Aerial Underground Railroad

“The pilots flying passengers across US state lines for abortions” (Guardian, October 30):

All Steven knew was what time and where. A part-time pilot from the Chicago area, he was picking up a total stranger in his single-engine plane, a passenger who needed to fly more than a thousand miles, across state lines, from the midwest to the east coast.

The passenger was seeking reproductive health services and needed to travel to a state where they could access them. Steven is just one of hundreds of pilots across the US, who have been volunteering the use of their small planes to fly people seeking abortions and other services from states that have outlawed it to states that haven’t.

The effort to connect volunteer pilots with patients is led by Elevated Access, a non-profit organization based out of Illinois. It was founded in April in response to a growing number of women being forced to embark on expensive and time-consuming journeys in attempts to obtain abortions.

What about pregnant men? They will have to Ride the Dog (Greyhound)? A photo on the organization’s web site shows what appears to be a pregnant man in the passenger seat (front right; the pilot sits front left in most fixed-wing aircraft):

How many owner- and renter-pilots are passionate about these issues?

Indeed, since the supreme court formally stripped away federal abortion protection rights in June, Elevated Access has seen a giant uptick in volunteer pilots, with 870 pilots offering to transport patients across state lines for abortions and gender-affirming care.

How many have a valuable gender ID?

Elevated Access was set up to ease those difficulties, using the 3,000 general aviation airports scattered across the country. It recently marked a milestone by completing its first all-female pilot mission, involving seven states and two solo female pilots flying a 1,400-mile relay to transport a client. Only 6% of pilots in the US are women, it noted.

The partners?

As a referral-only organization, Elevated Access connects passengers to pilots through referrals by its partner organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation.

Here’s an interesting analogy:

“I think as pilots, we’re very proud of the freedom we have and so it seems appropriate for me to use the freedom I have to help out people whose much more fundamental freedoms – [such as] rights to medical care or decisions about how they want to control their own body – are being jeopardized right now.”

What if the better analogy is the pregnant person is the pilot and the baby is the passenger? Let’s consider EgyptAir 990.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded the captain excusing himself to go to the lavatory, followed 30 seconds later by the first officer saying in Egyptian Arabic “Tawkalt ala Allah,” which can be translated as “I put my trust in God.” A minute later, the autopilot was disengaged, immediately followed by the first officer again repeating the same Arabic phrase which can be also translated as, “I rely on God.” Three seconds later, the throttles for both engines were reduced to idle, and both elevators were moved 3° nose down. The first officer repeated “I rely on God” seven more times…

(The very first time I flew a turbojet, the Cessna CJ3 demo pilot deadpanned “You’ve disconnected the autopilot. Do you want to declare an emergency?”)

Gameel Al-Batouti was certainly controlling his own body, as the quoted pilot above says is the correct situation, and he got what he wanted. But the passengers did not get what they wanted, i.e., to emerge alive at the end of the journey.

(The article contains some misinformation, implying that pilots must file flight plans in order to travel by air. In fact, unless one wishes to fly via reference to instruments (in the clouds), no flight plan is typically required.)

Ph.D. and Ivy League grad Deplorables in a chat group reacted to this:

  • Does this mean that I can fly for free as a pregnant man ?
  • Can I get preggers every month? Oh, I might fly for abortion and change my mind and fly back and fly there again and…
  • aborting takeoff is not an option
  • They think they are Underground Railroad heroes.
  • Are planes that belong to Abortion Air are stored in coat hangars?
  • Also after each baby killed one can paint a little baby skull 💀 on the side of the plane

The organization’s mission:

Elevated Access recognizes that not all people have access to the healthcare they need due to stigma in their community. Because we believe everyone deserves access to healthcare such as abortion and gender-affirming care, our volunteer pilots provide free transportation to get people where they can get the care they need to live their best life.

What about a healthy baby subjected to abortion care at 24 weeks, as is legal “on-demand” in Maskachusetts (abortion care after 24 weeks is legal if one doctor thinks it is a good idea)? Is he/she/ze/they living his/her/zir/their best life?

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HondaJet at NBAA (third time is the charm?)

