Sunday, June 7, 2015

Price Point

Fly Out

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
7 Jun 2015 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - ELM (Elmira, NY) - SDC 2.0 1418.7

On Sunday morning we set out as a fleet of three aircraft from the Williamson-Sodus Airport bound for the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport and the EAA Chapter 533 Pancake Breakfast. Joining me in Warrior 481 was The Bear (who is always eager for pancakes) and my Mom (who is always eager to spend time with The Bear).

Mom, The Bear, and me on the Corning ramp at Elmira (photo by Greg)

Yes, Darth Vader is playing dodge ball on The Bear's t-shirt.
And why not? Of course Vader will win; it's not as though
the storm troopers can actually hit anything. Photo by Greg. 

When I first proposed this trip, my friend Dave pointed out that Elmira had a landing fee. I was completely unaware of this, but my last flight into Elmira was in late 2007 and a lot can change in eight years. With some investigation, we confirmed that the airport charges a non-waivable $20.00 landing fee (often, FBOs at larger airports will waive landing/parking/handling fees with a fuel purchase - not the case here). Landing fees are usually collected in person by an FBO (like the new Kalamazoo airport overnight parking fee) or by billing the aircraft's registered owner (like the invoice for $2.50 I received in the mail from Republic Airport).

With a phone call, Tony was able to verify that Atlantic Aviation collects the fee. By taxiing directly to the EAA hangar and avoiding the Atlantic ramp, we would avoid the fee. With that assurance, our plans crystallized.

This freed me to ponder the next potential roadblock to our plan:

Isn't this airport in a valley prone to fogging in? Prior experience suggested that it was.

Sure enough, the field was choked with fog an hour before our intended departure. Satellite imagery clearly showed fog in the valleys along the southern New York border under otherwise clear skies. As John and Dave roared skyward in Eight Five X-Ray, I called the Elmira ASOS and learned that the temperature and dew point were identical. Though John and Dave hoped that the fog would burn off before they arrived, I had my doubts and dawdled in readying the Warrior for flight.

Their gamble paid off. By the time they arrived, the field had transitioned to solid VFR conditions. Score one for John and Dave, but I still think they got lucky.

Greg, Tim, Tony, The Bear, John, Me, and Dave with Eight Five X-Ray

As the last of the three Williamson airplanes to arrive (on account of the aforementioned dawdling), we were marshaled to parking near our club-mates by Chris, president of EAA Chapter 533. Besides our three ships, there were only two other airplanes parked on the ramp. I was stunned. I had assumed that such a big facility with so much available parking would have drawn a lot of visitors that morning.

When I asked Chris about the turn out, he shook his head in frustration. "It's the landing fee. It scares everyone off." I understood his frustration. A lot of work goes into organizing a fundraiser breakfast. The Elmira EAAers must have been severely disappointed by the poor attendance.

Tony, Greg, and Tim with Six Echo Sierra

Some non-aviators might be surprised that "fat cat" pilots would balk at a $20 fee. But those of us who fly 35+ year old basic Cessnas and Pipers are not really part of the wealthy "Jet Set". Think of it this way: if the city of Rochester, NY charged a $20 fee to drive a car into the city limits, I imagine this would have chilling effect on downtown businesses. Yes, I realize that some cities do this already, but the intent in those cases is to reduce traffic congestion in metropolitan areas with robust public transit. The point is, no one likes being nickel-and-dimed to death, particularly when engaged in an avocation that is already expensive. Some airports/FBOs charge these fees to help fund their operational expenses and will waive them if the visiting pilot purchases fuel (in which the mark-up helps cover their costs). Fuel at Elmira is already expensive, $1.60 more per gallon than at home (i.e., if I bought four hours worth of fuel at Elmira, I would spend $58 more than I would at home). With a non-waivable $20 fee incurred regardless of fuel purchase, it starts to feel a bit like piling on.

So, yes, a $20 landing fee is enough to scare off pilots like me, my fellow Williamson Flying Club members, and other potential pancake breakfast fly-in guests. It's always a shame when airports adopt policies that actively stifle general aviation activity. When an airport charging a landing fee is surrounded by others that do not charge one, the path of least resistance for airmen is to think with their wallets.

It's hard to look really cool from the right seat, but John made a go of it

We entered the relatively deserted EAA hangar as volunteers fired up the griddles and cooked fresh pancakes for us, including a valiant effort at a Mickey Mouse pancake for The Bear. Everyone was very friendly and clearly appreciated that we had flown in. In conversation, it was mentioned that we served 1,859 breakfasts at our fly-in/drive-in event in May. Taking in the many empty chairs at empty breakfast tables, I regretted that this information was shared; it felt like we were rubbing it in.

John and Dave with Eight Five X-Ray

We invited the Elmira EAAers to visit our field on Saturdays for the weekly "coffee can" lunches at the Williamson Aeronautical Services hangar. These regular events work very simply: toss some money in a coffee can and join the crew in devouring whatever Jake cooked up for lunch that day. All are welcome.

I hope they come. In the current climate, aviators need to stick together.

When this helicopter settled to the ground near the EAA hangar, all I could think of was M*A*S*H. Nothing grabs The Bear's attention quite like a helicopter.

Climbing away from Elmira on runway heading, we saw this river (the Chemung, I think) passing through strikingly crenelated terrain.

Interestingly, The Bear chose to ride up front for the better view.

We flew northbound over the Finger Lakes until reaching Sodus Bay, then turned west to enter the airport traffic pattern. A gusty wind from the northeast made for a less than elegant arrival, but a good time was had by all three generations aboard Warrior 481 that morning.

Flight Review

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hours) Total Time (hours)
7 Jun 2015 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - 7G0 (Brockport, NY) - SDC 2.1 1420.8

I was due for a flight review and have missed flying with Tom since I earned my instrument rating two years ago under his tutelage. After multiple tries, we finally found available time and an adequate forecast to meet that afternoon at Ledgedale Airpark in Brockport, NY. Compared to that morning's pancake flight, the wind was stronger and the air significantly more turbulent. As I bumped along from Sodus to Brockport in true Flight of the Bumblebee manner, I wondered about how successful a flight review would be under such conditions.

Along the way, I passed over work and noted the solar array installed last fall.

Over downtown Rochester, my trajectory to Brockport provided a great view of the muddy Genesee River tumbling over High Falls.

At Ledgedale, Tom and I sat at a picnic table alongside the EAA Chapter 44 building where he proceeded to quiz me on basic ground school material with a focus on charts and airspace. He seemed pleased that he was unable to really stump me on anything critical, even after digging into some IFR minutiae. Aloft, we did some basic air work (steep turns, slow flight, stalls). Then he pulled the throttle to idle to simulate an engine failure. I identified a field, made for it, and demonstrated that I could have glided the Warrior there safely. We returned to the airport where I did a normal landing, a landing with no flaps (using a slip), a simulated engine out landing from the pattern (which also required a slip to avoid overshooting the runway), a simulated soft field landing, and a short field landing. For the latter, we defined our short runway as the pavement between the middle two taxiways, ~ 600 feet (I made it). It was a great workout in lousy atmospheric conditions. When we were done, Tom happily signed off my flight review and I headed back to Sodus.

One of the things that I like about time spent with instructors is that it provides an opportunity to get feedback on my flying and to detect any bad habits that have formed. Tom worked me hard, but was pleased with my performance.

I was pleased with the workout as well. I just might have burned off some of those darn pancakes cooked that morning by my new friends at EAA Chapter 533.

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