Of all the airport codes in North Carolina that you may be familiar with, 7A8 is probably not one of them. The Avery County Airport in Spruce Pine is tucked away in the southern end of the county. Featuring a 3,000-foot runway and 23 airplane hangars, this little airport stays surprisingly busy.
Fixed Base Operator Ray Montague, when not keeping the whole operation running, restores WWII-era airplanes, which are on display in the main hangar. Former military man and retiree Jack Riley conducts flying lessons in his Cessna 177 and flies the flags of all the states he’s lived in inside his hangar.
When it is not hosting the coming and going of private planes, the airport is host to the local fire departments, who use the open space of the runway for training, as does the military. NASA has an experimental weather measurement device installed at the airport in order to study methods of more accurate weather predictions in the High Country.
In addition to government operations, the Avery County airport hosts several nonprofits. JAARS aviation (Jungle Aviation and Radio Service), made famous by the stories of Nate Saint and Jim Elliot in the 1950’s, uses the airport for a ten-day mountain training course. Angel Flight, the medical transport service, also uses the airport as its local base, as does the Young Eagles program, which gives youngsters the chance to experience flying.