Reaching the Summit

An aviation experience of a lifetime

July 1, 2012

approach at palm springs

Photograph by George Kounis

The legendary playground of Hollywood’s elite will pull out the stops for general aviation this fall when more than 2,000 airplanes are expected to fly to Palm Springs, California, for AOPA Aviation Summit, October 11 through 13. Attractions ranging from an aerial tramway and hiking to luxury spa resorts and gaming help make Palm Springs a popular year-around destination. Great weather and extensive general aviation facilities add even more reasons to fly there. Palm Springs has been a getaway for film celebrities since the era of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is less than two miles east of the convention center—close enough for more than 100 display airplanes to kick off Summit as they taxi along city streets to the convention center in the Parade of Planes. The airport is likely to fill quickly, so Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM) in Thermal, 21 nm southeast, also will serve as a designated host airport. AOPA will provide regular shuttle service between both airports and the convention center during Summit.

Palm Springs is about 90 nm east of Los Angeles at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, which tower as high as 10,834 feet. Besides providing an impressive visual backdrop, the mountains create a rain shadow that results in a dry, warm climate with 354 sunny days per year.

The easiest route around the mountains from the Los Angeles Basin is along Interstate 10 via Banning Municipal Airport. The interstate follows the roughly five-mile-wide Banning Pass, which threads between the San Jacinto Mountains to the south and the San Bernadino Mountains with peaks reaching 11,499 feet to the north.

parade of planes

Because of the terrain, you’ll likely find yourself out of radio and radar contact in the Banning Pass below 5,500 feet msl. Typically, SoCal Approach will give you a frequency for Palm Springs Approach prior to Banning and advise you to contact the tower five to 10 miles past Banning.

Interstate 10 crests at 2,600 feet msl in Beaumont, near the Banning Pass visual waypoint (VPLBP), seven nm west of Banning. With prevailing westerly winds, weather and visibility usually improve past Beaumont. On your return flight, remember that Banning is 400 feet lower than Beaumont, so if the weather is bad at Banning, it will likely be worse at Beaumont.

Numerous windmills attest to the considerable winds in the area. The venturi effect accelerates these winds in the Banning Pass, so expect turbulence when the windmills are turning. If the strong Santa Ana winds are blowing, it’s best to reschedule your flight for a calm day.

Northeast of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park encompasses 1,234 square miles of high desert and rugged mountains between Interstate 10 and Twentynine Palms Airport (TNP). Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet agl over the park, which is a good idea anyway since you’ll need to fly above 5,500 feet msl to be visible on the Palm Springs radar.

To the southeast, the desert descends to the Salton Sea, one of the lowest points in North America at 228 feet below sea level (just 54 feet higher than Badwater at Death Valley). While the low terrain presents few obstacles, the complex of military operations areas and restricted areas for Naval Air Facility El Centro (NJK) and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma (NYL) may seem intimidating. For an easy transition, divert to the west via Borrego Valley Airport (L08) or follow V137 from the Imperial VOR (IPL) and contact Los Angeles Center on 128.6 MHz for advisories.

aopa aviation summit

Palm Springs and Thermal lie within the Palm Springs Terminal Radar Service Area (TRSA). A TRSA operates like Class C airspace, but participation is voluntary. Although it’s legal to ignore the TRSA and just check in with Palm Springs Tower before entering the Class D, it’s not advisable. Contact SoCal Approach on 126.7 or 135.275 MHz for radar advisories and traffic separation in the TRSA.

Prevailing winds at Palm Springs favor runways 31L/31R. From the Banning Pass to the northwest, pilots usually remain west of Highway 111 to avoid departure traffic and enter a left downwind.

The two FBOs, Signature Flight Support (, 760-327-1201) on the west side of the airport south of the terminal, and Atlantic Aviation (, 760-320-7704) on the east side near the threshold of Runway 31R, waive the ramp fee with a minimum fuel purchase and offer a substantial fuel discount (more than 70 cents per gallon) on weekends. In addition to discounted fuel pricing for Summit, Atlantic Aviation announced a free gift with each top-off.

Despite the field elevation of 477 feet msl, check density altitude on hot days. Summer ground temperatures can reach 120 degrees F and raise density altitude above 4,000 feet.

Special procedures will be in effect Wednesday, October 10, through Sunday, October 14, to accommodate Summit traffic. Check flight service or AOPA Online for details.

Ground control will direct aircraft to marshallers at the large ramp dedicated to Summit tiedowns. Frequent shuttle buses will run to the hospitality tent, with facilities to collect parking fees and order fuel. The Thermal airport will utilize similar procedures.

So, set your course for Palm Springs this fall. Where else can you find snow-capped mountains, deserts, and golf courses within minutes of your tiedown? The sights from the air, on the ground, and at this all-new Summit will assure a memorable trip and, like the city’s new tagline promises, it’s “A brand-new day.” Summit promises to be an aviation experience of a lifetime.

John Kounis is the editor of Pilot Getaways, a travel magazine for private pilots.

Experiential and interactive learning

How best do you learn? Hands-on, of course! AOPA Aviation Summit present s engaging education opportunities that use hands-on demonstrations and practice opportunities to help you retain and recall information when you need it most. We will feature more than 400 exhibits—from manufacturers with the latest aircraft, avionics, and gear to industry experts in flight training, continuing education, and new products. More than 100 hours of educational seminars are planned. You can even add a new aircraft to your logbook—flights in a warbird and a glider are available, as well as a flight with a CFI on glass familiarization or to simply knock the rust off.

Building community

We know the best part of being a pilot is sharing your passion with others who love to fly, too. AOPA Aviation Summit is a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow pilots and owners. You can share your experiences and learn from others. You can develop a network of people who share your passion. At our After Hours AOPA LIFT lounge in the Spa Casino, you can mingle with aviation experts, exhibitors, and other attendees as well as attend the many social events planned. Don’t miss A Night for Flight benefit at the Riviera Hotel; the California Dreamin’ Resort Party; the Wild West Desert Adventure; Companion Lunch; Aviator’s Breakfast; and so much more. We have partnered with the American Bonanza Society to hold the ABS convention during Summit with special events.

Chart your own course

With more than 400 exhibits and á la carte options, you have the flexibility to customize your own individual Summit experience. Stay all three days or choose from a variety of options to customize your Summit visit that is relevant to you. And with 100 aircraft surrounding the Convention Center, the opportunity to get up close and personal with all of the latest aircraft and their manufacturers is second to none. And join fellow aviators and industry experts—and the Who’s Who of aviation—in our Interactive Lounge, open to all each day of the show. Attend the social events and tour fantastic Palm Springs—your experience can be rich with learning opportunities or delightful with fun activities. Or you can have both! The choice is totally up to you.

Take flying to the next level

No matter what your aviation experience level, you will leave this comprehensive convention with the tools to ensure that you get the most out of your flying life. Because you can meet with all of the experts in their fields, your individual needs can be met. You can take coursework and have hands-on experiences that will make you a safer pilot long after your Summit experience is over. And new product showcases all throughout the Convention Center and at the aircraft display will ensure you are up to date on the latest offerings from the general aviation community.