By Lauren Scott, DFC Flight Instructor
Just minutes south of the famous Las Vegas Strip, we are next to a world-class city filled with restaurants, entertainment, sports, and conference venues. We enjoy beautiful flying weather (usually cloudless, visibility more than 10), with visual flight conditions for 310 days out of the year. In addition, we have gorgeous scenery within 200 nm in all directions. From the Grand Canyon toward the east, to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and other popular spots in Utah to the northeast, to Southern California to the southwest, Henderson is a great airport from which to depart.
Henderson Executive is a Class D (towered part-time) airport underlying the busy Class B McCarran International Airport. As of this writing, McCarran Airport handles anywhere from 800-1800 landings per day. Henderson itself tends to have a moderate amount of traffic with 200-250 landings per day, including general aviation, flight training, sightseeing fixed- and rotor-wing flights, medevac, corporate aviation, and aerobatic operations. Because Henderson underlies Class B shelves, the tower does have the capability to see aircraft on radar, as well as coordinate clearance delivery on a designated frequency (but will often use ground control when it’s not busy.)
Every airport has its own unique quirks, and Henderson is no exception. Please always refer to the most current VFR sectional charts, NOTAMS, and chart supplements for accurate navigation and airport information, as the following information could change. Quite possibly, the most important issue is being familiar with the dimensions of the overlying Class B airspace. A specific Class B clearance is required to enter Class B, and can only be requested and given by Las Vegas Approach/Departure Control. Without a clearance, pilots have the responsibility to maintain situational awareness and must remain clear of the Class B. At Henderson, Class D airspace begins at the ground and reaches to 3,999’ MSL. Above that, the Class Bravo shelf begins at 5000’. Aircraft approaching and departing from Henderson should be aware of three “Class B hot spots” that cause more problems than others. The first one, shown below and outlined in red, is the area directly north of the departure end of 35L and R.
Only 1.3 nm north of the departure end, Class B drops down to the surface. This means that on takeoff from 35L and R, for single-engine GA aircraft, it is important to expedite the climb after takeoff, in order to reach 500’-700’ AGL to begin the turn to crosswind prior to the class B shelf. It also means using care when making a L or R downwind-to-base turn onto 17L or R. If a pilot stays south of the large power lines that run west to east just north of Henderson, that is a good visual reference for avoiding the Bravo.
The second area to be careful to avoid the Bravo is the corner shelf that comes down to the surface, 1.7 miles directly west of the departure end of 35L, and just to the north of the easily identifiable M Resort and Casino. Just a couple of miles south of that, the base of the shelf rises to 4000’ MSL. Aircraft departing Henderson to the west or southwest must remain vigilant in these areas, shown below in red, with a suggested exit/entry route in green.
Whenever operating near this area, remember that the Class B starts at either 4000’ MSL, or at the surface, west of and up to a mile south of the M Resort. Another note about the area near the M is that there are sometimes medevac helicopter takeoff and landing operations out of Action Ranch, just ½ mile south of the M Resort and Casino.
The third area is really the same as the first area, but it affects mostly pilots coming into Henderson from the east-northeast. There is a mountain range just east of the Henderson Airport, so in an attempt to go around the lower terrain of the range to the north, some pilots have violated that Class B that starts at the surface. Also note that radio coverage is not great in this area, and it may be a challenge to receive ATIS Northeast of Dutchman Pass. A pilot may both safely clear the terrain and remain outside the Bravo, but must be paying attention to their position closely. That caution area can be seen below in red, along with a recommended route in green:
Another busy area to be aware of is the transition corridor to and from the southwest of Henderson. There are currently at least three flight training operators out of Henderson, and many of these single- engine airplanes utilize the Jean Airport (0L7) and surrounding areas to practice flight training maneuvers and traffic patterns. There is also a lot of traffic coming into and departing that corridor to and from Southern California, both VFR and IFR. Extra vigilance is definitely required in this transition area. For that reason, aircraft heading south/southwest away from Henderson are encouraged to stay on the west side of the I-15 freeway, while aircraft heading north/northeast toward Henderson typically stay to the east side of the I-15. This area is shown below, with suggested north and south bound routes in green and orange. Also be aware of skydiving operations south of Jean airport, with drops announced on Jean CTAF, 122.9. Parachutes are dropped on the west side of the field as well as to the south. It’s more common for them to drop on the field than to the south, and according to the jump operation, as long as pilots monitor their calls and make a standard pattern on the west runway, we will remain clear of their drop zone.
