Want to fly a jet?

After some years, I ran into John and Martha King of King Schools at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention this fall and caught their Light Business Aircraft briefing on jet ownership. As usual they were frank, straightforward and fact-based. They told it like it is. It was refreshing, educational too. They know how to communicate and teach.

I always found the Kings a unique but admirable couple. They know what they’re about; they believe in who they are and what they do. I first liked them because they were teachers. My parents were teachers. They know how to get concepts across and make them memorable, even if they have to ham it up along the way. For the meek or introverted, their sometimes “wince-able” antics would be wrong. But it’s not how you get there, it’s the results. The Kings get results.

They are business people, too. Unlike those (like myself) in PR, they call ‘em as they see ‘em. For years, I shied away after they advised me to confront a work problem I was smoothing over. I knew the difference between them and me. We both have our roles. Mine was to make everyone, and the industry, look good.

That’s why I savored hearing the Kings tell potential wannabes about jet ownership. Their point: It’s a real contrast with owning pistons. Their tale would make YOU feel better about your Lycoming or Continental. (Admittedly, John and Martha fly King Schools’ older, relatively larger two-crew Falcon jet, not one of the new light jets that could revolutionize the field.)

“How many of you want to fly a jet?” Hands sprung up. “If you can afford it, it’s tremendous,” replied the pair, “…transportation utility, vibration-free rotating engines, passengers love it. Lots of utility for the cost.”

But costs there are. The big surprise is maintenance expense, they explained. Because jets use manufacturer-scheduled maintenance programs, inspections are frequent and time-consuming. The Kings confessed, “Our friends think it’s always in the shop.”

Actually, it is — for scheduled inspections, phase checks and worst, the replacement of “rotables,” a word we don’t have in our more everyday GA. Parts are life-limited to forestall problems. And parts are expensive. You throw away a lot of good ones. (Falcon parts, the Kings said, are replaced at half their life limit.)

The Kings told of $10,000 Citation generators and $1,500 turbine blades, the latter prompting some negotiating with mechanics over which ones need replacing. And, for such reasons, it’s more complicated buying used. “Don’t fall in love with paint and interior.” Buy the rotable times (perhaps 10% of the plane’s value) and understand by serial number the model’s variations along its production history.

Our mentors went on to address insurance, sim training and currency, and sales tax — all with frank and unvarnished truth. They also highlighted what’s different in minimum altitudes, minimum equipment lists and flight planning. In King-like fashion, they simplified concepts like RVSM — recent higher standards for altimetry above 29,000 feet. Altimeter sensitivity works on CHANGE in atmospheric pressure and there’s only one-quarter of that change with altitude in the thin air above 30,000.

About the time I thought the Kings had talked everyone out of jet ownership, they added, “A jet turns up the intensity knob on your life. But it takes a huge personal commitment.”

Fortunately, the next seminar featured Brad Pierce, who made that personal commitment. Pierce started 12 years ago in a 172, moved up to a Cirrus and now covers the nation in a small jet. He’s grown his restaurant equipment business by 30% working coast-to-coast while competitors succumbed. He moves fast: Once American Express shut down his card after it was used in four states the same day.

He had some advice we might take for our own flying: He always buys a refundable back-up airline ticket in advance so there’s no get-there-itis. “No customer is worth risking my life for.”

His overall philosophy? “Act like a professional, not a weekend pilot.”

No question today’s jets can offer remarkable productivity, but they present management and training challenges — and costs — that for most befit only a company asset. That could make you feel better about YOUR fuel, maintenance and proficiency costs. But jets also offer us piston-pounders a challenge: Train and fly like a pro. Maintain the airplane to avoid trouble in the first place, not fix it after things break.

And those Kings? I still get a kick out of ‘em. They tell it like it is.


© Story and photos 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved


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