AOPA ran a Town Hall meeting in Chicago the other night and Phil Boyer asked the group a penetrating question. How do we convince more people to learn to fly? Despite being a flight instructor and a communicator all my life, I didn’t have a good answer. Phil was nice enough to find me at the end of the evening and tell me he’s a Jetwhine reader which was quite the compliment. Now I felt really motivated to give him an answer to his pilot population expansion question, but my mind was simply a blank.
I was invited to fly a Socata TBM850 from south Florida to Indiana a distance of about 950 NM. Socata is part of EADS group that also owns Airbus and Dassault. The TBM850 was provided by the folks at the EADS Flight Department at Fort Lauderdale’s Hollywood North Perry Airport, just north of my old stomping grounds at Miami Opa-Locka.
The TBM850 is the top-end of the new generation of owner flown propeller-driven airplanes. To the best of my knowledge, it is the fastest single-engine turbo-prop airplane flying and it’s a breeze for someone upgrading from a Bonanza or a Cessna 210, or even some of the older piston twins since the reliability of the PT-6 engine far exceeds its piston predecessors. All I needed to make a few hours in the TBM a reality was get myself to south Florida from Chicago.
Wayman Luy was the brave aviator Socata assigned to fly with me – thanks for that Wayman!
During a lull in the flight, he got me thinking that a part of the answer to how we convince more people to learn to fly rests with us, people who already fly. But since few aviators have any marketing or sales background, we often don’t realize how important a personal recommendation from one of us can be to a potential aviator. We tend to think we possess a cool skill and often assume others will simply line up for lessons based on our aura, I guess.
Where’s the Meat?
This weekend’s trip made me realize I need to talk more about the benefits I experience from knowing how to fly, a bit of that sizzle and steak concept I learned in graduate school.
We all love flying airplanes or we wouldn’t continue I assume. But we often fly because becoming a pilot and maintaining our currency also helps us leap some business hurdle. This business case for learning to fly is an important one. In my case, I needed to fly from the Fort Lauderdale area to north central Indiana on Sunday, a trip that would be essentially a nightmare on the airlines with connections.
The American Advantage number I possess focused me on AA first of all for a ticket to get me to Florida. At first, all seemed well with a flight out of ORD to FLL that had me arriving around 4 PM the afternoon before the flight. The fare was reasonable, especially since it was one way.
Then came the call to my cell at 10 PM Saturday night before the flight. American canceled my MD-80 flight from O’Hare for “air traffic control,” reasons, which of course no one believed I’m sure some 14 hours before the flight was scheduled to depart ( you NATCA folks can comment on how often you’re blamed for this kind of thing too). The airlines could certainly make a few points with me if they simply told me the truth when the flights are scrubbed.
Since American decided on its own to reschedule me for a trip that included a stop through DFW and an eventual arrival in FLL close to midnight Saturday, I rescheduled myself to an earlier Saturday morning flight from Chicago. That phone call of course took half an hour to complete the night before I realized I now needed to rise at sunup to make my AA flight. But I made it to Florida, even though I had to sit in a middle seat because the airplane was full leaving ORD.
Out of Florida
We were set to depart Boca Raton (KBCT) in the TBM850 Sunday morning around 9 am. The weather out of south Florida was beautiful and the TBM screamed to FL 270 as we turned north toward Indiana already truing out at 305 knots. I can’t share all the details here since I’m writing a story for AIN about that and you’ll just have to read it there, I’m afraid.
I did get a pretty good workout with the new Garmin 1000 system on the TBM as we dodged a line of Thunderstorms around Atlanta and three hours and two minutes after wheels up at BCT, I landed in Muncie. Since President Bill Clinton was arriving at MIE soon after us, the U.S. Secret Service wanted us little airplane guys out of the way pronto. Now came to tough part of the trip … getting back to Chicago. The TBM needed to go east from MIE so Wayman and I were going to drive back to ORD so he could catch a flight back to Florida and I could pick up my car.
Then we had a bright idea. Why not drive to Indianapolis – 45 minutes away – and catch a flight. Wayman used his iPhone to check schedules. A one-way to ORD from IND was $375 if I caught the next flight. If I waited two more hours the fare dropped to a hundred bucks. I waited.
I knew the general directions to Indianapolis, so we hopped in the Impala and headed southwest out of MIE. It took us an hour and a half to IND, half of which we probably spent trying to find the airport since we had no map and there were no signs. The iPhone only helped some. The folks in the city assume you know where the airport is I guess. We didn’t.
After returning the rental car, We checked in and headed for the gate. Wayman was going to connect through DFW to get back to Miami around midnight. It was now about 3 PM. My flight left at 6 PM. My flight boarded on time and pulled away from the gate on time. When we pulled off into the runup pad for 5 Right though, I knew we were in trouble. The guy in the next seat heard me groan and asked what was going on. “We’re going to be sitting here awhile,” I said. Of course, he wanted to know how I knew. We start talking about flying airplanes and how I came to be sitting next to him.
“Learning to fly is really expensive isn’t it?” he asked. “All depends on how long you keep flying. Let’s see eight to $10,000 amortized over 20 years. How does that sound?” I had him.
We eventually arrived at ORD about 6:35 local time. I mentioned to my neighbor that it had taken almost six hours from the time we left Muncie Airport until I arrived at ORD. It would have taken about 4 to 5 if I’d driven to ORD. In total this was about double what it took to fly from Florida to Indiana in the first place. “Wow,” was all he said. “You get really spoiled about all the time you save flying yourself,” I told him.
I took out my card and wrote the AOPA web site on the back. “Best 39 bucks you’ll ever spend,” I told him.
I figured I owed Phil Boyer anyway. One more member on the way I think Phil.