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Training Tip: Are you comfortable at towered and nontowered airports?Training Tip: Are you comfortable at towered and nontowered airports?

A flight instructor who flies from several local airports is standing in the general aviation terminal of the area’s large towered airport, watching through the big picture window and listening on a handheld radio while a student pilot solos in the pattern.
Students should receive training and become comfortable soloing at towered and nontowered airports alike.

“So, you are working from the big airport today,” says a member of the line crew.

Not exactly, explains the CFI. “This student pilot is from the nearest outlying airports,” the instructor explains. “We flew over here together, flew the pattern a few times, and now the student is flying on her own (and doing a nice job handling the interesting mix of traffic).”

Later in the day, the CFI will reverse the drill—taking a towered-airport-trained student into the world of common traffic advisory frequencies (CTAF) and “uncontrolled” airports for the first time.

In either case, the sooner the better. Regardless of whether your airport is magenta or blue on paper, make sure that an airport of the other color quickly becomes just as comfortable a place to fly from as your home aerodrome.

For the student transitioning from magenta to blue, an obvious difference to be mastered is learning how to communicate with air traffic controllers during arrivals and departures. But that’s not the whole story. Flying right-hand patterns, or partial patterns, and making position reports can be part of the unfamiliar drill: “November Six Two Zero Tango Tango, radar contact, report two-mile right base to Runway 33.”)

Don’t err by assuming that the student pilot who transitions from a blue airport to a magenta field will have an easier time of it because of the experience acquired at the busy blue base. This student must learn the procedures for selecting the proper runway to use on a calm day or with no local traffic or Unicom operator available to offer suggestions at the nontowered airport.

Also, not all magenta airports are as tranquil as the one described. Picking one’s way into a plentifully populated purple pattern can present a daunting introduction to nontowered airport arrivals and departures. So monitor CTAF traffic carefully, keeping two points in mind: Many nontowered airports in an area may use the same CTAF. And, no-radio aircraft are common members of nontowered-airport communities. This is still visual flying!

Two airports may be separated by 10 nautical miles but seem worlds apart. Paying frequent visits on your practice flights will make them both feel like home.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Pilot Training and Certification, Flight Training, Student

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