In the first half of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had severely reduced airline travel, causing once busy international airports such as SeaTac, the Seattle-Tacoma International airport, to have reductions of 90% of airline traffic in April, slowly rising to a 75% reduction by the end of June.
Although the airline reductions were severe, general aviation fared much better, since many flights are with 1-4 people, often family or friends with a known health history. With the reduction in airline traffic at SeaTac, air traffic control was allowing the rare opportunity for light, general aviation aircraft to sequence in for practice approaches and even a touch and go landing, if operations were quiet.
I had been providing instrument instruction in the mighty two-place Cessna 150, which is the classic definition of a ‘light aircraft’. With a modern glass cockpit and relatively slow speeds, however, the 150 becomes an excellent platform for effective instrument training. The Cessna 150 owner, Chris Marshall, was my student, and we had been quite successful in exercising the multiple Northwest IFR approach opportunities, while working well with the excellent Seattle Approach controllers.
We had queried Seattle Approach about opportunities to attempt a SeaTac landing on two occasions, but our timing didn’t work due to inbound traffic.
On July 8th, we had flown a series of instrument approaches at Paine Field, Port Townsend and Bremerton, and were heading back home to Renton. Seattle Approach was quite busy, so we went VFR and contacted Seattle tower about a touch and go.
To our surprise, Seattle tower said “Sure, we can work you in, in about 15 minutes”. I said I’d hold outside their airspace, but tower instead said to “proceed direct to Three Tree (a visual point just west of SeaTac) and hold there”. I flew overhead Three Tree in about 4 minutes, and had just started a circle in holding, when tower cheerfully stated “Cessna 115, continue your turn back to north, then enter downwind for a touch and go on runway 16R. Caution wake turbulence, landing Embraer”. Sweet. I asked Chris if he wanted the landing, but he asked me to demo the first, hoping for a second.
Once cleared to land, I flew a fairly tight pattern and had the rare opportunity to squeak the ‘mighty’ Cessna 150 onto the massive runway 16R at SeaTac. Chris’ great comment in the flare was “Wow, look at all that rubber on the runway”.
Since my timing seemed to be working well, instead of departing immediately to the east, I asked tower if we could fly a second touch and go. Tower replied “Well, if you can make a tight pattern, we can work you in.” I immediately cranked the 150 in a tight climbing turn to downwind for 16R again. Tower confirmed that our departure after landing #2 was east to Renton, so he smoothly had us switch our pattern to runway 16L, allowing the incoming airliner to use 16R, and avoid any traffic conflicts when we exited eastbound.
It was now Chris’ turn on 16L, and he gleefully configured his bird and performed a great touch and go landing as I waved at the 737s taxiing for takeoff as we ‘zoomed’ by!
Thank you, Seattle Tower, for working us into the traffic flow for two enjoyable landings, and a chance to turn COVID-19 slowdowns into a rare opportunity.