Island flying, Northeast-style

sectional chart for northeast coast
Five island destinations are just a short flight from the East Coast.

In my part of the country a pilot’s license is a ticket to visit coastal islands that are otherwise accessible with difficulty. The islands, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block, and Fishers each have their own special charms. I’m going to describe some of the features of each. The emphasis here will be on day trips. Recommendations for overnight trips call for a different approach.

Two of the islands have a beach adjacent to the runway: Katama on Martha’s Vineyard and Fishers Island. The beach at Fishers Island is less frequented than the one at Katama. The only competition for the airport beach at Fishers comes from day-trippers off the ferry from New London and there are very few of these for a variety of reasons. The Fishers Island residents generally use beaches in other parts of the island. Another plus for the beach at Fishers is the proximity of mussel-bearing rocks. I have enjoyed many cookouts on the beach with mussels as the main course. Formerly one could camp out on the beach, but this is prohibited now. There are a few stores on Fishers but they are a mile or so down the road. Fishers has two paved runways the longest (12-30) of which is 2300 feet. No gas is available at Fishers. Landing fees are sometimes collected ($8 for a single engine; call 631.788.7463 for the latest information).

Katama has three turf runways the longest of which (3-21) is 3700 feet. 100LL is available here. Landing fees of $25 dollars are currently being collected here (508.627.9018). There is a restaurant nearby. Showers are available at the FBO and changing and toilet facilities are available at the beach. Also for those who want more than a beach, a bus runs around the island with a stop at South Beach.

Fishers island airport
Island flying in the Northeast means great approaches over water, like this one at Fishers Island.

Turning now to the more popular spots we have Block Island, Nantucket and the Edgartown Airport at Martha’s Vineyard. Block Island has a 2500 foot runway. No gas is available, and there is a $10 landing fee for a single engine (401.466.5511). There is a restaurant on the field. Taxis are sometimes found waiting at the airport. Walking down the road about twenty minutes you will find moped and bicycle rentals, and in this way you can get to some beautiful beaches.

If 2500 foot runways are not your thing then you have the main MVY airport in Edgartown or the Nanucket Airport. Both airports welcome “small planes” and gas, restaurants and transportation are available. There is no landing fee at KMVY (508.693.7022). You will probably be transported to and from the north ramp in an electric vehicle like a golf cart. A bus will take you into town or around the island. Taxis are available. In town a bicycle rental is the way to explore the less-traveled parts of the island. Or if you enjoy good seafood or your wife or girlfriend is a shopper, there’s lots to choose from in Edgartown. Travelling a little farther to Oak Bluffs or to Chilmark, Menemsha or Aquinnah you will encounter a variety of beaches including those for nudists at Chilmark, Lucy Vincent Beach, and the Jungle Beach portion of Gay Head Beach in Aquinnah.

Nantucket Airport (508.325.5300) can be quite busy. In fact it is the second busiest airport in Massachusetts. There is a good restaurant at the airport. Every kind of transportation is available at the airport to get you into town. And in town you will find art galleries, museums, shopping, and dining of all sorts. Or you can rent a bike and go off to explore the many paths on the island. The approach end of RWY 6 is about 100 yards from the beach, but there is no direct access.

KBID aerial shot
Block Island is short, but in good condition.

Now some general pointers. There’s the question about over water flying. Fishers is so close to the mainland that it’s really not a consideration. Flying high is the way to avoid difficulties that might arise in terms of approaches to the other islands, and over water routing can be minimized with careful planning.

Weather is the next consideration. For the IFR pilot approaches are available at all of the airports I’ve covered here with the exception being Katama. In the summertime fog and low stratus sometimes become problems and even a good weather briefing before takeoff is sometimes not enough. Onboard weather is a help and if you don’t have the equipment, there’s Boston Flight Watch on 122.0. Occasionally a fog bank will roll in. If you are on the beach near the airport you will usually have plenty of warning. I’ve had the experience when landing at Fishers of seeing what looks like reasonable visibility at the airport, but on descent losing sight of the runway because of fog. In 2007 a Cirrus made a parachute landing on Nantucket. Unless you have some experience on instruments, night flight and flight in marginal conditions are not recommended. The flight JFK Jr. made comes to mind.

