To Drive or To Fly?
Perhaps two of the most confusing words to those unfamiliar with the aviation industry are general aviation (GA). However, from a business perspective, learning more of what general aviation can offer may greatly enhance the bottom line. Unfortunately, opportunities to provide factual information on GA are often limited and regrettably, when members of the public do hear of GA, it is often involving some accident of a “small plane” or related to airport complaints. However, from a business perspective, there is much more than this surface level view.
By definition, general aviation is any aviation other than scheduled airline service or the military. From this definition, we can see that the types of operations conducted within general aviation are varied. Corporate and business aviation may come to mind, but other types of flying such as flight training (now responsible for training the majority of new airline pilots), agricultural operations, medical flights, and recreational flying, are also forms of general aviation. But how can general aviation directly benefit small- to medium-sized businesses? Very easily, and with minimal cost.
In Florida especially, we find ourselves with a severe underservice of airline options at the intra-state level. For companies that are involved in statewide business, this can mean many hours of travel via automobiles, resulting in many wasted hours, especially when compared to the efficiency that could be offered via general aviation, arguably a savings of 30 percent or more. Another false assumption is that these types of trips have to be completed in jet aircraft. With advances in technology over the last decade, small, single and multi-engine aircraft are offering viable alternatives to inefficient airlines or slow automobile options. Let’s look at an example.
Time is Money: Here’s the Breakdown
Imagine a company is based in Orlando, but with regional offices in Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale. Meetings must be completed in both regional offices. If departing on a Monday morning at 7 a.m., the drive time to Tallahassee is just under four hours, allowing for an 11 a.m. lunch meeting. Compare this with use of a small single-engine corporate aircraft which would make that trip in just over one hour, allowing for a meeting as early as 8:30 a.m. Assume a two hour meeting. When traveling by car, it is now almost a seven-hour drive from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale, departing around 1 p.m. and arriving at 8 p.m. This would be just in time to get a hotel and complete your meeting on Tuesday.
If using general aviation, the flight could depart at 11 a.m. (the time you’d just be arriving in the driving option) and land in Fort Lauderdale at 1 p.m. If there’s another two-hour meeting, your GA aircraft can depart Fort Lauderdale around 4 p.m. and you’d arrive back in Orlando at 5 p.m. With the driving option, after your hotel overnight and a 9 a.m. business meeting on Tuesday, you are ready to drive the three hours back to Orlando arriving to the office around 2 p.m. This is but one of many fairly realistic examples businesses have to complete on a daily basis.
The counterargument is somewhat obvious: it is more expensive. Well, that is only true depending on how you look at it. The direct costs of operating an aircraft are clearly more expensive; however, where the real value should be measured is the opportunity cost. Let’s look at the cost of the automobile vs. the aircraft and assume an employee annual salary of $150,000 per year.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Also, if two people from your company needed to attend those meetings, the efficiency and cost savings of the aircraft increase. Finally, consider the phenomenal safety enhancements of the last decade including on-board weather, glass panel displays, and even airframe parachute systems that lower the entire aircraft to the ground in case of an emergency. Don’t you think it is time your business examined what GA can do for you?
Scott Winter is an assistant professor of aviation science at Florida Institute of Technology. He holds a doctorate from Purdue University and presently conducts research in three foundational areas: pilots’ transition and information processing in glass cockpit aircraft, training pilots in very light jet operations, and enhancement methods for pilot cognition and decision-making.