One of the long-held dreams of people in general aviation is that a car company would come in and fix all of our woes (high costs, low volumes, intensive maintenance requirements, dumb-as-bricks systems). If Honda, for example, could make an airplane that is as comfortable and reliable as a Honda Odyssey minivan, mass-produced at a reasonable price, life would be awesome.

Well, Honda actually did go into the airplane business! And it took them way longer to push the plane out the door than it would have taken Cessna or Embraer. And an operator of the first-generation plane at NBAA 2022 gave the airplane low marks. (I wrote a review of the plane in 2016.) The airplane is fueled from a single point in the tail, which requires a ladder, and can take nearly 30 minutes for a line guy (this desirable job working in the cold or heat is almost always done by those who identify as “men”) to fill. During this time there will be periodic overflows that will cover the line guy in Jet A. When finished, the plane was never able to hold the advertised maximum capacity. “We were always 100 lbs. light.” The lav is externally service, but in a non-standard way that results in some bad outcomes. “Ten percent of the Gen 1 airplanes went off the runway,” noted the operator. “They’ve maybe fixed that in the newer ones by limiting nosewheel travel depending on speed.”

The plane itself did not end up having way better specs or a lower price than the very light jet/light jet competition. Honda announced a variety of Gen 3 features at NBAA. There is an extra fuel tank under the tail, which increases the ability to accept fuel, extends range slightly. A light next to the fuel filler comes on when the massive overflow spray is imminent:

The cockpit is more or less unchanged. It is a clean Garmin G3000, with no overhead panel and a general lack of clutter:

What will be new in the cockpit are autothrottles and a big button for the amazing Garmin Autoland system.


How many Bidies for this wonderful device? About $7 million, which sadly means that all of Honda’s manufacturing and engineering expertise aren’t doing anything to bring the price of new aircraft down (it’s cheaper than the Embraer Phenom 300, but not if you adjust for size, seats, range, etc. (and the per-hour operating cost may be similar); it is more expensive than the Embraer Phenom 100 and Cessna M2 jets and provides some additional performance and cabin size).


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NBAA Report

The NBAA BACE convention, a.k.a., “NBAA”, was a fun experience even though I’m not in the market for the $20-75 million airplanes that are the core of the show.

Hurricane Ian hit Orlando on September 28, 2022. We are informed by the media that Orlando was destroyed by the resulting floods. See for example “Far from coasts, flooding from Hurricane Ian devastates inland communities” (Washington Post), “Far From the Coast, Ian Leaves Flooding and Damage Across Florida” (New York Times), and “Hurricane Ian floods hotels around Orlando theme parks as Disney World, Universal close for 2 days” (New York Daily News). Amazingly, county and state officials were able to rebuild 7 million square feet of convention center and open to the public just three weeks after the hurricane:

NBAA includes some safety talks. At a talk about a Challenger 605 accident at Truckee, I learned that only 1% of unstable approaches result in a go-around (it should be closer to 100%). The talk was also notable for the blame-the-pilot culture, with the panel of experts predictably calling for more training. Nobody asked why Air Traffic Control refused to give the pilots a straight-in approach, thus setting the crew up for failure in a vastly more challenging circling approach. Nobody asked why the $20 million machine couldn’t be smarter, e.g., by giving pilots guidance during the circle, noting the unorthodox configuration of full flaps before lining up on final, shouting out ”stall” instead of playing a confusing tone, and shouting out ”go around” like in an Embraer Phenom 300. The Challenger prohibits the use of spoilers below 300′ AGL and it was the continued use of spoilers in the fast/high approach that resulted in the stall, according to the NTSB. Given that the machine has a terrain database and a radar altimeter, why didn’t it say “you have left the boards out“? Everyone killed by the B737 Max’s runaway-trim-by-design would likely still be alive if the machine had simply spoken “I am trimming forward” when its MCAS system was operating.

