What are your favorite airports?

Pilots all have their favorite airports, for any number of reasons including the fun that’s awaiting once they arrive. When a friend asked me the other day which airports were my favorites, I made a list. So, in no particular order…

Mackinac
Island airports like Mackinac always make for fun flying destinations.

I’ll start with the island airports, which I always enjoy: Put-in-Bay, Ohio (3W2); Mackinac Island, Michigan (KMCD); Hilton Head, South Carolina (KHXD); St. Simons, Georgia (KSSI) for the beauty, remoteness and feeling of exclusivity reaching them by airplane. I would put Nantucket, Massachusetts (KACK), on that list in the Northeast, and that list could go on forever it seems. I’d have to mention the southernmost point in the Continental US, Key West, Florida (KEYW). Flying the Keys is a thrilling experience with unforgettable views.

Accomack County (KMFV), would be my choice for views of Chesapeake Bay. Head south from Accomack to soak in the natural, unspoiled beauty and wildlife of Virginia’s barrier islands. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge lies ahead and eventually vanishes into a tunnel. While you can’t land there, Oceana NAS (KNTU) is sure to provide a glimpse of some Navy fighters.

Oshkosh, WI (KOSH), has been exciting aviation crowds for years with the biggest air show in the world. There’s something magical about bringing hundreds of thousands of aviation fans together every summer.

There is Bar Harbor, Maine, for access to Acadia National Park and some of New England’s best seafood (KBHB).

I’m a fan of the pristine northwest Florida beaches, which extend into Alabama. These airports have gorgeous ocean-view arrivals: Northwest Florida Beaches (KECP); Destin, Florida (KDST); and Gulf Shores, Alabama (Jack Edwards, KJKA). If you time it right, you can catch the Blue Angels practicing at their base in Pensacola NAS (KNPA).

Although subject to many restrictions and special operating procedures, pilots can still complete the training and receive approval to have general aviation access into the College Park (Maryland) Airport in the heart of Washington, DC (KCGS).

I have to mention Kitty Hawk (First Flight Airport, KFFA) for the historic value. You can park and walk to the Wright Brothers monument.

Niagara Falls airport (KAIG) has breathtaking views of the Falls.

For Michigan fans, it doesn’t get any better than summer in Traverse City (Cherry Capital, KTVC).

Bahamas
The islands of the Bahamas are a must-visit for general aviation pilots.

For the adventurous international traveler, you can’t go wrong with the Bahamas: North Eleuthera (MYEH), Stella Maris (MYLS), George Town (MYEG). Going further south, I love Turks and Caicos, Provo/Grace Bay (MBPV) and, of course, the island of Nevis (Republic of Nevis and St. Kitts), TKPN.

Looking west, for the Hollywood glamour and to mingle with some of the highest valued corporate jets on the planet, Van Nuys (KVNY) is a pilot’s treat and also subject of the One Six Right movie produced in 2005. While under fire and threat of closure currently, Santa Monica provides the unique perspective of landing in the middle of the LA metro area (KSMO).

Aspen (KASE), Telluride (KTEX), Eagle/Vail (KEGE) have some allure to pilots given the challenging altitude and weather in addition to accessing some of the country’s best ski country.

I could probably keep going. It was a welcome stroll in my mind imagining these places. So what are your favorites? What airport should be on this list of pilots’ favorites?

20 Comments

  • How about some more northern destinations???
    Toronto Island is spectacular (CYTZ)
    Narsarsuaq, Greenland has an amazing approach (BGBW)
    Castlegar, BC is also a really cool mountain airport (CYCG)

  • Lake Hood and Merrill Field. Want to see some very busy airspace? Especially if JBER has active training flights in/out as well?

  • Personally in addition to Lake Hood and Merrill Field in Anchorage, PADL (Dillingham, AK) is unique as it is also the gateway to some of the greatest salmon fishing around! And for old military bases and Space shuttle emergency diversion fields PAKN (King Salmon, AK).

  • Of the 26 civilian airports listed, I have landed at 16!
    Sedona, AZ is a unique airport on top of a mesa overlooking the red rock countryside.

  • If you missed Santa Catalina Island, you missed a rare treat. A beautiful island and an interesting runway.

  • I’m kind of a Washington pilot and some of my favorites are KORS, 3W5, and W04 (not that exciting, but good memories). I’ve also heard that 21W is beautiful and I really, really need to get up there.

