by Rachel Obermoller
Pilot, MnDOT Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2018 issue
Ever show up at an event at the wrong time or with the wrong details? One of my fears, especially since becoming a parent and juggling work, home, school and kid schedules, is that my phone will ring someday with someone on the other end of the phone asking if I’m on my way. Between doctors and dentists, social engagements, organized events, and a work schedule that can have me flying early one morning and late the next night, I sometimes wonder how I manage to show up at the right time and place with the right family members in tow. I know part of our success is sharing my calendar with my husband and being diligent in entering appointments when I make them, but I also know that I’m a planner by nature and wired to deal with the details.
I like to research things: places to eat at our work trip destinations, fuel prices, transportation, and accommodation options. I read product reviews on Amazon, research the best diaper brand for the price, and know of several methods for getting a 3-year-old to follow instructions and baby to sleep through the night. (I’ll let you know if I find one that works….) I’ve refined my research methods over the years, found the websites I like the best for my repeat queries, and know which friends to call or text for sage advice, a little humor, or a good recommendation.
One of the best research methods I use for flying destinations, however, is still the trusty telephone. For instance, want to know if an airport has a courtesy car? A quick call to the fixed base operator (FBO) or airport manager will answer the question. Want to know if someone will be available to fuel you, if they have a tall enough ladder (important information for some amphibious planes), or which hotels they recommend locally? Ditto for the FBO or airport manager. Want to know if anyone will deliver food on a quick fuel stop, what the runway condition is after a snow event when there’s no NOTAM, or why the AWOS isn’t currently reporting the visibility? Again, the FBO or airport manager will generally cheerfully steer you towards the answer.
I used to hesitate to pick up the phone to call the airport manager at times, thinking “Surely they’re busy/don’t want to answer a million questions/it isn’t really that important.” But you know what I’ve discovered over the past few years? Airport managers like getting the phone calls. They wish more people would pick up the phone and call before they visit. It helps them make sure the right information is in the pilot’s hands. They can share relevant information about where you should park the plane, whether the courtesy car will be available, and what the conditions are at the airport. It helps them sell their airport and amenities, and to inform pilots about the things they can do for them and their passengers which they might not otherwise be aware of. For those airports where someone is in attendance, either working for the airport or the FBO, it lets them know why you’re pulling up on the ramp, and what if anything you might need from them.
Ever show up at a busy FBO ramp and get marshalled somewhere miles from the front door, when all you need to do is pick someone up or get a quick fuel turn? I’ll give you a hint. If you call ahead of time and tell them what’s going on, chances are you’ll end up a lot closer to the door, rather than perceived as an unknown intruder. I’ve worked at several busy FBOs over the years, and knowing who was coming and what services they might need helped us get them on their way faster, plan ramp space and parking better, and in general, provide superior service.
For seaplane pilots, this is all the more important to make the phone call. Airports are generally comprised of a swath of pavement or grass with established buildings and parking areas. I have yet to find a seaplane base anywhere near Minnesota where the seaplane and all obstructions on the lake are clearly marked or the most convenient parking spaces are painted with a yellow “T.” The chart supplement doesn’t always clearly communicate the fuel situation, ramp and parking provisions, or other amenities. The person who does know the answer is just a phone call away though.
The phone number for the airport manager is published in the FAA Chart Supplement (also known as the “Green Book,” formerly the Airport/Facility Directory, and sometimes still called the A/FD). Sometimes a secondary phone number will be published in the remarks as well, but beyond that, there’s not much in the way of contact information available there. There are several websites and other directories which list FBOs and businesses at an airport or seaplane base. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics publishes a handy book called the Minnesota Airport Directory & Travel Guide. Each address with a valid Minnesota aircraft registration receives a copy of the directory. We used to publish the directory in January, but now that we use aerial imagery for the directory, we aim to publish and mail the directory in February. This allows us to try to capture any changes from the previous year with more accurate aerial photos.
In our directory, you’ll find the airport manager’s phone number and email address, as well as a contact person listed. This might be an employee at the airport, the local FBO, or someone who has volunteered to answer questions people might have about the airport. At some Minnesota airports, the manager is an employee at city hall or in the public works department, so having another contact listed can be really helpful. Additionally, you’ll find contact information for FBOs, businesses on the airport, information about courtesy cars and transportation, fuel, facilities for pilots and passengers, local dining, and lodging. It’s not the only place, but a good place to start when you’re looking for information about the local community.
To obtain a copy of the Minnesota Airport Directory & Travel Guide, the first and best place to look, where we keep the information current throughout the year, is our website, www.mndot.gov/aero. Click on the “Publications” tab and you’ll find a link to the “Airport Directory” page. There are low resolution and high-resolution PDFs available there, which you can view online or download to your device and carry with you, instead of a printed publication. If you want a paper copy, you can also find a link to order one from us there. They are free of charge (one copy per person), and available until our inventory runs out during the year.
Recently, it’s become rare for me to not make a call before I go somewhere. Whether it’s for information gathering, or to inform the FBO of our plans, it’s helpful for both parties and usually makes the trip much smoother. Plus, sometimes they tell us about a good new place to eat. Nobody likes a hungry pilot.