By Dr. Mike Bliss
As part of the continuous path of how to become a pilot, we should always be looking for new ways to broaden our knowledge base and refresh what we already know. One easy way to do that is by planning flights to new and various kinds of airports whenever you can. This is especially important if you do not have the opportunity to accumulate a lot of flight hours each year.
Treat each new airport as a learning opportunity. Study the sectional chart, terminal chart (if available), the Chart Supplement, and one or more of the various airport guides that are available. There are also photos and videos of many airports available on the internet. Refresh your memory on the meaning of all the airport symbols. Think about runway lengths, surrounding terrain, and other factors that might affect aircraft performance, especially if density altitude should be considered.
A not-so-obvious source of information is to make a phone call to the airport ahead of time to obtain what is called “local knowledge.” Call an FBO and ask if there is an instructor you can speak with about entry procedures and reporting points. Ask what you can expect from the controllers. Ask where is the best place to park or the cheapest place to purchase fuel. You might also find where the best places to eat are!
When thinking about where to park your airplane, it is also important to determine if there is one side of the airport more convenient for access to rental cars, motels, etc. After finding yourself on the “wrong” side of the airport a few times, you begin to pay more attention to the details.
The most important thing is to continue to learn and reinforce your knowledge in the areas that can be forgotten by disuse. Answering the question, how to become a pilot, is a constant journey. Do your homework and visit a new airport each time you fly. It will add to the fun of being a pilot!