Her warm waters and gentle trade winds conspire to attract an abundance of wildlife to this world of remarkable contrasts. All the ingredients of a spectacular destination – great weather, hospitable people, world-class attractions, and professionally run accommodations and guest services lure travelers from around the globe. Florida – one of the world’s premier destinations. But increasingly, accompanying the wonders of this international playground are long hours of tedious, frustrating travel on traffic-choked expressways or airline ticket counter and baggage claim lines that seem to go on for ever.
A growing niche of adventure travelers, however, bypass these frustrations while enjoying unparalleled access and convenience. Real-life Indiana Jones’ pilot their own aircraft on family vacations that become adventures of discovery. Whether by personally owned airplanes or rentals from regional airports throughout the country, over 9 million people visited the Sunshine State by private aircraft in 2003. Florida airways are superb for such voyages, combining the safety of protected U.S. air space, a global-leading aviation infrastructure, extraordinary weather, and hospitable terrain. Florida, McManus, Air travelThese are the reasons why so many of the nation’s leading flight academies are located here and why the state has been a major military aviation training locale since before WW II. The state is served by 131 well-maintained public-use airports and over 700 private landing strips.
Only two states have more miles of shoreline than Florida. While it touches the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the area is surprisingly manageable with private air travel. Most single-engine piston aircraft can travel from coast to coast in just over an hour. And nothing compares to the luxury of taxiing your own aircraft within a few feet of your doorstep at a romantic fly-in bed and breakfast. Or flying in to some of the most remote regions of the Everglades and landing at a quaint fishing village or authentic Indian Reservation. horseback in floridaThere are places where you can gallop your magnificent horse along miles of unspoiled Atlantic surf. And nowhere can compare to the continent’s southernmost outpost, and home to its only living coral reef – the Florida Keys. Several metro areas are proud to offer the accommodations of increasingly rare downtown general aviation airports. These airports are welcome portals to all the amenities of the metropolitan areas and their magnificent hotels, without the negative transportation issues related to major cities. No other means of transportation provides the incredible access and style of travel than private aircraft.
Not all aviators choose to travel alone. A growing number of aerial travel hosts sponsor guided air tours for small groups of planes, often providing special access to restricted locales or behind-the-scenes VIP privileges. The camaraderie of exploring with like-minded adventurers adds to the ambiance of the journey. Convenience is enhanced when most of the planning, reservations, ground transportation, and other details are provided by their host. And they appreciate the peace-of-mind that comes from local knowledge, personal contacts, and professional relationships that ensure a smooth running, pleasant, and carefree trip for every member of their party. Pilots are not required to have instrument ratings nor to fly in formation to participate in these trips.
General Aviation tour operations first began in remote and far-flung regions of the globe such as Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Alaska. The safety of these air tours enticed pilots to fly to areas they would not likely venture on their own. As the popularity of this type of private air vacation grew, companies sprang up stateside to provide the same level of outstanding service without the globetrotting prerequisite. Shorter, more manageable air vacations could now be planned without having to cross oceans and international borders, or to endure budget-busting, schedule-straining mega trips. Some of these U.S. operations, particularly those serving Florida, are tailored to long weekend get-aways or are tagged on to previously scheduled business trips or family visits to the area (see links below).
Local aviation enthusiasts often benefit from well-organized flying clubs that offer many of the advantages of the professional organizations. Some flying clubs plan weekend or longer “fly-outs” to regional attractions or aviation events, such as the spring Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, FL, often saving their members on lodging or attraction admission fees. And not all club members are licensed pilots. Fellow club members are often thankful to have extra guests share some of the expense as well as the experience. But it is the fun of flying together and the insight and personal connections of well-informed group leaders that make flying clubs a very attractive alternative for local flying families.
Freedom, adventure, beauty, escape …
these are some of the reasons many of us learned to fly? As Charles Lindbergh once said, “…aviation offers it all”. Five hundred years before Lindbergh, the great great grandfather of “aviation” observed … “Once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes cast skyward. For there you have been and there you will forever long to return.” (Leonardo DaVinci, 1509.) Even if you haven’t yet taken the plunge to learn to fly, perhaps some of your friends or associates are pilots. Most airmen and women welcome the chance to share their passion with others. Most also welcome the opportunity to share the costs of a short venture to a far away land. Experience Florida from a brand new perspective. And leave the traffic and congestion behind.