FBO’s: Thumbs UP and DOWN!

I can’t tell you how many airports I’ve visited in my decades of flying as PIC and passenger, but seems I leave each airport with an unmistakable impression and a new story. As stories go, sometimes it’s a crazy final approach – a flat out, hold-on-to-your-headset, bumpy ride in. Or it might be interesting locals who keep me in suspense with their flying stories. I’ve happened upon hangars of incredible taildraggers, award winning homebuilt projects, and a treasure trove of the best junk ever discovered on an airport! Where ever I go, whatever I find, I love the random, unexpected encounters and I get a huge kick out of remembering them.

Along with the airports come the FBO’s too. Five this weekend – three that I’d like to tell you about. I’m going to give a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ to each. I know- I know. Who am I to judge?! I don’t have any money in their game, I’m just a lowly pilot trying to get from here to there, get the most bang for my buck and hopefully get a decent reception wherever I fall out of the sky.

So here ya go. Tidbits from this weekend’s flying. Three airport visits were particularly interesting.

thumbs downKOLE Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport, Olean, New York. This is a publicly owned airport that sits atop a small plateau, elevation 2135′ with 250′ drop offs at both ends. For flat-landers it’s a fun, maybe rarely seen, approach…for everyone else…not worth talking about.

The Boydster and I landed there today in his RV7 looking for a cheap fuel stop, wanting wifi to check weather that was deteriorating at our destination to the west, get a quick potty stop in and grab something to drink. Fuel – got it! The rest – Out Of Luck. The place was locked up tighter than Ft. Knox with at least one camera spanning the ramp in sight. Some airports will leave instructions like “enter airport unicom” to get inside the FBO but not an option here. And if there was wifi inside, it didn’t bleed thru outside so no luck checking weather.

And that leaves the pee thing. Check the video footage at KOLE for details!

It’s really a shame such a nice airport doesn’t make access available for the many pilots not arriving during standard “working hours”.


KOLE Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport, Olean, New York

Ladies thumbs upKPWM, Portland International Jetport, Portland, Maine. A publicly owned airport and the gateway to all things Lobster. Whether you land at PWM or any of the dozens of great airports in Maine, you must visit this wonderful state! There are two FBO’s at Portland Airport, Northeast Air and MAC Jet. I’d never heard of either of them. Our trip to Maine was a last minute decision and I called MAC Jet trying to find a rental car on Friday afternoon, planning to arrive at noon Saturday. When I say I called MAC Jet, it was because self-serve fuel was .79 cents a gallon cheaper there than their competitor.

Not only did they have a mid-size Avis car available for $35 a day but they acted like they couldn’t wait for us to get there. I had to clarify. “I’m sorry, but we’re not flying a jet, we’ll be in a tiny RV-7 – a homebuilt-  we’ll put the fuel in ourselves, wait in line however long it takes to get a car for $35, and be out of your way in no time. The response was now even kinder and nicer than ever!

So we arrive Saturday noon as planned and that’s when amazing things began to happen. We pull up to the self-serve pump and three happy, smiling, friendly FBO guys converge on our aircraft. They help push it right up to the pump, fuel us, bring our car round, tie us down, you name it – they did it. What the heck? Nobody does this! The office girls introduce themselves the moment we walk in and the story starts to unfold. I’m told that when I called and booked the car, I was their very first customer ever. They are a brand new FBO on the field with a beautiful, brand new building, beautifully decorated with any amenity you can image. Want a gym to workout, a full kitchen to kill some time, snacks galore, sleeping room, conference room, they’ve got it all. When we taxied in on Saturday, we were their second customer ever! They loved us and we loved them. I didn’t get pictures but just imagine the best and you’ve got it. Please visit. Somebody needs to make up for the free parking and more they gave us.

Thumbs up
KAXV, Neil Armstrong Airport, Wapakoneta, Ohio. This airport is everything pilots are looking for when times are good … and not so good. Neil Armstrong Airport, named after the first man to set foot on the moon, would be proud.

We landed at KAXV today, totally unexpected, temporarily weathered in, and weren’t sure what was about to happen when we rolled up to the fuel pump. No one was around and it could have been another ‘stuck in the middle of no where’ moment. But alas, this fine airport gets it!

From the ramp, the back “porch” door opened and I was happy thinking, we can at least hang out in this enclosed porch if it starts to rain. But things got better. The inside door to the office actually opened. OMG – we’re in! No one was home but the TV was on (a friendly sign), their computer up and running to check weather, bathroom good, frig stocked with snacks to buy, and there was a comfy sofa and chairs in case we had to spend the night. We hit the jackpot! Only it gets better. It’s past lunch time and there’s a car outside – the typical old airport courtesy car. I check it and it’s unlocked and with a little searching, I found the key they surely left just for me!

Judy Neil ArmstrongThank you, Neil Armstrong Airport. Turns out we didn’t actually need to spend the night in your cozy FBO but appreciate that you would have taken us in. We did borrow your courtesy car for a quick lunch, very much appreciated.

You must be pilots, just like us, and you’ve no doubt found yourselves in similar situations. Thanks for your hospitality!

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