Besides Class Bravo shelves and the transition to the southwest from Henderson, there are a couple other issues that are helpful to be aware of when operating out of Henderson. Below is a map of the airport area.
The Desert Flying Club aircraft are parked at Row 5. Please be especially aware of two published Hot Spots on the field. One is at Hotel and Alpha at the north end near 17R. The other is near Echo and Alpha. When taxiing from Row 5 to 17R or L, ground control usually clears pilots to taxi “via Hotel.” This means to taxi northbound on the ramp all the way up to, and onto taxiway Hotel, not via taxiway Alpha, unless cleared. You’ll notice a sign near the departure end of 17R warning aircraft not to depart from taxiway Alpha (because it has happened before!) Also be aware that the airport runs slightly downhill to the North, so keep those RPMs low and watch your groundspeed.
There is a runup area on the ramp just west of Hotel. When taxiing south for a departure from 35 L or R, there is no runup area, and runups must be completed on the ramp prior to taxi. This reminder will usually be broadcast on ATIS, but in case of taxiing for a northbound departure, be sure to do your runup at Row 5 at a safe distance from the other aircraft. Planes from Row 5 taxiing for takeoff on 35 L or R will usually be cleared to taxi simply via Delta and Alpha.
After a full-stop landing on the east runway (35R or 17L), clear the runway, taxi up to and hold short of the parallel runway, and contact tower. They will typically contact you first with crossing and taxi instructions to the ramp, unless they are very busy. Taxi instructions after landing on either runway are to taxi straight ahead to the ramp. Use care not to use taxiway Alpha unless it’s been explicitly directed. Also after landing, we are requested to expedite our post landing operations after the hold short lines, so know your checklist and have it in mind as you complete your roll-out. Of course, keep safe operations in mind, and if you need to, take the time to do what you need to do as PIC. In most small aircraft, pilots are encouraged to memorize the after-landing checklist items (i.e., carb heat off, landing light, fuel pump off, flaps up, etc.) so they can be accomplished by memory, then when stopped on the ramp for parking, pull out the checklist to ensure all items have been completed.
Another reminder that is true for all airports, is for pilots on radio calls to be sure to read back all pertinent instructions, including clearances (cleared for takeoff, cleared to taxi, cleared to land, etc.) as well as hold short directives (i.e. hold short, landing traffic, etc.), in addition to the tail number with each transmission (which may be shortened to 3 last characters if the controller first abbreviates it). The controllers here at Henderson do a great job safely separating traffic, and they have requested our help to keep radio congestion down by reading back instructions concisely. Remember: include our tail number with each transmission. As always, if you don’t understand the instructions given, ask for clarification. If you are unable to comply, such as because of terrain or other safety considerations, state “unable due to ____.” Their job is to help pilots by separating traffic safely, and they want and need to know if we cannot comply with their instructions in order to come up with an alternate plan. Also please remember to monitor the frequency for a few seconds before keying the mic, to make sure you are not interrupting another transmission or read-back. Finally, maintain situational awareness even on the ground; for example, diligently look out for other traffic before taxiing onto or across taxiways and runways (even if you have been cleared), and monitor the position of other traffic in the pattern before calling for takeoff.
Henderson tower is great about coordinating flight following before departure when workload allows, and this is a rare perk at a class D. When calling for taxi on 127.8, request flight following and announce destination airport using its phonetic code, along with requested altitude. They’ll give you a squawk and a departure frequency. Keep in mind that there are some radar coverage gaps at low altitudes heading south, so if you’re flying on a low sight-seeing mission, you may get cancelled. That said, following is invaluable in the LAS Bravo, and can often make it easier to get Bravo clearance. See our article on the LAS Bravo transition for detailed information, and how you can fly straight down the strip like those expensive helicopter tours!
LAS SE, SW Approach
LAS West Approach
LAS E-NE Approach
Jean (0L7) CTAF
118.4 or 125.9
Henderson is a fun and beautiful place to fly. Being mindful of these issues with airspace, transition areas and radio communication will help pilots to safely and competently operate out of the Henderson Executive Airport.
See our other articles for more information on flying around Las Vegas!