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Training Tip: Early birds and night owlsTraining Tip: Early birds and night owls

Two student pilots are comparing their cross-country flight experiences in an exchange of stories reflecting the different nature of their recent flying.

AOPA file photo.

For one, arriving to the hum and bustle of a busy airport in Class D airspace during the morning push was a not-to-be-forgotten experience.

For the other, landing at night at an airport in Class E airspace after activating the pilot-controlled lighting by flying a mandatory right-hand traffic pattern, noting the presence of obstacles, and landing beyond a displaced threshold highlighted the storytelling session.

Imagine their surprise at realizing they had landed at the same airport.

Your cross-country training should include plenty of variety in the size, operational considerations, and airspace classes of the airports you visit. But that doesn’t always mean crossing an airport off your list after a single visit. Many airports undergo a day-to-night personality shift when the control tower closes or the folks at a nontowered airport’s fixed-base operation knock off work. That makes it important to know how, and if, you can buy fuel or get other services after hours.

When an airport’s tower controllers go home, Class D airspace reverts, typically to Class E airspace. That doesn’t mean flight activity ceases, so check the airport’s listing in the chart supplement for reverted-airspace procedures. At many airports, the tower’s radio frequency serves as the common traffic advisory frequency, and the CTAF also may control some airport lighting systems. (At Easton/Newnam Field in Maryland, right traffic patterns are flown to two runways, and the chart supplement listing directs pilots to the Special Notices section for details of noise-abatement procedures to follow when the tower is closed. Study up before the flight. The procedure involves reporting and altitude requirements. Departing aircraft must make specified turns from some runways after takeoff, and intersection takeoffs are not allowed.)

Even your home airport may seem like unfamiliar territory during off-hours. If you are leaving early in the morning on an all-day cross-country flight, it may help to ask that the aircraft be fueled to your specifications in advance. Request that it be positioned outside, if hangared, or placed just inside the hangar doors, for ready access.

Quiet times or not, airports are still airports. Stay alert for other traffic; probably you are not the only local pilot who savors the secret joys of a dawn takeoff or a late-night landing.

Have you noticed night-and-day differences of the airports you have flown in to? Share your observations at

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 a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airspace, Flight Training, Student
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