For many years I’ve maintained that the business executive who can afford a single or light twin airplane doesn’t get involved in flying for a couple of reasons.
First is time. Many of these individuals started learning to fly or actually got their certificates as young people. As their businesses grew or they advanced in their professions, the time to fly got less and less. Finally many just quit.
One day they reached a point when time – and finances – became available to return to flying. They realized an airplane could be a time machine, allowing them to see more clients or better enjoy their free time, so they went to the local airport to take up flying once again.
Unfortunately, many FBOs have facilities and personnel that aren’t anything like that experienced by these would-be pilots in their professional lives. Too many FBO lobbies have chairs that should be sent to a dump. Personnel aren’t trained to welcome visitors and the airplanes are old with ratty-looking interiors. The exterior of the buildings certainly could use some sprucing up, too. All of this turns off a lot of people.
Of course, some folks get past these negatives and restart their flying. Some will even buy airplanes. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for many to get disenchanted with the flying process.
Take the executive who drives to the airport in her Lexus straight from her Madison Avenue office. She plans to fly a couple hours to visit with a client. She’s dressed appropriately for the office and a business meeting. She has to get the plane out of the hangar, climb under the wing to drain the fuel sumps, check the oil, make sure the fuel tanks are filled and the windshield is clean.
After a few experiences like this, she decides it’s not worth it, so little by little her flying time diminishes. And, don’t think this is a female thing. The male who is wearing business clothes feels exactly the same.
One day while I was visiting with Hal Shevers of Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Cincinnati, this scenario was discussed. I maintained that business people want to get into their airplanes and go, the same as they do with their Cadillacs, without all the efforts of getting the plane from the hangar to the air.
Shevers agreed that this was a real turnoff for many and, just a few weeks later, informed me that his company had resolved the problem by offering a concierge service. A person only has to call and the airplane is taken from the hangar, oil checked, fuel sumps drained, and windshield cleaned so that when a pilot arrives at the airport, he can comfortably and safely climb into the plane and depart. Upon return, the plane is parked on the ramp and FBO personnel return it to the hangar.
The pre-flight services and post-flight arrangements are handled by an A&P, so a pilot can feel comfortable that the aircraft has been thoroughly checked at both ends of the flight.
Fees are based on the size of the airplane, but are sufficiently modest to make it appealing to most executives or professionals.
“That ends the arguments about why a person won’t keep flying,” Shevers said.
He said he plans to continue working on this plan to make it more inviting to more people. Can he develop the program and franchise it to other FBOs? Can such an idea make flying more acceptable and enjoyable to many? Will it result in more people getting into and staying with general aviation? We don’t know, but it certainly can’t hurt.
Maybe Shevers’ approach will win over some skeptics or dropouts.
Before I get calls and e-mails, let me note that I am aware that there have always been FBOs providing this level of service. Usually it has been to the cabin-class twins or light jets owned by corporations and flown by professional pilots. Very few places have offered individuals flying single or light twin planes service like this. It is costly to perform at a high level because it takes nearly as much time and effort to offer the high-end service for a Baron as it does for a Citation, but the jet owner is seen as more likely to be willing to pay the attendant fees.
Dave Sclair was co-publisher from 1970-2000.