Are air­planes pro­duc­tiv­ity tools?

UN­QUES­TION­ABLY YES, BUT WE SHOULDN’T AL­WAYS THINK OF THEM THAT WAY

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Stephen Pope

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.

Edi­tor-in-Chief

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