The Friday BizAv Blog - GA Connecting the World

The world's still shrinking, runway-by-runway

Dave Higdon  |  29th October 2015
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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Remote Runway


Aviation's reach, coupled with its vast aircraft variety, make it possible to access the world's most-remote locales,  as Dave Higdon highlights below. Yet many people around the world miss out on those benefits…

For some it comes down to a lack of knowledge about the aviation option holding back their use of aircraft. Others miss out for the lack of infrastructure needed to support regular, routine aircraft visits. We always celebrate word of new converts, however...

One such conversation with a medical professional of my acquaintance took an interesting turn recently. The doctor sang the praises of a suggestion received from me and another pilot suggesting he fly a circuit he drove several times monthly. On those road trips the physician drove to several outlying communities over a three-day period, starting hours before dawn and ending close to midnight on the last day.

He made do for many years, but found himself in a bind recently when his personal vehicle went “on the fritz” late the evening before starting one of the scheduled trips – a crisis that he confesses pushed him into trying an airplane for the first time. He chartered a single-engine aircraft the night before he made the trip, and over the course of the following days learned first-hand of aviation's benefits, including:

• Sleeping-in an hour later;

• Reviewing files en route (as opposed to watching the road while driving); and

• Arriving at the first stop better prepared and less stressed than usual.

After the last appointment on Day One, he and his assistant landed at the next city early enough to check in to their hostelry and have a leisurely dinner before retiring.

“I wasn't exhausted from two long drives. It felt more like normal,” he noted.

The benefits continued to present themselves across three more towns over two further days, and the doctor returned home earlier than ever – and the least exhausted he could ever remember being.

Today, he understands why small-town airports provide gateways to the world. And he understands his good fortunate to live where plenty of airport options exist. From that trip onwards, he opts to fly.

Amazing as it might sound, though, in the 21st Century not all populations enjoy an available airport. That's about to change for folks living in one remote section of the world…

Another Community Connected

The change started last month when a Beech King Air touched down on a brand-new runway on the small South Atlantic island of Saint Helena (check out the video footage below). It is certainly rare that a new runway comes to a community – particularly one as distant as Saint Helena, which stands out because it is the island's first airport and runway.

History buffs might recognize the island... Nearly 200 years back a British ship delivered the defeated French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte into exile. Located far to the south, and days-worth of sailing west from Capetown, St. Helena was a place from which Bonaparte could never escape. Only now is reaching Saint Helena becoming a little easier.

Little ship traffic visits this once-busy port-of-call, but on September 15 the runway hosted its first landing, notably a Beech King Air 200.

Construction continues on the island that Bonaparte called “this cursed rock”, with an eye toward a 2016 opening for the airport and a new airline in the works to link St. Helena to the UK.

Nevertheless, expect the King Air to be a harbinger of Saint Helena's air transportation future, with General Aviation flights providing the dominant air travel link for the island's 4,250 residents.

Thus, 112 years after the dawn of the age of aviation, it's always heartening to see new people discovering the value of a viable runway – and the world access they provide, whether a medical professional tending a widely dispersed patient population, or a population on a remote island gaining same-day access to the rest of the world!

And it’s all thanks to General Aviation aircraft and the runways they use. Hundreds of places in the US could use progress similar to Saint Helena's, given the loss of thousands of airports in the past 30 years. Spread the word…

Share your experiences via the Comments Box below.

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