If you aren't used to flying to an airport in the middle of a Class B, say KJFK, it can be quite the ordeal. If you are flying into an airport where the English in use is nothing like you've ever heard before, well that can be a shock too.

— James Albright




I was fortunate to go through this process as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, where a certain amount of stupidity was expected from the rank. Yes, I said stupidity. It isn't that you are stupid, but you will feel stupid. So let's figure out a way to avoid all that.



An example of the process

The following list certainly will not fully prepare you, but it will get you started. Speaking of getting started, I recommend you look at this too: Airport Selection. It will cover many of the basics for those more exotic trips.

But what about an airport in the United States that has a fearsome reputation and you've never been? Here is what I recommend:

  1. Jepps — Pull up the Jepps and get familiar with the arrivals, approaches, runways, ramps, radio frequencies, and departures. It is especially helpful to predict the likely arrivals and departures based on your route of flight, to get to know the names so you recognize them more easily when spoken on the radio. Get an idea of which runways have the best approaches and how you can best back up a visual approach if offered. Figure out the taxi routes. Don't forget to print out any Class B areas and bring that with you.
  2. Preview the Radios — The airport may have live streaming audio of approach control, tower, ground control, clearance delivery, departure control, and even ATIS. Give http://www.liveatc.net a try. If that doesn't work, just type it into your Internet search engine, you might get lucky. If you do find it, listen to the applicable frequencies for an hour or so. Get to know the tempo and any unique phraseologies. You can better learn how things are done if you listen for a while, especially at the same time of day when you expect to fly there.
  3. Google Earth — If you don't have Google Earth, get it. It's free. With it you can get a look at the airport and surrounding terrain.
  4. YouTube — There are lots of pilots out there who take cockpit videos, wanting to share the experience. You should be able to type the name of the airport followed by the words "cockpit landing" and get a front seat view of how it is done.
  5. Peers — The best resource may be in your flight department or one of your friends from a previous life. Pick up the phone and ask "is there anything there I should know about?" An even better question is this: "Have you ever had a bad experience at ____?"
  6. ASRS — Another fine resource is the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) data base, available here: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/search/database.htm. You can search for reports by aircraft type, location, etc. It is a good way to find things that have tripped up others.

I have an example of my notes above of Washington Dulles. I really recommend the Internet sources I've given here. You have a huge advantage these days in that you can visit a lot of these airports from the comfort of your home or hotel room. In my early days we called this "chair flying," where you flew the entire flight in your mind to foresee the problems. "Be the ball." Now you can do it and actually learn from the experiences of others. Good luck.