A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

September 2012    

The Easiest Way to an Airport  

Back in the early 1970’s when I was learning to fly, my lessons took place at the airport in Prince George, British Columbia. Private license training extended over one winter. In northern B.C. the weather can be terribly cold, and forty years ago, there wasn’t any global warming yet. So the ice and snow didn’t melt until we were way into spring.

The cold and the snow were always obstacles to flying. I learned how to operate a Herman Nelson heater before I could start up an airplane. Ice fog could be as thick as falling, blowing snow. The little Cessna 150’s we flew struggled to provide cabin heat sufficient to defrost the windows. The pilot needed to wear many layers of clothing.

Oddly enough, the most dangerous part of all was not the flying. It was the drive to the airport each morning on icy, snow-covered roads. And as I recall, there was always a lot of truck traffic up there. Big logging trucks mostly. Each time one would go by, my Volkswagen beetle was blown all over the ice, and visibility was reduced to zero in the blowing snow. There were many anxious moments on those highways, and I remember vividly the relief and calm I felt once airborne.

Fast forward to August of this year, I did some flying out of Victoria Airport (YYJ). Not having lived or spent a whole lot of time in this interesting little city, I’m not entirely familiar with some of the roads and streets. But they’re not too bad to navigate, except for one spot where someone has designed and built a freeway interchange, the likes of which I’m sure has never been seen before in the history of traffic engineering. It’s so confusing for motorists that lighted signs, flashing lights, standard signs and arrows, are installed to guide traffic. But it’s not enough, so they have painted arrows, signs, directions, even pictures right on the pavement. The whole mess consists of three very small traffic circles, a bus loop, and a parking lot, all crammed into a very limited space. With about 13 entrance lanes and the same number of exit possibilities, traffic is flowing around in several different directions, at varying speeds, trying to negotiate and merge, enter and exit, all at the same time. The unfortunate part of it for me was that this interchange is the exit from a freeway to the airport. I’d face the ice and snow and trucks any day rather than use this monstrosity.

Funny enough, the people who use it regularly insist there’s no problem. They just follow the pictures on the pavement. I showed a couple of the local drivers a photograph which I took while flying out one day, and they couldn’t believe how complicated it appears. Maybe the answer is to drive it once or twice following the little pictures that show an airport, hurry right through and forget about the rest of it. If the need to go out another exit ever arises, all bets would be off as to whether or not you’d become lost, or worse, get yourself involved in an accident.

I wonder how many people have been late for their departures from YYJ because of the confusion at that interchange. How many flights have been delayed by crews reporting late for duty. The first time I found myself in that mess, I ended up not just in the bus loop, but eventually right in the parking lot, unable to decide where I needed to go to get back on the road into the airport. Making matters worse, I was caught in the morning rush, and a ferry had just arrived at Swartz Bay, turning loose over six hundred more vehicles on that highway. Finding myself forced out onto a country road, I needed a map to find another way to the airport. It would have been easier to be in a plane crash!

Many pilots avoid flying into controlled airspace where they need to talk to a controller. Some steer clear of the mountains. Others stay on the ground when there’s a bit of weather in the forecast. But those same people will head off on a highway anytime to drive to an airport. To me, the stress isn’t in the flying. More often, it’s on a road to the airport. By far, the easiest way to Victoria Airport is to fly in and land !


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