July 2004Commentary

Since You Asked

Where to park?

A call will solve transient tiedown problems

Dear Rod:
When doing either my cross-country flights or my long solo (which I haven't done yet), are there any hard and fast procedures as to where to park my Cessna 172 when I arrive and need to jump out for a few minutes to grab a soda or get my logbook signed? I know that the quick and obvious answer is the GA ramp with all the other tied-down 172s, but I'm always concerned that after stressing through all the flight planning and flying to an unfamiliar airport that I'll either accidentally steal somebody's spot, or worse, there won't be any spots open.

At my local airport there is a huge ramp right outside the terminal (in addition to the tiedown area) that I notice the corporate guys use. I'm always wondering if, in the absence of any other acceptable parking, it is permissible to just leave the plane there for a few minutes if such an area exists at my destination airport?

Mr. M

Greetings Mr. M:
If there's an operating tower at the airport, just ask the controller for progressive taxi instructions to transient parking. Unless otherwise marked, any spot is fair game. If you're landing at a nontowered airport, you can often find assistance on the local radio frequency, meaning unicom or other pilots in the pattern.

The best way to handle the problem, however, is to look at AOPA's Airport Directory Online before the flight and call an FBO at the field. Ask someone at the FBO where you should park upon arrival, and note the location on an airport diagram (the online directory includes diagrams of many airports). This makes it a lot easier to find transient parking if you've never been at the airport before. Some airport guides, like the Pilot's Guide to California Airports, for instance, provide detailed descriptions of the transient parking areas in the Parking and Fueling Information section (one very good reason to own this guide).

On the other hand, there are no regulations prohibiting you from temporarily parking the airplane on the ramp and off a thoroughfare that doesn't interfere with other airplanes. This is one reason that you might want to carry a pair of wheel chocks with you on your cross-country flight. Just to be on the safe side, however, avoid parking next to a tow truck.

Too many phone breaks

Dear Rod:
I have a question involving ground time and cell phones. I recently attended an accelerated flight school and had a very bad experience.

Most of my training has been with private CFIs in a one-on-one situation. To get to the point, I just finished my instrument rating by taking a 10-day course. During my tenure there, I was placed with four different instructors! I can understand one or two, but four seemed like a lot. (I was placed with whomever was available at the time.)

Most of the instructors thought it was OK to stop ground school every 30 minutes so they could take care of personal affairs on their phones. Do you see this at a lot of schools? I know that phones are very important and a common item, but I was less than impressed. Is it usually trial and error to find a good flight school?

New instrument pilot,

Greetings Paul:
Unfortunately, these behaviors are all too common. I'm a little surprised to hear that this occurred at a 10-day-type instrument training program, where there's typically good management and quality instruction. You'd have a very difficult time trying to convince me that shuttling an instrument student between four different instructors is good for the student. After all, it's not as if management didn't know you were coming for the training (you made a reservation, right?), nor was management confused on how long you might stay (at least 10 days, right?).

It's reasonable to assume that management would instruct the instructors to keep their nonemergency cell phone activity to a minimum and their ringers off during a lesson. A ground training break once every hour for both student and instructor would provide a sufficient pause to minimize fatigue, return phone calls, and drink coffee or recycle it if necessary.

You paid good money for this course, and you ended up being disappointed. Consider this. There are some fantastic flight schools out there. Unfortunately, not all flight schools are created equal. Poor (or no) management is nearly always the root cause of the problems these schools have. Since reputation is usually the only way you have of separating the good from the bad, every prospective student would do well to put in a little more time researching different schools first before signing up and handing over their hard-earned money. My suggestion is to talk to as many of the school's previously graduated students as possible to get a feel for that school's ability to put up before signing up.

Instrument instructor question

Dear Rod,
Can I become an instrument flight instructor without being or becoming a basic flight instructor? My intention is to prepare students only for their instrument checkride, and therefore, I am not seeking the basic flight instructor certificate.

Hope to hear from you,

With kind regards,

Greetings Mike:
Yes, you can become an instrument instructor before becoming a basic flight instructor.

Minimum runway lengths

Dear Rod:
I had a question from a student today that stumped me. She asked me if there was a legal minimum length that a runway had to have to be eligible for a precision approach. I've looked and looked, and for the life of me, I can't find the answer. Appreciate your wisdom on this one.


Greetings Tim:
The minimum runway length for a runway used in conjunction with a precision instrument approach (see the FAA's TERPS, Table A16-1A) is 4,200 feet, and it must be paved, of course. There are no "dirt" precision instrument runways even if you land your airplane dirty and think dirty thoughts while landing.

Rod Machado is a flight instructor, author, educator, and speaker. A pilot for 34 years and a CFI for 30, he has flown more than 8,000 hours and owns a Beech A36 Bonanza. Visit his Web site.