The Liberty Gazette
Oct 6, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
We thought we’d share our answers to questions we’re often asked about flying, so for the next couple of weeks we’ll pick a few of the most common ones. If you have a question, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question 1: Do you need permission to land? This question is usually accompanied by do you have to pay to land?
In the United States an aircraft can legally land anywhere it needs to in the event of an emergency, but there are some rules about non-emergency landing. Of the approximately 30,000 designated landing facilities in this country, only about 5,000 are publicly owned. Many privately owned airports are provided by their owners for public use. For most aircraft, most public use airports are fair game for landing. Reagan National in Washington D.C. requires extra-special permission, and only since 9/11. Military airstrips are, for the most part, off limits to civilian pilots. At other larger airports with control towers such as Bush Intercontinental, Hobby, Ellington and Conroe’s Lone Star Executive, a pilot must radio the tower and receive a clearance to land from the controller. Unless there is a really good reason not to, such as a power outage at the tower (think Chicago last year), a stranded aircraft on the runway, or some other hazard, landing is not going to be denied. If the runway is private-use only, the pilot needs permission from the property owner, just as would be needed before entering your own private property.
The above is only part of the answer however. Non-towered airports such as ours here in Liberty are called "uncontrolled". Technically, landing here does not require even a radio announcement on the local airport frequency. However, it is customary, safe, and best practice to use the radio to announce position and intentions when near an uncontrolled airport.
Fees for landing vary from one airport to another. Large airports and airports in more liberal cities and states tend to be heavier on government-imposed fees. No surprise there. The more business-friendly conservative areas tend to have fewer or no fees attached to landings, however, we do pay excise taxes on fuel. Those tax dollars received are required to be kept separate and used only for airports. Overnight fees are sometimes charged at the biggest airports if an airplane remains more than a few days or a week. For smaller venues though, there is no reason to charge fees, as this would have a negative effect on the business brought in by the utility of an airport. That business just goes elsewhere.
Question 2: What’s that big witch’s hat thing on top of the parking garage at Hobby Airport?
The mysterious and colossal white cone-shaped object that looks like a witch’s hat is a navigation beacon called a Very high frequency – Omni-directional – Radio beacon, or in pilot lingo – VOR. Sometimes co-located with a VOR is a military beacon called a TACAN. Then the acronyms are combined, making VORTAC. You may have noticed the one atop the parking garage at Hobby, but there is another in a field just north of Daisetta. These beacons pepper the landscape and were the primary means of navigation before GPS. They are still a vital part of the national airspace system, providing a backup in the event GPS signals are blocked or turned off.
We’ll have a few more for you next week. Till then, blue skies.