henry H (Hap) Arnold as a means of beginning a nation-wide pilot training effort in preparation for what turned into WWII.  

As an acknowledged military effort, rigid medical standards were set in place. It is those standards that became the FAA medical system we have today. There never was, or ever has been, any statistical data that indicates the FAA medical process now in play is either needed or does, in fact, improve safety. But once a bureaucracy is in place, it is very likely it will never go away. Thus, the third class medical. The bottom line is that billions of dollars each year go to “a safety system” that has little purpose. Now, let me be clear… good health and common-sense avoidance of bad lifestyle practices are certainly a paramount responsibility of all airmen.  

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Know it or Do it

By Ed Downs


We have seen a real shift in FAA safety thinking over the years. For many old timers, flight safety meant having strong “stick and rudder” skills, meaning the ability to handle the machine in a skilled and precise manner. But as we moved into our current age of technology, aviation accidents have taken on a different look. To be sure, hitting something hard with too much velocity (a crash) is still the end result of most recent accidents, but the perception as to why an accident occurred has changed. 

The FAA decided that there is more to a flying accident than just an inability to handle the aircraft. Poor judgment, when used use in conjunction with critical circumstances, has also have been noted as the underlying cause of many accidents. This writer agrees, poor judgment can, and does, often open the door for events that weak flying skills cannot overcome. 

The FAA’s response to this dilemma of skill versus judgment has been to fundamentally change training. The Practical Test Standard (PTS) was modified over the years, dropping many “stick and rudder” skills in favor of knowledge that would prevent one from needed the “stick and rudder” ability that was common years ago. In other words, why worry about stalls and spins if you are smart enough to never get close to doing either. Why even bother to train one in the recognition of an event that can result in loss of control if one’s judgment and knowledge are so great that our very smart pilot will simply never get close to the risk in question. 

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