The longer I work as an instructor, the more amazing I am that we’re able to do anything productive at John Wayne. I want to say the airport is kind of busy, but that’s akin to saying the Pope is kind of Catholic. Understatement of the year.
Yet we somehow manage to take a person who has never been in an aircraft before and turn them into a pilot, someone qualified to mix it up with the big jets, deal with wake turbulence, handle the highly challenging radio communication, and fit into the pattern with a dozen other airplanes of all shapes and sizes.
When you stop to think about it, that’s pretty amazing. You can’t help but turn out some capable pilots in that atmosphere.
It gets even more impressive when you run some numbers. The “big bad” airport that everyone speaks of on the east coast seems to be Teterboro. Its proximity to Manhattan and the lack of reliever airports for that region make it a very popular destination for the jet set when they’re “in a New York state of mind”.
An east coast-based pilot recently indicated that he felt TEB was the greater challenge because the airspace around New York was so crowded. He went on to say that those of us here in the Los Angeles area “only have LAX to deal with”, whereas “in a small area JFK, EWR and LGA all share airspace.”
I think this is a guy who’s never been to Los Angeles. It’s not only LAX… not by a long shot. It’s Burbank, Van Nuys, Long Beach, Hawthorne, Santa Monica, Fullerton, Torrance, El Monte, Compton, Whiteman, and so on.
But when you get to John Wayne, you really start to see some fireworks. SNA may be Class C airspace, but it qualifies for Class B airspace rulemaking.
Class B airspace requires 5 million passengers enplaned per year and more than 300,000 total operations (an operation is definied as a takeoff or landing). I expect this year we’ll enplane over 5 million and serve a total of 10 million passengers, and that’s just on the airlines.
Of the 355,000 operations that take place at SNA each year (which is 57% more than TEB), 250,000 are general aviation.
I estimate that between 50,000 and 75,000 of those are just from Sunrise, the FBO where I work.
Then there’s the physical plant. John Wayne Airport is only 500 acres in size. Teterboro has 827 acres.
The one area where TEB does take the cake is, unfortuantely, fuel prices. Fuel at TEB now costs as much as $7.05 a gallon. That’s at Atlantic Aviation. We have one of these bloodsuckers at SNA, they make Signature Flight Support look really good — not an easy thing to do. And I’m not just saying that because I waited 90 minutes for a fuel truck this afternoon.
It really is a jungle out there. I first realized this shortly after I earned my pilot certificate. When you find Class B airports like LAS, PHX, and SAN far more laid back than your home base, you know it’s someplace special.
Teterboro may be famous for long IFR delays and rigid adherence to narrow departure corridors, but if you look at numbers, it’s hard to compare anything to John Wayne.