Friday, 26 November 2010

Making aviation work

Emporia is a small town in Kansas with roughly 26,000 inhabitants. It is served by a small airport, Emporia Municipal (KEMP). It has one 5,000' hard runway and one 3,800' grass runway, pilot-controlled lighting, a VOR approach and a GPS approach to each end of the runway. There's an FBO and a self-serve, 24-hour avgas fuel pump. There's no tower, so pilots take care of their own radio needs.

It's a typical American airfield, small, not hugely busy and pilots are able to take care of their own needs from fueling, to lighting to radio comms. What's more, the facility is there and available 24 hours a day whether you need somewhere to land for fuel, or somewhere to stretch your legs (the pilot's lounge remains open, even when the FBO is closed).

Having facilities available like this means that aviation can be used as a business and transport tool, and that means that means more pilots, more aircraft and more economic activity…

Night flight

I love flying at night. The air is (generally) smoother, the visibility often good and the sights spectacular. I accept that an engine failure would be more of a pain at night than it would during the day, but still, night flight is something special, something to be enjoyed.

I'm struggling to get much of it done, and yet with it being dark at around 5pm there ought to be plenty of opportunities. The problem is, as ever, the lack of suitable places to land - I'd estimate that about 70% of GA facilities shut up shop as the sun goes down, a further 25% become unavailable an hour or two after that, leaving just a couple of places in the entire country that are both available to GA at say 10pm and that don't require a small mortgage to pay the fees (I can think of, erm Southend and err...)

There's an obscure rule that prevents licensed airfields from installing pilot-controlled lights, and even when a licensed airfield becomes unlicensed when closed, pilot-controlled lighting is still not allowed. Even it it were, I doubt that many would oblige and fit the necessary, relatively low-cost equipment - night flying habits just haven't developed enough to make it worthwhile.

It's a shame, and it's one of the two things that significantly reduce the utility of GA in the UK, the other being the lack of instrument approaches at smaller airfields.

Perhaps one day…