    Washington State really is a terrific place to fly. Seems the author hasn’t flown here much, if at all, and that’s sad. 🙁

  • KSZP Santa Paula, California is a special place. You can expect to see many unusual vintage aircraft operating there.

  • As another Washingtonian, I second the sentiment that the author doesn’t seem to know much about flying destinations in the Western part of the country where we have real mountains. The only recognized airport in the country where you can land on the sand at the beach is Copalis State airport, S16. We have some marvelous grass strips up in the mountains like Skykomish (S88), Tieton State (4S6), Stehekun State (6S9) and my favorite, Sullivan Lake (09S). Next door to Washington State is Idaho with a plethora of grass strips that are designated as trailheads in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. You need to be familiar with mountain flying so east coast flatlanders would need some training, but it is more than worth the effort to see real terrain up close and camp next to your plane without all the light pollution of the Eastern seaboard.

  • Home is always best; for me that is 1C5 Clow International, Bolingbrook IL

    However, here are a few more I really enjoyed
    La Crosse Wisconsin Regional on French Island in the mighty Mississippi
    Asheville NC with the approach to 19 through the mountains – spectacular and a favorite of our hero Mr. Collins
    Lake County Airport in Leadville CO – Highest in NA, nicest people in the world
    Deer Valley in Phoenix – Wow spectacular desert and mountains

    So many airports, so little time….

  • I realize that this could be a near endless list, and I agree with the Alabama and Florida beaches exactly, but disappointed to see that there are no northwest or western airports – Sedona, Catalina Island, the San Juan Islands (some of the most pristine views in the US), not to mention Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado. We live in a very beautiful country and we all have our favorites, which really only speaks to how aviators should never stop exploring and visiting new and beautiful places.

  • How about the country’s highest and lowest airports–Leadville, CO (KLXV) and Death Valley, CA (L06)?

    Beautiful but completely different scenery. One has the challenge of landing and departing at just under 10,000 feet (with density altitudes that can go much higher). At the other, you can watch your altimeter unwind as you descend through 0 MSL and over 200 feet further. There aren’t many places that you can fly around below sea level.

  • Eric,

    You hit two of my favorites, KMCD and KTVC. Two others with a great approach, 5D5, Woolsey Memorial at the tip of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula and the west side of Grand Traverse Bay. Great history to this airport and its namesake. The fly-in breakfast the first Saturday in August is amazing. Usually less than 40 planes, but they server around 2300 breakfasts. The star is the cherry compote for the pancakes (this being cherry country). They also have an amazing car show at the fly-in.

    KMGN, Harbor Springs has a nice approach over the water, there are a number of smaller airports in that area as well. Nice resort communities in the area.

  • I second Toronto Island, Mackinac Island, Traverse City, Key West. I would add Santa Barbara, Victoria B.C., Unforgettable but sadly no longer available, Chicago Meigs Field.

  • On a recent high mountain flying course I learned a lot and visited some great places. From Granby at the headwaters of the Colorado, to Glenwood Springs, to Alexander, to Leadville they each had their challenges.

    Leadville was the pinnacle at jus under 10,000 ft altitude it is the highest in North America. You better have mastered leaning for best power at take off. Density Altitude of 13,600, 3 adults, and a camera rig and flying a normally aspirated Dakota was the challenge of a lifetime. Don’t try it the first time without an instructor. Thanks Howard McClurg!

  • Don’t forget Flabob (KRIR), “The Little Airport Time Forgot.” Fifth oldest civil airport in California (1925), home to EAA Chapter One, appearance and atmosphere of seventy years ago. A good old-fashioned airport cafe, interesting antiques and classics, and friendly airport bums. Don’t be intimidated by Mt. Rubidoux, just fly the published pattern at 600 agl, and it won’t be in your way.

  • I would include Sedona, Furnace Creek ( Death Valley ), Mesquite NV, Cedar City UT, Gene and Snyder KY. Any place you have to cross a river on short final.

  • I like Oceano (L52) about 11 miles NW of Santa Maria, Ca. It’s a sweet little field on the South Central Coast of California with camping spots on the beach and sand dunes nearby. Get a briefing first as it’s known to have fog coming in. I also like Catalina (AVX): last time I arrived there were about 30 buffalo visible on the adjacent hills. Once again, keep an eye out for fog-one time we had to make a hasty exit and barely got out in time.

  • If you are doing x country I would also add Raton NM in norther NM. I think it is one of the best and friendliest small town airports in the country. X wind runways, instrument approaches, crew car, heated lazy boy recliners and free candy and soft drinks. Hey life’s good.

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