“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”
Much has been written recently by defenders of business aviation about the 5,000 airports accessible to our aircraft in the U.S. That compares with the estimated 500 that accept airline service and the approximately 70 airports that handle the vast majority of airline flights. The point is, by using a business airplane rather than the airlines you can almost always touch down within a short cab ride of your final destination. And the flight will be direct, without the connecting-flight doglegs that hound those who must rely on commercial aviation.
Here are a few examples of airports I've visited that fit this description. They all have runways long enough to accommodate jet traffic. There are good reasons for flying to their locations. And you can't get to any of them on the airlines.
We'll start with Russell County Airport in Kentucky. It has a 5,000-foot runway-long enough to accept all but the largest business jets. Lake Cumberland, with its massive marina, is a 10-minute drive, and the small airplane traffic to and from the airport largely reflects this. One pilot who overheard me telling a controller that I was going there, said, "Y'all have a nice weekend on the lake." But there is also a large Fruit of the Loom factory in nearby Jamestown, Ky., that is one of the biggest employers in the county. Though the domestic underwear manufacturing business has seen its ups and downs, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway now owns Fruit of the Loom, and the Jamestown factory is getting back on its feet.
Should the Oracle of Omaha-or any of his staff-choose to check up on the business interest in Jamestown, the airline choices would be limited to landing in Nashville or Louisville. Each requires a two-and-a-half-hour drive after "arrival." But sleepy Russell County Airport is about five minutes from the factory. (If you need a ride, Mr. Buffett, the folks at the airport will smile and offer you one.)
The second such facility is Chester County Airport in Coatesville, Pa. That's about 35 miles as a crow flies west-northwest of Philadelphia International Airport. But that 35 miles can easily represent two hours or more of rush-hour traffic. My visit was to the Sikorsky helicopter plant. I could see it clearly underneath my wings as I entered the landing pattern; and I was at my meeting within 10 minutes of shutting down the engine. Granted, it was Sikorsky, and while you might expect a large aviation-related company to be located near an airport, it's common to find many other industries close by, as well. It's easier to zone factories close to the airport-no worries about the usual residential objections to noise.
Finally, let's consider island airports. I've flown to Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles and to a few islands within sight of the New England coastline, including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the lesser-known Block Island. To get to the latter from my home in New Jersey, I could fly to Boston Logan airport on the airlines, rent a car and drive a couple of hours to Wood's Hole, Mass., for the half-hour ferry ride. Or I could just drive the six hours to Wood's Hole. Either way, it would take a good day's travel time. Or I can take my own propeller-driven airplane, fly over Manhattan (terrific view) and be on the island in about 70 minutes (I'd arrive even sooner if I had a turboprop). I've had some memorable summertime day trips to Block Island, stayed for dinner and landed back home before sunset.
When you have access to private aviation, for corporate or personal use, the runways at each of those 5,000 airports I mentioned become your own strips of magic carpet. You're able to turn three-day airline ordeals into one-day out-and-backs. And a multi-city round-robin odyssey can be completed in a few days rather than the weeks it would take on the airlines' timetable. And it doesn't just benefit you, but also those who depend on your visit to grow and sustain their own livelihood.