Turboprops are about as low as NBAA goes. The Cessna Denali, a competitor to the Pilatus PC-12, has been afflicted with an additional year of delay because the General Electric turboprop, developed by Walter in the Czech Republic, isn’t going to be ready. The GE folks say that certification is delayed because the FAA is freaked out by all of the 3D-printed parts in the engine. The Cessna folks say that certification is delayed because the GE and Walter folks responded to SARS-CoV-2 by stopping work for 1-2 years. “They haven’t done anywhere near as many of the certification hours as they were supposed to,” said a Cessna employee. The engine looks good at least!

In other low-end news, I learned that after-market gear overhaul is now available for the Embraer Phenom 100 ($85k) and Phenom 300 ($125k). This is a 10-year item, even if the plane isn’t flown at all, and these prices are less than half of what Embraer charges, thus reducing the total cost of ownership. There were a lot of changes from HondaJet, which I’ll cover in a separate post.

What about at the high end? Billionaires can’t buy Bernie, but they can get a 787-based Boeing Business Jet delivered in 2025 if ordered today for $250 million. Lufthansa needs 2 years of prep time and then 18 months of installation time for a $120 million executive interior. The proud new owner will ride in the back beginning in 2027.

Is it wasteful of the Earth’s limited resources when a rich family travels via personal Boeing 787? Absolutely not! If the plane is filled with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the impact is less than when you take your 2007 Camry to Publix. Example:

Speaking of sustainability, I attended a talk on climate risk presented by a Massachusetts Democrat who is an executive at a big aviation lender. In a regulated industry, one of the big risks is regulatory/tax. What if righteous rage/envy results in Gulfstreams and larger being banned?

We don’t have to think about how many trees humanity could have planted for the $370 million acquisition cost of the BBJ 787. We can fix this by changing the fuel:

We still might not be able to fly conveniently because it is a proven scientific fact that hurricanes are becoming more frequent and severe (contrary to “Changes in Atlantic major hurricane frequency since the late-19th century” ( 2021); denying Science is sometimes okay). Separately, due to anthropogenic climate change it was a frosty-for-Orlando 60 degrees and cloudy on Day 2 of NBAA and everyone at the static display was seeking shelter.

I missed the first half of the climate change talk because I was at the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion talk scheduled at the same time:

My live notes from the talk:

  • “It’s absolutely not about quota.” And then … “Look at the complexion of your employee base to evaluate where your are.”
  • There are “dear friends” involved (can we agree to send everyone who uses this term to Venezuela in exchange for all of the folks that they’re sending to enrich our economy). “Lean In” is referenced tangentially. Creating emotionally safe spaces in the office is critical to safety.
  • Black pilots cannot be safe because they are constantly exposed to microaggressions [e.g., from customers and line guys and therefore out of the operator’s control] and that takes up a lot of energy [that they might otherwise be using to run checklists and focus on their job].
  • They’re sharing their diversity journeys. Executives are “very committed” and people are “walking this path together.”
  • Slide for Andrew Cuomo: “framing intimate interactions—permission & grace”.

For the those who celebrate gender ID diversity, any pronoun choice made during registration made it through to the printed badge. I’m sorry that I didn’t pick Xe/Xem:

If you’re a nerd, you’ll like all of the cutaway jet engines on display from manufacturers and overhaul vendors.

The biggest booths by far were from companies involved in selling fuel. They had the best parties with food and booze flowing freely starting at 4 pm. And live bands:

When I pointed out to an FBO owner that Million Air had taken over Marathon Key and raised the 100LL price to $9/gallon, he said “The consolidation is ongoing and probably irreversible. On top of that a lot of smaller airports are closing which traditionally served GA avgas users.” Did the government’s various coronapanic programs have something to do with this? “Indirectly yes, they lead to the largest money creation in history. That in turn caused all that money having to be spend and it was spent buying up assets like FBOs at highly inflated prices. Now the new consolidated FBO’s could and have to raise prices substantially to at least pretend to justify the huge investment. Not only fuel margins, also hangar margins, etc. are way up.”

In addition to the trade show at the rebuilt-from-the-flooding-in-record-time convention center, there was also a static display of aircraft at KORL, a 25-minute drive away. Gulfstream is the friendliest by far of the luxury jet vendors. I managed to bust into a G600:

Given that it is a clean sheet of paper design, I’m not sure why the cockpit needs so many controls.

