The shortage of airline pilots has driven flight training to new heights and the good economy has brought many rusty pilots back to flying. As I write this article, just in the past week alone, I’ve spoken to three such pilots.
Flight schools and rental companies are expanding radically to meet this need. At Embry-Riddle, this past fall saw the largest class of aviation students in the college’s history. In addition to the student expansion, Embry-Riddle is also receiving additional training aircraft to help meet students’ needs.
Other companies on the field, such as Leighnor Aircraft, have seen this past fall become extremely crazy in terms of business expansion. Leighnor Aircraft started September flying two aircraft – two Cessna C-162 Skycatchers light sport aircraft (LSAs). As of the first of December, we are now flying six aircraft. Two of these aircraft are instrument certified 4-seat aircraft that are extremely good for cross-country trips. We now have a Cessna C-177 Cardinal and a Cessna C-182 Skylane available for pilots to rent. We also can offer Instrument Rating training.
In addition to these new rental aircraft, Leighnor Aircraft launched our advanced flight training program, which offers training that is hard to find nationally. We now offer tail wheel endorsement training, spin training, upset recovery training and basic aerobatics. This training is done in our very sharp Super Decathlon tail wheel aerobatic trainer.
On top of all this craziness, Leighnor Aircraft is expanding operations to Cottonwood airport, taking over operational management of Kestrel Aviation Services, which will be named Leighnor Aircraft-Cottonwood starting this month.
Other companies on the field are flying more hours and seeing more students. If you’re out at the airport on a nice flying day, the airport is now quite busy.
The Prescott Airport just broke ground on its new terminal in December and additional SkyWest departures will be coming in 2020. In addition, the runway extension project has been accelerated. Even though the timeline has moved up, this work is multiple years from being completed just because of the amount of process and approvals that are necessary to undertake such a project. Once completed, the runway extension will allow our existing jet aircraft to depart with full passenger loads even on hot days in the summer. Furthermore, this runway extension will allow SkyWest to start flying the next larger size of regional jet.
The challenges the airport faces are equally numerous. Managing all the construction projects with all the airport traffic will be a test of project management skills. Even as airport traffic increases, construction will be ongoing that will impact all airport users.
For Embry-Riddle and the flight training and rental companies like Leighnor Aircraft, managing growth of this nature is much like walking a tightrope. One wrong step and down you go!
For pilots, just getting in a line to take-off and fly can result in a line that’s seven or more aircraft deep! There are also times now where the airport traffic pattern can be too full, and pilots must wait outside this traffic pattern to get in line for landing. A traffic pattern, for those who might not know, is basically a rectangular pattern that is used for aircraft to take-off and land. One side of the rectangle runs right down the runway and the other side of the rectangle is roughly a half-mile away. Aircraft must maintain specific separation and be under control of the Prescott tower while in this traffic pattern to take-off and land.
For those of you who might want a nice visual picture of what I’m talking about, go to these links:
For General Aviation pilots, a big challenge will come probably by the time you read this article. Some time in January 2020, all General Aviation gates will go under ID badge control. What this change means is that everyone going through a gate will have to have his or her own ID badge to access the airport security perimeter. Right now, this change does not include Embry-Riddle, but all GA gates will be impacted.
With all this expansion and the construction of homes close to the airport, General Aviation pilots need to become more engaged with the airport community. Please consider joining the Prescott Airport User’s Association to help make sure the voice of General Aviation is heard.
Welcome to 2020! QCBN
By Lance Leighnor