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Small-Plane Pilots Benefit From Slowdown In Commercial Air Traffic

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was one of the world's busiest, but it's been eerily quiet because of the coronavirus pandemic. As Steve Harrison of WFAE reports, private pilots in tiny planes are taking advantage of that normally busy airport.

STEVE HARRISON, BYLINE: Jared Yates is flying his Bearhawk, a home-built, single-engine plane. Cleared to land in Charlotte, he tells his wife everything seems so strange.

JARED YATES: But if it was a regular day, there would be a line of planes like 3 or 4 miles apart and for reach runway? And when we called them, they'd be like, no.

TABITHA YATES: (Laughter).

JARED YATES: You cannot come here at all.

HARRISON: Charlotte is one of the hubs for American Airlines, and in a typical day, the airport would see as many as 1,500 takeoffs and landings. But now it's far, far less, and that's created opportunities for people like Erica Zangwill, who landed at CLT in a single-engine Cessna 172.

ERICA ZANGWILL: It's just so vast. Like, there's this - the runway environment is completely different. It's much wider, much longer.

HARRISON: Kelly Brady remembers radioing the tower and asking to land his Cessna 150 at the vast airport, which has four runways.

KELLY BRADY: What kind of got me excited was, they were like, yeah, feel free. You know, which runway do you want? And I'm like (laughter), well, I'll take the one that no one's using or anything. And she says, well - and she was really nice. She goes, well, no one's using anything right now, and you've got about an hour and a half to play around. So pick one.

HARRISON: Brady says he did eight or nine touch-and-gos, where he lands on the runway and throttles up to take right off again. Pilots in other cities are doing this, too, like Jon Weiswasser, who flew his tiny plane to New York's three biggest airports - JFK, Newark and LaGuardia - all in the same flight.

JON WEISWASSER: When I was flying from Newark to LaGuardia, there was nobody, and I mean nobody - no helicopters. There was - there wasn't even anyone else doing what I was doing. It was really eerie.

HARRISON: Back in Charlotte, Yates and his wife Tabitha find it immensely fun.

TABITHA YATES: This is what a stop-and-go looks at Charlotte airport in Bearhawk. Do-de-do-de-do (ph) (laughter).

HARRISON: And then they took off again. The little guys' days may be numbered. American Airlines has said bookings are on the upswing.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Harrison in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.