Private pilots get their kicks down under

Pilots of small private planes in Australia are being offered a chance that’s normally blocked to them, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.  A tip o’ the hat to Australian reader Andrew for sending me the link.

Private pilot Mark Keech has flown in and out of Sydney Airport as a passenger many times, but he never thought one day he would do it from the cockpit.

That changed recently when he flew a Piper Cherokee 140 four-seater aircraft onto one of Sydney’s main runways, which stretches nearly four kilometres [about 13,000 feet].

“I can land this thing in about 250 metres [about 800 feet] and they told me to get off the first taxiway as quickly as I could [because another plane was coming],” he said.

“The first taxiway is one kilometre [about 3,300 feet] away, and I said to my daughter we’d have to take off again just to get to it.”

Mr Keech is one of many small aircraft pilots taking advantage of Sydney’s eerily-quiet airport during COVID-19.

Ordinarily, Australia’s largest airport sees at least 800 plane movements per day.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, that number has been reduced to about 60 movements, mainly of freight jets.

“Normally the airspace isn’t available, so [for hobby pilots] to be able to tick Sydney Airport off in their logbook is a special thing,” [Sydney Airport airfield supervisor Nigel Coghlan] said.

. . .

Mr Keech said he had to try and manage the excitement of the occasion with making sure he followed all the necessary protocols.

“It became surreal because on one hand it was the same as landing at any other airport, but then I thought ‘this is serious, it’s an international airport and I’ve got a 777 up my arse’,” he said.

There’s more at the link.

The story reminds me of when my wife was flying her newly-restored pre-World-War-II aircraft down from Alaska to join me in Tennessee (a journey described in this series of blog posts).  She used the chain of airfields set up for the Northwest Staging Route (leading to the so-called Alaska-Siberia (ALSIB) route across the Bering Strait to the Soviet Union) from the USA through Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon to Alaska during that war.  Some of them have very long runways, in order to handle large planes – far longer than Miss D. needed for her STOL-modified liaison-aircraft-turned-bush-plane.  At one of the airports in the Yukon, she touched down on its nearly 10,000-foot main runway, using less than 10% of its length, only to find that the FBO she needed was at the other end of the runway.  Undaunted, she simply took off again, flew down the length of the runway, and landed once more at the far end!

I’m glad the operators of the Sydney airport are encouraging their light aircraft pilots to make use of the facilities.  It must get interesting for the air traffic controllers, having to fit small, slow single-engined planes in between honking great jet airliners.  The small planes’ landing speed is usually rather less than 100 mph, whereas the big beasts come in at two to three times that velocity – an interesting calculation in terms of vectors and closing speed.  The small plane pilots must find it equally interesting.  The prospect of “a 777 up my arse”, as Mr. Keech put it, probably concentrates their mind wonderfully!



  1. back in 1964 I flew into San Antonio International in a Cessna 150 to take my written pilot's exam. The light plane runway was closed for repairs and I was instructed to use the commercial runway. As I made my approach the tower radioed me to expedite my approach as there was a 707 one minute on final. I was almost on the ground then and I did a hasty exit on the first available exit ramp at the most speed I had ever taxied. Seeing a 707 immediately behind one does not have a calming effect, especially for a 16 year old.

  2. I am sorry,what make/model airplane did your wife fly back from Alaska? I was not sure from the photos and didn't read all of the posts? I am thinking L-3 or L-4.

  3. As I understand it, a light aircraft following a BIG airliner needs to stay WAYYYY FAR back because the air in front is notably turbulent.

  4. @Sam L.
    "…following a BIG airliner (landing)…" is sorta like climbing the stairs behind a guy with a bad case of flatulence.

  5. Stay above the glidepathath and land beyond the point where the heavier airplane has all wheels on the ground, then zero wake turbulance

  6. I once landed a Cessna 172 at PDX. As commented above, I was instructed to expedite my landing and take the first available taxiway. As I was on short final, I spotted a pair of Air Guard F-4's impatiently waiting for me to clear the runway. As soon as I was over the line, they took off behind me, full afterburner. I was almost knocked over, and the noise was unbelievable. This was many moons ago, but I'll never forget the adventure.

  7. I remember one day when I was only about 10 being taken to watch the planes at Heathrow. LHR was a lot smaller in those days. Spectators had an enclosure with a low fence, and a good view of the Dakotas landing and taking off. In between those movements were private planes, even a 10 minute trip in a DH Dragon Rapide for, if I remember rightly, 5 shillings a passenger so my Mother took me on one. That's the equivalent of about $10 each today. The original control tower was still in use in those days, with flag-wavers to control access to the taxiway from the parking area, and Dakota, etc, passengers used ordinary folding stairs without handrails to board or disembark though the small planes were just stepped into from the ground.

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