Choosing the Right Airport to Call Home

By Jason Blair, ATP, CFI-I, MEI-I, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner | March 2015

Finding the right place to call home for your airplane actually plays a big part in whether or not you will use the airplane. But the nearest airport to your home may not necessarily be the best. There are the all-important issues of how well it will be protected, and what types of services are available to keep your plane running.

Here are a few things to think about when you are looking at which airport and what type of storage is right for your aircraft.

Storage Options
Not all airports have hangars available or depending on where you live, they may not be needed. The main options include:

  • Ramp Tie Downs
  • Covered Parking
  • Community or FBO Hangar Rental Space
  • Private T- or Box-Hangars
  • Privately Owned Hangars

Typically the price goes up relative to the space you need and how private the hangar is (think community hangars vs. your own private box- or T-hangar), but the benefits also change with different types of hangars. Personal hangars may allow storage of “other stuff” that pilots collect also and community or FBO hangar rental space may require moving of other aircraft out of the way when you want to fly (an FBO may do this for you in some cases). When you are looking, determine what kind of storage you need for your plane and other aviation “stuff” as well as determining what kind of protection your plane needs. If you are in northern climates or places where there are heavy rainstorms, coverage may be very important.

Available Services
The services available at airports vary and can affect how you use your aircraft. Is fuel available? It sounds like a given, but it isn’t at every airport. How about maintenance services? If something breaks on your plane are you going to have to get a mechanic to come to you or is there one available on the field? In the case of an emergency, are life-essential services (fire trucks most commonly) available on the airport?

Consider the types of services that are available at the airport and how this will affect your ability to keep your plane flying. Commonly overlooked is the consideration of what approaches are available at the airport. If you are planning to fly IFR regularly but are going to base at an airport that does not have an instrument approach, you may find yourself periodically landing at other nearby airports and needing a ride.

Towered vs. Non-Towered
Many pilots are fearful of the “burden” of being at an airport that has a control tower, but overlook the benefits. While it may be necessary to get a clearance to taxi and depart, a control tower at an airport can coordinate IFR clearances, help look for traffic when you are doing some pattern work, or just help provide weather information. These are services not available at non-towered airports.

Many towered airports will also have more extensive airport security. This can be less convenient for visitors coming to fly with you, but it can keep your aircraft more secure. Whether it is a perimeter fence around the airport or just a tower controller watching the grounds and questioning any abnormal behavior, the added security can be desirable.

Community Spending a little time at the airport and getting a feel for the community can be a deciding factor in many cases. Is the airport closest to you a place where pilots pull their airplanes out, fly, and put them away afterwards without interacting with each other? Maybe it isn't right for you if you would prefer to be at an airport where people BBQ at their hangars. If that is important to you, take the time to see if there are regular events, fly-ins, or even just a group of folks that hang out for Saturday morning coffee. If you don’t care, and all you need is come and go and fly for travel, this may not be important. Every airport has a different feel. Spend a little time to get to know some of the pilots before you make a final decision.

I would be a liar to say that proximity isn’t a factor at all, but if you are choosing between two airports and one is an extra 5-10 minute drive from the other but offers more services, it might be worth considering the airport a little further down the road. There are lots of factors that can determine if one particular airport is the right one for you. These are just a few to start thinking about before you call a new airport home.

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Jason Blair is an active single and multi-engine instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with 4,800 hours total time and 2,700 hours instruction given. He serves on several FAA/Industry aviation committees and is the past Executive Director of the National Association of Flight Instructors. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry.

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