Cleared to land: Private pilots given rare opportunity to land at JFK, LAX and other major airports

Jul 26, 2020

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The airspace around the United States’ busiest airports — think JFK and LAX, for example — is usually very tightly controlled. It requires equal parts art and science to choreograph the arrival and departure of hundreds of aircraft a day, and the jumbo jets that frequent these larger airports have very strict spacing requirements due to the massive amount of wake turbulence they cause.

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While commercial air travel has rebounded slightly from its historic decline earlier this year, the number of passengers and planes flying are still significantly below their pre-pandemic levels. According to The Wall Street Journal, this is creating a once in a lifetime opportunity for private pilots to land at some of the busiest and most iconic airports in the U.S.

New York’s quieter airspace means there’s more room for private pilots to practice their skills (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

Private pilots could technically request to land at any commercial airport in the country, subject to the approval of air traffic controllers. However, these airports are often so busy that less experienced private pilots would rarely try to sneak their Cessnas and Pipers into the long line of commercial jetliners waiting to land.

While there aren’t official numbers on how many private pilots are landing at major commercial airports, The Wall Street Journal quotes a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the regions three main airports, saying that there’s been an uptick in the number of pilots requesting touch and go’s, where they land at an airport and immediately take off again.

Jon Weiswasser, a vascular surgeon from New Jersey, even filmed himself completing touch and go landings at all three major airports in the area in a single flight (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark).

The skies remain relatively empty above New York with the three major U.S. airlines all announcing cuts to their proposed August flight schedules. United Airlines, which has a hub at Newark (EWR) Airport, now only plans to operate 35% as many flights as it flew last August. American Airlines has dropped 19 long-haul routes, and Delta is rolling back its expansion plans in August, adding only 500 flights a day instead of the 1,000 the carrier had originally planned.

Industry analysts are predicting a slow recovery to 2019 demand levels, and airlines around the world are retiring hundreds of planes to prepare for a prolonged period of depressed demand. Just this week British Airways announced that it would immediately retire its 31 Boeing 747s a few days after Delta announced it would be retiring a few dozen short-haul jets, in addition to the 777s and MD-88s/MD-90s it retired earlier this year already.

Featured image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

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