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.
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.
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.