Atlanta is widely known among pilots as one of the busiest blocks of airspace in the United States. This is partly due to Delta Airlines who uses Hartsfield–Jackson airport (KATL) as a hub. Compound this with a bustling city full of travelers and businessmen, an air force
base, and a dozen surrounding airports and what results is a challenging flying environment. I have always wanted to fly into Atlanta, and last week I got the opportunity to fly the Seneca down there.
I was highly prepared, and had a thorough pre-flight briefing with Horace (the pilot I build time with at EKU). We knew what altitudes to expect, how long it would take to get there, what cruise power to select, terrain height, fuel expectations, what time the FBO opened… everything. Yet, we ran into a challenge on the way down.
Cruising well over the MEA (minimum en route altitude) of 8,000, ATC prompted us over the radio asking if we wanted to fly direct to Fulton County Airport (KFTY), our destination. We accepted, and in the back of my mind I expected an altitude change. Flying south from Kentucky through Tennessee, a pilot encounters very high terrain due to mountains. While on the airway we had filed for and began our route on, the required altitude was 7,800. As soon as we were vectored off of the airway, our altitude requirement changes. Luckily, we caught this as soon as we changed our route, and after four minutes requested two thousand more feet to clear the mountains. It astounded me that such an occurrence can happen if a pilot is in the clouds and is unaware of his surroundings. We might have cleared the peaks at 8,000 feet, but not by much.
The rest of the flight was fantastic. On approach we were cleared through an air force base, passed over 2 airfields, and saw multiple jets in all phases of flight in all different directions. The skyline was in perfect view as we descended on to the luscious green airport. The departure was intense, but a lot of fun. We were immediately thrown into the hectic system, be asked to change heading or altitude multiple times. However, they got us on our way fairly quickly. The return trip was great, and we made great time. I was impressed by the air traffic controllers’ skill, the vast development of the area, and the amount of traffic that rolls through it on a weekly basis. I have no doubt I will return to the area many times in the future, and I look forward to it.