Personally I find the best time to visit is during the off-season. There are fewer crowds and the weather is usually better. Everything considered there’s no better way to enjoy your pilot’s license.

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17 Comments

  • Haze can be a big problem at the islands – Block, Nantucket come to mind – that are farther offshore, and DO NOT head East towards them with a setting sun at your back unless you are IFR. This is what killed John Jr. But all these islands are wonderful, and well worth the trip. A folding bike is a good idea for any of them, as traffic is GENERALLY light, and the few hills are easily surmounted.

  • My wife and I made the trip from Georgia (KSBO) to Nantucket this summer and had an amazing time. We filed and flew IFR the entire trip, even went directly over JFK. Stayed on Nantucket 3 nights and really enjoyed our time there. There Nantucket Inn is a great hotel and it is across the street from the airport. You can enjoy breakfast on the deck and watch the departures and arrivals. You can do most anything you can imagine on the island and it was great fun for a couple of southerners. What a great way to use a light aircraft! Thanks for the article, now we know what other options are available.

  • You hit my favorite spots. They are especially great in the Fall too.
    You could also include Montuak airport.
    It is right on the beach with facilities and restaurants within walking distances.

    • When is the best weather time to fly in the northeast? Coming from south Texas. KCRP what is a good route to Mass?

      • Hi,
        I see that you are a lawyer and are instrumented rated and fly a Vans RV-10. Aint Google wonderful?
        Last time I was down in southern Texas (Galveston) it was hot and humid, so I would imagine it would be good to leave sometime in late August. It so happens the fall is a great time to visit the northeastern islands I wrote about. Temperatures are comfortable, the water has been warming up all summer, and the crowds are thinning out. As for the route, that depends on weather and other factors. I like to fly high and pick up a nice tail wind when I can.

  • These days I am flying from just south of Dallas to RKD, Maine but had a timeshare on ACK for a number of years. September is hard to beat, Labor Day really makes a difference with summer people leaving and everything becoming less crowded. Almost like Padre Island after spring break. Early October can be nice but the weather tempo picks up plus the days, for me, get noticeably shorter.

    June seems to have more fog, this year June was rainy in Maine. July and August are nice with the water warming up – but no where close to the Laguna Madre temps.

    A direct route takes you over the DCA TFR so you get to go left or right. Probably left to put you further north into NJ and closer to the Long Island shoreline. Going to the Boston area also favors the NW corner of DCA, just watch out for Camp David. Nice that the northeast Class Bs are low compared to the rest of the country, I have flown over JFK several times. If you have time, the VFR route up the Hudson is worth the effort.

    • That’s good advice. A word of caution about the Hudson River route, however. Since the midair collision a few years ago special rules went into effect. Getting clearance through the class B is the easiest way to do it, but this is not always possible. If you go through the corridor without talking to ATC you must fly at the appropriate altitude, have the NY terminal area chart on board, announce your position on the appropriate frequency, stay to the right, have you anti-collision lights flashing, etc.
      Topping the NY class B airspace is possible, but there’s a good deal of traffic up there. My experience flying south from KHPN frequently gets me a routing over JKK, but coming from the south to KHPN I am usually sent over New Jersey. Once you get past NY there’s no problem.

        • Lobsters are abundant this season in Mass. waters and the dock prices are $3:50 to $4:50. This is good news for the consumer and bad news for the lobstermen.
          (Strangely lobsters are scarce this season in Connecticut waters).
          Expect to pay alot more in the fine dining establishments, but if you go for the lobster roll it will be less pricey.
          There are many good restaurants on the Vineyard and on Nantucket. Two that I have personally visited recently are the Seafood Shanty on the Vineyard and Galley Beach in Nantucket. Both serve excellent food and are great settings for pleasant dining.

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