There are times when being a general aviation (GA) pilot is about the coolest thing possible. Many a time I’ve become the talk of the town or instantly been perceived as cool by a new acquaintance simply because of the FAA credentials in my pocket. Occasionally, my pilot certificate has landed me invitations to gatherings and events I wouldn’t have otherwise even known about. On one such occasion, I was able to solve another person’s problem while also benefiting in the process.
Houston, We Have a Problem
In July 2004, one of my uncles called me with a bit of a dilemma. Turns out my aunt and her extended family had been planning a week-long vacation in Myrtle Beach for quite some time. The trouble was my uncle and youngest cousin had prior commitments that wouldn’t enable them to leave town when the rest of the family would be departing. Our rural hometown’s location also made an airline journey unfeasible. Not wanting to miss out of the festivities, he asked if I would be willing to fly the two of them to South Carolina, spent a week in Myrtle Beach, and afterwards fly them back home.
Keeping it Legal
Let’s see, could I somehow find it within myself to fly a multi-hour cross-country to a beach resort town, hang out there for a week, and then fly another multi-hour cross-country in a GA airplane? It didn’t take long for me to tell him his proposal was doable – if he would meet my conditions (Yes! I actually said that!). Although I held a commercial pilot certificate, I was not certificated/authorized to engage in anything that resembled a charter-type flight operation. As I wanted to keep my FAA certificates, I informed him of certain parameters I had to observe to remain within the government’s good graces.
While I couldn’t be compensated for the flight, 14 CFR 61.113(c) does allow private pilots (or commercial/ATP pilots engaged in private operations) to split a flight’s operating expenses with their passengers – provided the pilot pays at least his/her pro-rata share. Additionally, to avoid the trip itself from being viewed as a form of compensation, I insisted he let me chip in towards the food and house rental costs. My terms at first surprised him, but he seemed to understand my explanation. He agreed to my conditions, and we soon developed a plan of attack.
A Time Machine
Although we wouldn’t depart until a full two days after everybody else, we’d miss no more than half a day of the action. You see, Myrtle Beach is about a 15-hour drive from our hometown. Assuming no traffic or road construction. And that the driver has a bit of a lead foot. These conditions necessitated a full day of driving, followed by an overnight stop and another long day on the road. Though they left on a Friday morning, the road-bound caravan wouldn’t actually arrive until Saturday evening – and worn out at that. In a Piper Archer, the trip looked to be about five hours. We planned to depart on Sunday morning and arrive in time to join everyone for lunch.
Such possibilities really do cast GA in a favorable light. My uncle and cousin were able to honor their commitments, delay their departure for a full two days, yet really only miss out on a half day of fun. Besides that, they avoided over 10 hours of additional sitting, an overnight stop (and associated expenses), and a series of fast food meals on the road. Additionally, we were able to leave on their schedule, fly direct, and avoid paying baggage fees – even for the golf clubs.
It Only Gets Better
If these factors alone sound like some serious benefits, wait until you hear what we paid for the flight. A few years prior to the trip, I’d joined a local flying club whose primary goal is keeping the cost of flying as affordable as possible. By sharing expenses and basing our plane at a remote, uncontrolled field, we’d determined our direct operating costs to run about $37/hour. Wet (meaning fuel and oil are included in the price). And that’s Tach time (which tends to run at a slightly slower rate than the Hobbs meter most businesses charge by). Split three ways, I’d be paying $12.34/hour while my uncle and cousin would each contribute $12.33/hour. Our en-route (Hobbs) time was 5.1 hours, so we each paid around $60 for the flight down to KMYR.
The only possible negative of the trip was that we’d have to pay overnight fees for the six nights our bird sat on the ramp. However, since I had our fuel tanks topped off, the nice man at the FBO only charged us for three nights. On top of that, he gave me an AOPA member discount on the fuel price – and I didn’t even have to show my membership card! Since our aircraft’s rental rate is a wet rate, the flying club even reimbursed me for the fuel expenses. I wonder if it’s even possible that general aviation could get any better.
Following a week of flawless weather and incredible fun, we made the 5.7-hour flight home. My uncle would later remark that he felt incredibly productive once we got back. The day after our return, he was able to spend the entire day taking care of chores around the house – a day he’d originally planned to spend driving home from Myrtle Beach. He said that I had given him an entire day that would have otherwise been lost. As an added bonus, he was able to enjoy a restful night’s sleep in his own bed. Although science says that energy can’t be created, it appears that with a GA airplane, time can be.
One Story of Many
While this was a fun trip, it’s far from unique in my GA experiences. I’ve also flown family members & friends to weddings, a funeral, home from & back to college, to a job interview, and on several $100 hamburger runs. Every time I’ve done so, I’ve experienced similar results. Everyone is so thankful, relieved, refreshed, unstressed, and maybe even a bit awestruck. Through it all, I’ve never tired of seeing the look on my passengers’ faces that seems to say, “Steve, you’re the man.”