Debates about GA’s practicality are weighty, sometimes bitter, discussions I think often miss the point. But one of the best deals I ever found was “Hertz-like” plane rental at Lease-A-Plane. It opened up lots of possibilities.
A big gripe of renters: The “daily minimum,” a minimum of flight hours to keep the plane all day. It’s often four hours on weekends and three during the week. Another huge downside, if renting out-of-town, is the check-out required by each separate rental operation. Today, that can include written and oral quizzes, as well as dual with a CFI.
Lease-A-Plane International solved some of this by franchising local FBOs/flight schools into a system. You paid a fixed amount to keep the plane all day and then only a low rate per (dry) flight hour. Even better, a check-out at one location was good for a time (and in that aircraft type) at any location.
I flew with them on Dec. 31, 1971 out of Skyport, their franchisee in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Always trying to fly someplace special each New Year’s Eve, that year I would leap a small slice of the Atlantic. Doing what the average Florida tourist couldn’t, I’d pilot myself to the Bahamas. After all, it was only 65 nm to Bimini and 30 more to Grand Bahama Island. Surely an old Lyc would do that much for me!
It was so much fun I kept going. Once you get to West End, GBI’s east-west orientation gives you “feet dry” a long way east. Then only a short over-water jump and you’re on Abaco Island en route to Marsh Harbor. Some 225 miles off Florida, I was cocky when an airliner crew climbed down to ask, “What you doin’ way out here in THAT?”
My little Yankee AA1A two-seater (and Lease-A-Plane’s tab for it) made the day a real bargain at $60.69, including $5 for “collision damage waiver” (how “Hertz-like”), one dollar for a chart and $2.33 tax. Plane rental itself came to $49: $20 for the day, $26.50 for 5.3 flight hours ($5/hour!) and just $2.50 for a half-hour CFI check-ride.
Cost comparisons with today are discouraging, but misleading. Some things then DID hurt much less, however, like fuel for the WTD-FLL return at $3.36 for 7.3 gallons or 46 cents per! And flying WAS cheaper in “the big GA states” like Florida and California, where high activity and keener competition kept prices low.
It was a nice deal – perhaps too nice. Lease-A-Plane faded away in the early ‘70s, perhaps with the 1973 oil crisis. But for one New Year’s Eve, I had the time of my life. From 0830 to 1900 I had a plane all my own, no pressure (except sunset) to get back, and an “international oceanic flight” of uncommon beauty in my logbook.
The worlds of insurance, litigation, and risk acceptance have all changed. Pilot requirements and check-outs are more stringent, not to mention security and theft concerns. Costs are far different. But a chain of retail rental operations in various vacation spots or business hubs sure would be fun again. A “club membership” and “per-day charge” would allow easy, practical GA travel locally after you’ve flown the long-haul portion on the airlines.
Ah, too much to ask for in today’s world, aside from those rare multi-city flying clubs or fractional ownership operations.
© 2011 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved
Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.