Dassault and Bombardier give a big middle finger to any peasant who wants to see the interiors of the rich. Everything is “by appointment only”. Bombardier does remind the peasantry that it is actually the height of ecoawareness to ride solo in the back of a 100,000 lb. jet aircraft. They’re all about ESG. Greta Thunberg would be proud… if they would let her into the booth.

Let’s call this photo “Race to the Maintenance Shop” (Maserati in front of a 22-year-old Bombardier):

Vaerus Jet Sales brought the most beautiful plane to the static display (DC-3):

I managed to dominate a Facebook pilot group by posting “Certified airplanes cost too much so I have decided that it is time to buy an experimental aircraft.” over the following photo of a Gulfstream G800 and one showing a huge “EXPERIMENTAL” placard next to the front door.

The keynote by Neil DeGrasse Tyson covered the entire universe, but he did not explain how he survived cancelation after being accused by four different females. He did point out that most people are stupid because, unlike him, they don’t think scientifically (ergo, Dr. Fauci is the world’s smartest person because he personifies Science). He told the audience to “be ashamed to die until you’ve scored some victory for humanity” (he has already declared personal victory as a result of educating a lot of people). Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quite humble by comparison. Is it fun to win the Daytona 500? Yes, but it is also agony to lose. He said that he missed racing, but not the emotional rollercoaster of feeling great for a week after a win and then feeling terrible for a week after a loss. He didn’t talk about surviving a Cessna Latitude crash and fire at 0A9 (5000′ runway with a 902′ displaced threshold; good illustration of my general rule to avoid airports that don’t start with a K, i.e., those that meet ICAO standards, and also a good illustration of the statistic cited above: “Neither the pilot nor copilot called for a go-around before landing despite awareness that the approach was unstabilized.”).

Loyal readers know how much I would love to post pictures of the righteous in the crowded convention center wearing masks, but sadly the Followers of Science were thin on the ground. This is an industry where safety is always the #1 priority and the convention was packed with desk job and work-from-home heroes (actual pilots, who might be presumed to be less risk-averse, are a minority). If they’re so passionate about safety, why wouldn’t they adopt the cost-free strategy of wearing at least a cloth mask in accordance with CDC guidance?

I did find a software company whose operations are split between Sweden and California. Employees from both divisions were there. The Swedes thought that the Californians were crazy for locking down, not going into work, ordering everyone to wear masks, and closing their schools. The Californians said that the Swedes were the crazy ones, running around mask-free and sending kids to school. (Sweden, of course, ended up with a substantially lower COVID-tagged death rate and the age-adjusted death rates would be even more in Sweden’s favor (Sweden has a median age of 41 while California’s is about 37)).

What about the recession? “We’re a little less busy than we were in March 2022, which was our best month ever,” said one charter operator. “But part of that is that we don’t have capacity. Our owners are flying their planes like crazy. And there is a two-year wait to get pilots into some of the type-rating programs.”

Next year: October 17-19 in Las Vegas.


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Math for Democrats: 30 is less than 19

“Young Aviation Record-Setters Share Secrets to Success at 2022 NBAA-BACE” (, today):

Barrington Irving, founder and CEO of Flying Classroom, moved with his family from Jamaica to the U.S. and grew up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. In 2010, at age 23, he became the youngest and first African-American to fly solo around the world.

Shaesta Waiz, founder and president of Dreams Soar, came to the United States from Afghanistan with her family and quickly became fascinated with aviation. In 2017 that drove her, at age 30, to become the youngest single-engine pilot at the time to circumnavigate the globe solo.

Unless Mr. Irving had a multi-engine airplane, which a Google search reveals is false (he flew a Columbia/Cessna 400), we are forced to conclude that 30 is less than 23. Folks who remember Matt Guthmiller’s 2014 flight are forced to conclude that 30 is less than 19. (The current record-holder was just 17 years old at the time (August 2022).)

Here’s a problematic paragraph:

“To be honest, I did not resonate with Amelia Earhart,” Waiz said. “Yes, she’s a woman. But she had such a different background than me. When I read Barrington’s story and how he kind of grew up in the ghetto of Miami – a similar background to how I grew up – and I saw that he did it, that was my proof that I could do it, too.”

