Flying to an unfamiliar airport for the first time can be intimidating and requires a little preparation. The FAA requires us to become familiar with all available information but what exactly does that include and what resources do we have available? Your planning doesn’t end simply getting to your destination. Where do you park the airplane when you get there? How do you taxi to the parking area? What services are available? These are considerations too many pilots overlook but several resources are readily available to plan in advance. The answers to these questions can be almost limitless, especially with today’s technology, but this article will focus on the most pertinent information needed and the most widely used sources of information.
This is the FAA-approved source of airport data. Many third parties publish this information in their own format but care must be taken to ensure it is current and accurate. The A/FD is published every 56 days in paper format or downloaded directly from the FAA website. This publication provides a wide variety of information including airport data, runway data, services, hours of service, frequencies, remarks and more. It is well worth having a paper copy of the AF/D in the glove box of your airplane just in case you need to divert enroute.
This website is a wonderful source of airport information. In addition to airport and runway data you can also find information on fuel prices, rental cars, hotels, and FBO contact information. Current weather information is provided for airports with weather reporting capability as well as links to Notams and instrument approach procedures. Usually aerial photos are available to help visually distinguish the runway from the surrounding area. Often I will call the FBO at my destination airport to see if they charge for tie-down if I buy fuel, have a courtesy car available, or the current condition of the runway and ramp.
These are perhaps the most often overlooked pieces of information critical to safe flight. The A/FD is published every couple of months but sometimes information can change daily. It is imperative you review these notices to ensure you have the most current and accurate information available. Notams can be obtained through FSS briefing or the FAA website.
Most medium to large airports publish a diagram depicting a birds-eye view of the airport. This is an invaluable tool to gain situational awareness. It is highly recommended you print the airport diagram to include with your planning and make personal notes including your taxi planning and applicable Notams. If there is no published diagram for your destination use the textual information from the A/FD to sketch your own diagram. I prefer using a red pen to mark closed taxiways or note unusual areas. I also note the traffic pattern directions and altitude for quick reference later.
If you are not an AOPA member I encourage you to think about joining. Yes, I know your junk mail increases tenfold but they do provide some great resources. The AOPA Airport Directory in print edition has been a staple of airport and FBO information for over 26 years. They now provide this information online in a clean layout with up to minute weather, fuel prices, aerial views and pilot remarks. Perhaps the best feature is the most pertinent information downloadable for print in a handy kneeboard format.
These are but a few sources of information I use daily and recommend to others. Technology is rapidly changing and 3rd party providers are finding new and better ways to publish information all the time. Check these out and if you find others you recommend, please do share!