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Travel by GA is the best way to spend a last summer weekendTravel by GA is the best way to spend a last summer weekend

Cape Cod and the islands

Editor's note: Before traveling to any location pilots should check local COVID-19 restrictions, travel bans, and quarantine policies.

“Traffic is only down about 7 percent,” my friend in Orleans, Massachusetts, tells me. Orleans is a town in the “lower Cape,” the long third of the arm-shape spit of land that reaches 65 miles into the Atlantic that we know as Cape Cod.

Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket. Photo courtesy of Tim Grafft/Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism.

Starting at the beginning of the arm are Sandwich, Falmouth, and Mashpee; the upper arm includes Hyannis, Barnstable, and Dennis; the elbow is home to Orleans, Chatham, and Harwich; and the forearm encompasses the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro, ending at Provincetown. It’s a mecca for tourists, beachgoers, and boaters in the summer months, traffic a nightmare along the two arteries Route 6 and Route 6A. But even though COVID-19 has affected this summer paradise, it hasn’t totally kept people away. “We’re having a busy summer,” my friend, a craftsman on the Cape, tells me. “Airline traffic is down, but people are still coming.”

For a general aviation traveler, the Cape is a wonderful fly-in destination. And the six airports on this 340-square-mile sandy coastline are all within easy distance of many of the charming aspects of this beautiful area. From Plymouth Municipal Airport near the bridges over Cape Cod Bay to Provincetown Municipal Airport on the tip of the Cape; Falmouth Airpark, Cape Cod Airport in Marston, and Barnstable Municipal Airport-Boardman/Polando Field  in Hyannis; and Chatham Municipal Airport in Chatham, a GA pilot can enjoy the Cape reasonably during this pandemic. Towns on the Cape require masks and social distancing, but the airports are open and taking extraordinary measures to keep travelers safe and virus-free.

The quintessential GA airport is in Chatham. Its 3,001-foot-long runway is just two miles from the center of town, and bicycle rentals as well as car rentals and taxis are available. If you’re curious about the shark sightings and burgeoning seal population on the Cape, an overflight here will tell the story. And for the true Cape Cod experience, visit the Chatham Bars Inn overlooking Chatham Harbor and the ocean on Shore Road. The historic main inn was built in 1914 and its restaurant offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Also stop in at Chatham Fish & Lobster for a real seafood wholesale market experience; you’ll share the pier with some hungry seagulls as the boats are unloading the day’s catch.

Barnstable Municipal Airport and Provincetown Municipal Airport are served by airlines such as Cape Air and JetBlue. Barnstable has two long runways at 5,253 feet and 5,425 feet. It’s two miles from the town of Hyannis, which is known as “the capital of the Cape” and famous for Cape Cod Potato Chips and the home of the Kennedy family in Hyannis Port. Hyannis is also the site of the ferry port to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Provincetown Harbor. Photo courtesy of Tim Grafft/Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism.Provincetown Municipal Airport is beautifully located along the Cape Cod National Seashore and just two miles from the historic and charming seaport. With a 3,502-foot-long runway, the airport can accommodate most GA aircraft. In the town, you’ll find restaurants, shops, and an active harbor where you can take whale-watching excursions or watch the local fishermen bring in their catch. A tradition for seafood lovers is the Lobster Pot on Commercial Street in the heart of town. A “town crier” lures you into this historic restaurant that overlooks the harbor.

Plymouth isn’t technically on the Cape, but it is a gateway to the area—and a charming, historic seaport in its own right. You might know it as the home of Plymouth Rock (spoiler alert—it’s not very big), and it is one of the oldest towns in the United States. With two 4,350-foot-long runways, Plymouth Municipal Airport has some scheduled service but is not towered. (AOPA hosted one of its 2014 fly-ins at the airport.)

Falmouth Airpark has a 2,298-foot-long runway and grass taxiways in a fly-in residential community. It is the only one of its kind in Massachusetts. Falmouth is famous for its village of Woods Hole, home of the 90-year-old Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Cape Cod Airport in Marston Mills is an 80-acre grass field once used as a training field for the Army Air Corps. Biplane rides are offered in a replica Waco YMF–5.

The real bonus of flying GA on the Cape are the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Social distancing on an hourslong ferry ride across Cape Cod Bay with modified scheduling because of COVID-19 can’t compete with a GA flight to Nantucket Memorial Airport or Martha’s Vineyard Airport off the south coast of Cape Cod.

Nantucket Memorial Airport is a busy place in the summer. This island (called The Gray Lady because of its foggy weather) is 30 miles off the Hyannis coast. It has commercial service and three runways—6,303 feet, 4,500 feet, and 2,696 feet. COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Check the website. If you plan to stay overnight in Nantucket, visit the Jared Coffin House, a landmark hotel in the historic district.

Martha’s Vineyard Airport is also a busy summer destination and served by commercial airlines. It has two runways—5,504 feet and 3,327 feet. The real charmer is Katama Airpark, a grass runway right on the beach! Located in Edgartown on the island, this airfield was once used by the Curtis Wright Corp. and founded in 1924. Watch biplanes from the deck of the Right Fork Diner.

Boating around Chatham. Photo courtesy of Brian Morris/Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism.
Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
Topics: US Travel, Travel

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