Are airplanes productivity tools?
UNQUESTIONABLY YES, BUT WE SHOULDN’T ALWAYS THINK OF THEM THAT WAY
A little before 7 in the morning on Christmas Eve, a Florida lawyer and his four passengers piled into his Cessna 340 for what was to be a fun-filled getaway to Key West. The pilot requested that the airplane be towed from the hangar to the ramp at Bartow Municipal Airport. He wanted to be towed because the fog was so thick that he worried about taxiing near the other hangars. The passengers boarded the Cessna while it was still inside the hangar and remained in the airplane while it was towed. The pilot then started the engines and slowly taxied to Runway 9L. He completed the runup and prepared to depart. Witnesses couldn’t see the airplane because of the dense fog, but they heard an explosion moments later when the piston twin crashed beside the runway, killing everybody on board.
What’s surprising about this tragedy to nonpilots, and maybe some VFR-only private pilots who have yet to start their instrument training, is that nothing in the Federal Aviation Regulations prohibited this pilot from attempting to take off in zero-zero weather conditions. You can question his decision to do so, but it was perfectly legal.
Another pilot at the airport that morning told accident investigators he heard a “pop” just before the explosion. We won’t know the cause of this unusual noise until the accident report comes out (if even then), but if it was an engine failure, let’s face it: A nonprofessional at the controls of a high-performance twin dealing with such an emergency on takeoff in zero visibility is a recipe for disaster. Even if both engines were producing rated takeoff power and there were no other problems, the departure would require a level of proficiency that few pilots who fly themselves for business or pleasure possess. Better to wait for the fog to lift.
The aviation industry has long promoted personal airplanes as “tools” for enhanced productivity. And they are. One of the advantages of owning an airplane is that it allows you to do more with your valuable time. Especially for the passenger in the back of a business jet piloted by a professional two-pilot crew, they can be incredible productivity enhancers. A GA airplane flown by a nonprofessional can be such a tool, but in some circumstances it can also be a hindrance to productivity — for example, when the weather isn’t cooperating and we risk getting in over our heads.
The point is we shouldn’t be viewing our personal airplanes quite the same way we look at travel by airline or business jet. But why own an airplane in the first place, a skeptical spouse or business partner might ask, if it’s sometimes not a productivity tool? You probably know the answer already. We own airplanes because we’re passionate about flying. We can’t imagine not flying. It isn’t just about the extra business meetings we can attend or the vacations we can take — it’s the flying itself that enthralls us.
As long as we fly for the joy of it, and not because we’re paid to, we have the luxury of seeing our airplanes more as the precious gifts they are than the productivity tools they can be so long as we understand and respect their limitations.