Did you know that the general aviation industry in NJ helps generate nearly $4.6 billion in total economic activity? Or that the industry provides the state’s workforce with approximately 70,000 jobs? New Jersey is home to over 9,000 FAA licensed aviators and 3,500 permanently based general aviation aircraft, yet the state’s industry faces serious threats if its airport infrastructure is not maintained. The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition combats this deterioration of general aviation interests and advocates responsible growth of the industry as a means of enhancing NJ’s economy and ultimately improving quality of life.
According to Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Robert Checchio, MAAC’s primary mission is increasing awareness of citizens and legislators who may not otherwise recognize the major role that general aviation plays in supporting the best interests of the Garden State, from agricultural transport to Medevac stations. In order to do so, MAAC hosts the annual New Jersey State Aviation Conference in early May and NJ Aviation Awareness Week in late May during which they operate a staffed booth stocked with literature and aviation experts to offer education to New Jersey legislators and their staff. MAAC also supports the NJ Aviation Education Council through which local teacher and guidance counselors attend conferences to increase their knowledge on the operation of aircraft and the significance of their routes.
“We work hard to make the Department of Transportation aware of issues at smaller airports,” states Checchio. In one particular instance, an overgrowth of trees obstructed landing space at one of the state’s smaller, privately owned airports and MAAC brought this maintenance issue to the attention of the proper parties. The problem was eventually dealt with. In another recent example, citizens were opposed to the relocation of a Medevac station to their local airport due to noise concerns. “We helped them realize that this would actually greatly reduce response time in the event of a severe accident. It would also improve local security because the state police would be stationed there at the airport,” explains Checchio.
To personally demonstrate the value of skilled aviators and New Jersey’s smaller airports, Checchio invited us aboard his four seat, 1974 Piper Archer as it departed from Cape May County Airport for a quick flight up the coast. This aircraft is equipped with a 180 horsepower single engine and holds up to 50 gallons of fuel. Checchio owns the Archer in a joint partnership with three co-owners.
Before boarding the Archer, Checchio explained the key differences between the types of registered flight plans and why it may be crucial for an aviator to obtain a clearance from Air Traffic Control (“ATC”) for an intended route. For our purposes, however, he merely requested a VFR Following, or what he referred to as a “hybrid” of the other two classifications of flight plans. VFR (“Visual Flight Rules”) Flight Following is typically utilized in fair weather but when an aviator may be flying through a potentially busy area. On the way to Cape May County Airport, Checchio informed Air Traffic Control of his intended route and was then given a transponder code through which they could track his flight in order to notify him of nearby aircraft.
After explaining the ins and outs of flight planning, Checchio invited us to climb into the Archer’s cockpit where he set up the appropriate headsets, ensured that seat belts were secured, and latched the aircraft’s door. After reviewing the functions of each piece of equipment on the Archer’s dashboard, Checchio meticulously reviewed his pre-flight checklist and geared up to perform what in aviation terms is referred to as a “run-up”. The “run-up” basically ensures that the plane’s engine and electrical systems are working properly before takeoff. He then pointed out Cape May County Airport’s distinction between taxiways and runways with letters labeling taxiways and numbers indicating runways. From there, Checchio notified nearby aircraft of our departure from runway 28, and we soared off the Rio Grande ground into the air and over the Delaware Bay. Checchio utilized the trim wheel to control the rear stabilizer and level the Archer off at a relatively low altitude in order to enable premium views of the coastline. Though the skies were predominantly clear, the Archer experienced minimal turbulence which Checchio explained was actually created by heated air rising from the ground’s surface.
Checchio indicated Woodbine Airport from the air and stated that it is just one of NJ’s forty three general aviation airports, half of which are privately owned. As the flight came to a close, Checchio once again announced his intentions over the radio and completed a series of left hand turns through the cross wind, downwind, base, and final legs of flight to touch back down at Cape May Airport. Never has Cape May County looked as good as it does from the air with a master MAAC aviator.
By Megan Kummer