I hope that she was not saying “I figured that if a Black person could do it then it must be pretty easy”!

In case the article is memory-holed:

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Climate Change and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Aviation

Starting right now at NBAA in Orlando… “Climate Risks & Business Aviation” taught by a friend from Maskachusetts (an aviation lender):

Join us for an introduction, categorization and explanation of the climate risks facing business aviation. We’ll also include predictions and estimations of the impact climate has on the industry. Participants will walk away from this session with a better understanding of why this is so relevant for our industry, and how climate risks could impact the industry’s future survival.

The first casualty of climate change is diversity, apparently, because “DE&I in Business Aviation – Practical Implementation” is scheduled to conflict with the above:

How can a variety of business aviation organizations, like aircraft operators, FBOs and other service providers, successfully introduce diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) principles into their daily operations? Attend this session to get guidance and practical tips to building your organization’s DE&I strategy.

Hope to see everyone there!

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Ode to turbojet capability

Airliners and Hurricane Ian at 6 pm on Wednesday, September 28. Note Spirit (NKS517) at about 32,700′ (^32700) above the ground flying straight over the hurricane itself:

How ugly did it get on the ground? Here’s the worst-looking METAR that I found from the big airport in Fort Myers:

KRSW 281935Z AUTO 18060G87KT 3/4SM +RA BR 25/24 A2888 RMK AO2 PK WND 18087/1929

Wind from the south (180) at 60 knots, gusting 87 knots. Visibility was three-quarters of a statute mile in heavy rain and mist.

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Who is going to NBAA in Orlando?

Who wants to meet at the big business aviation conference (NBAA) in Orlando that runs October 18-22? This is the place to order your Boeing Business Jet. Photo from 2017:

I had some trouble registering this year due to the incomplete list of available pronouns:

I’m excited because Tammie Jo Shults is speaking. Also, for rednecks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and, finally, for anyone who wants to know where to go after we destroy Earth with CO2… Neil deGrasse Tyson (keynotes).


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The Naples, Florida airport fully reopened yesterday

If you want to go to SW Florida and volunteer with the recovery efforts, you may be pleased to learn that the Naples airport reopened yesterday (only from 7 am to 7:30 pm due to damage sustained by lighting). The airport reopened with PPR on Friday, just two days after Hurricane Ian made landfall, complete with control tower.

A friend lives in an oceanfront condo in Naples. I checked in with her today. Consistent with Vice President Kamala Harris’s point that “communities of color” were “most impacted” by Hurricane Ian, houses and buildings close to the water in Naples were flooded. My friend’s building has a sacrificial ground level lobby and it was dramatically sacrificed, complete with car pushed into the lobby:

Car dealers became billionaires thanks to coronapanic. Will they get an extra few $billion in profit in Florida given that cars have been destroyed during a moment when each new car is sold for $6,000 or $15,000 in profit? (the MSRP-invoice spread plus the market adjustment markup)

My friend evacuated to a house that is 2 miles inland. Neither her condo nor the evacuation destination were damaged, but neither has power or Internet. One guy actually elected to stay in the condo building, despite the mandatory evacuation order, and came through the storm without injury. Restaurants and supermarkets are open.

“Photos show Fifth Avenue South damage after Hurricane Ian swept through Naples, Florida” (Naples News, 9/30) shows that even a single step of elevation was sufficient, in some cases, to keep a store from being flooded.

If you get hungry while you’re in Naples, the Supermarket of the Deplorables reopened just one day after the storm, 9/29. Here are some November 2021 photos from Seed to Table:

The Google says that it is less than a one-hour drive from the Naples Airport to downtown Fort Myers, which is near where the hardest-hit communities of color on barriers islands are (Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach).

How’s Team DeSantis doing with the overall recovery effort? Here’s today’s New York Times:

The top stories are the horrors likely to be visited on the nation by improperly appointed Supreme Court justices, “relatable lesbian content”, a soccer stampede in which more people died than were killed by Hurricane Ian, and journalist Ezra Klein’s dream that someone other than himself be stuck with the bill for our enormous government (“a tax that could help with inflation” that will fall on “the rich”).

