Take to new heights, try a discovery flight

Private Aviation in the Adirondacks

In 2018, John F. Kennedy International Airport hosted 61 million passengers. Three hundred miles to the north, the small but sparky Plattsburgh International Airport welcomed less than one half of one percent of that total — 236,000 fliers.  

It is a pretty quiet place.

The aviation scene in the North Country is limited, but it has its perks: a serene location with little distraction. “This is probably one of the best areas for flight training,” says Duane Tedesco, owner of Adirondack Aviators. “This is an environment designed for one-on-one aviation.” 

Adirondack Aviators and Valcour Flight Endeavors help potential pilots leave the ground. Valcour Flight Endeavors offers flight training for private, instrument, commercial and instructor ratings. Tedesco describes it as a one-stop-shop, the only place in the North Country where people can earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Nathan Houk, owner of Valcour Flight Endeavors, brainstormed the idea for his company when several friends said they wanted to learn. “Why can’t I try to teach them?” he thought. 

An introduction or “discovery” flight is for first timers. A company instructor supplies students with a log book to register their hours aloft. The minimum needed for a private pilot’s certificate is 40; but most students opt for 50 to 60 to be more prepared. Introduction flights typically begin with a cabin inspection of all the plane’s instruments followed by a check on the wheels, pitot tube, flaps, screws, lights, wings, fuel cap, alternator belt and the nose. Before students ever touch a throttle, they also get a safety briefing on what to do if there’s an emergency. “That way you’re not blindsided and end up in a situation that could be dangerous,” pilot Jeremy Carpenter explains. “You are prepared to be the sole operator of that plane and safely handle whatever situation is thrown at you.”

A 2015 study by the Department of Transportation showed that passengers have a one out of 9,821 chance of dying in an aviation related accident. That, DOT officials concluded, makes flying the safest form of transportation. 

Valcour Flight Endeavors uses small Cessnas for all lessons. These aircraft are just big enough for an instructor, student and maybe a friend. The planes are nimble and quick, allowing students to master basic maneuvers such as turns, climbs and descents. 

When Carpenter was younger, he got the chance to sit in the captain’s chair after a plane ride home from a family vacation in Florida. At 23, he got into the pilot’s seat himself. “I know that when I was younger… it was kind of a pipe dream,” Carpenter says. What he found, though, was that it was, instead, “A lot of hard work and… a big commitment.”  

Carpenter, one of Houk’s students, made time for that commitment while holding a full-time job. He flew at dawn before showing up to work as the head district auditor of Stewarts. 

Houk relishes those early morning flights. It is, he says, “the calmest, most beautiful, clear time that you could fly…. It’s a great start to the day.”

When considering aviation, some people may factor in their age, how much it will cost, potential risks and if they have any medical issues. “I had an 85-year-old student once, so when I say it’s never too late to get involved or meet your life goals, I mean it,” says Tedesco, the owner of Adirondack Aviation. 

The Federal Aviation Administration sets a mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots at 65. But private pilots have no such limitations. As long as aviators are in compliance with their medical certificates they can fly as long as they please.

Though the industry took an enormous hit this year with shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts estimate that in the longer term — as more and more pilots retire — tens of thousands more will be needed to take up the slack.  Experts at Boeing estimate 800,000 new pilots will be needed to meet demand over the next two decades.

“It’s nice to be in a career field where you’re in demand as the pilot,” Tedesco says. “Right now I would say it’s a pilot’s market, there’s no doubt about that.”

Valcour Flight Endeavors charges $200 for a discovery flight. The intro flight is very low stress,” says Tedesco. “That’s the intent of it…. Get your feet a little wet. See if you enjoy it.” 

And why not? Because one thing is sure in this uncertain world: It’s not everyone who can let loose the bonds of earth, and fly.  

Story by Dara Brandenberg

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