Nothing about the Tyrant of Tallahassee or the situation in Florida after what the same newspaper previously characterized as a catastrophe. Should we infer that Ron DeSantis therefore has not made any missteps?

Update, 8:30 pm: the New York Times front page now has an article about Florida, but it is about migrants being welcomed in Maskachusetts (top left), not about the recent Category 4 hurricane or Ron DeSantis’s restoration effort. Also… bean soup.


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METAR poetry

From September 12, 2022:

KPHX 120353Z 17048G75KT 4SM TS BLDU SQ FEW028 SCT090 BKN110CB BKN160 31/19 A2987 RMK AO2 PK WND 18075/0353 WSHFT 0338 LTG DSNT SE AND SW CONS LTGCGIC SE-SW TS SE-SW MOV N BLDU FEW028 T03060194

Translation: At the Phoenix, Arizona, early in the morning in London (3:53 am GMT) on the 12th day of the month (i.e., evening on the 11th local time), wind was from the south (170 degrees) at 48 knots gusting to 75 knots. Visibility was 4 statute miles in a thunderstorm with blowing dust. There was a squall (SQ). Clouds will be the least of your problems, with just a few 2,800′ above the airport, some scattered clouds 9,000′ above the airport, and a broken layer of thunderstorm clouds 11,000′ up with one more broken layer 16,000′ above the airport. Temperature is a toasty 31C with a dewpoint of 19C. Altimeter setting is close to standard at 29.87 inches of mercury.

The Remarks (RMK) are tougher to parse. There was a wind shift at 3:38Z and now there is lightning distant SE and SW. CONS LTGCGIC SE-SW means “Continuous cloud-to-ground & in-cloud lightning to the southeast through south” (source). Finally, the thunderstorm is SE and SW, but moving north.

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General aviation has more utility thanks to lack of competition among airlines

Just as Floridians love to talk about the real estate market, a common topic of discussion at EAA AirVenture (“Oshkosh”) was “When does the market for used aircraft collapse?”

I’m bearish on the little airplane market. Due to the reduced labor force participation rate in the U.S., mechanics and parts are in short supply. Airplanes that would have been grounded for 3 days by a particular problem today might be grounded for 3 weeks or even 3 months while folks at Continental, for example, get organized to deliver a required item. Want to get your airplane repainted? One of the preferred shops for Cirrus has a two-year waiting list. After three years of paying hangar, maintenance, and insurance for a plane purchased in 2020, I think the typical new owner will be happy to sell in 2023.

Another reason that I’m bearish is Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle‘s ruling that President Biden’s mask orders for airline passengers were unconstitutional. Air travel is a lot more pleasant than it was when the panic buying of light airplanes began. There is still a risk of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane, but most of the people who were vulnerable to being killed by COVID-19 are already dead. So, if you’re alive you’re probably not all that scared.

In short, a million-dollar used Cirrus doesn’t seem like a good value for transportation and, for most people, $1 million is too much to spend on a hobby item.

One guy took the other side of this argument, pointing out that we now have fewer airlines than at the beginning of the deregulation process begun by Gerald Ford and finished by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The absurd JetBlue and Spirit merger that is currently in process (why even bother to have antitrust laws or enforcement if we’re going to allow this?) will result in further consolidation and $2,000 plus bag fees being the new $500 (currently, I think it is fair to say that $1,000 plus bag fees is the new $500).

Even with 100LL at $7 per gallon, the variable costs of running our Cirrus aren’t that different from what airlines are charging, so long as two of the four seats can be filled. I still prefer the airlines for “when you absolutely have to be there”, since they are much less likely to be delayed by weather, but the price comparison isn’t as absurd as it was when airfares were lower.

Readers: What’s your prediction for the little airplane market?

Separately, if you are going to fly commercial try to identify as Cuban-American so that you get a decent welcome on arrival. From the FLL airport, baggage claim level:


Very loosely related, some recent charter flights (“general aviation”) to our former $300 hamburger destination, KMVY:

A new airline logo, shared by a Gulfstream pilot friend who frequently is in and out of KMVY:

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