Flying the (More) Friendly Skies

Somewhere over central Texas

As a joke (I think), one of my friends posted “You 1%-er!” when I mentioned a business trip that I took in one of our company’s planes. My company isn’t all that large – maybe 2000 employees total, and the division that I direct has THREE full-time employees: The president, who is one of the principals of the main corporation, an engineering student who works for us full-time while going to school, and me. We partner with another company that has a dozen employees, and contract out a great deal of technical work. A big part of my job is managing the contractors and subs and projects that run tens of millions of dollars.

Having some airplanes helps us manage this workload, in an economical way. If we have a meeting with a client, and need to inspect progress on a big project, we may have three, four, or six people going to the same location at the same time.

Our pilots. The display in the top center is an iPad that is our backup weather radar and navigation charts.

We know exactly what the operating cost of is – how much fuel, the amortization and depreciation on the equipment, the salaries of the pilots, the annualized maintenance, and can compare the cost of six commercial tickets, plus overnight expenses and a few extra meals. Many of the places we travel to are far away from airport hubs. For example, if you need to go to a location outside of Casper, Wyoming from Houston, you must go to and through IAH,  fly to Denver, make a connection on a little commuter flight that only runs two or three times a day, into Casper. It is going to take most of the day, so you probably can’t get your meetings set up or do any real work before quitting time. The trip can use up three days, which is typical of many of our locations.

There is an actual toilet under this bench. It doesn’t flush, it has to be bailed out. Also, there is a little curtain around it for privacy. We pretend it doesn’t exist.

With the plane resources, I could do that trip one day, and go in the opposite direction the next, and probably sleep in my own bed in between. Of course, if your work runs a bit longer, you aren’t scrambling to figure out if there is another flight that evening, or whether you have to pay United $200 to change your flight (since it costs them a LOT of electricity to run that website!)

Like commercial planes, you can get a lot of work done. And no one cares if you leave your phone on.

One of our workhorses is a Learjet 31, 2000 model, that seats 6 people plus the pilots, and can carry overnight luggage for everyone if you stick to smaller-than-carry-on bags. At 550 mph, we can reach quite a few places within a couple of hours. Much longer than that, you have to pre-plan to not drink any coffee that morning, as it’s rather inconvenient to find a place to set down for a rest stop.  The other plane is a Piper Meridian, also a few years old, that will seat up to 5 passengers. Passenger limits on it depend on how far you must go and how much fuel you have to carry without stopping, but regularly we can take 3-4 passengers to many of our work sites.

Inside, the coffee carafe, an ice bucket, a few drinks and snacks. The panel reads out altitude, outside temperature, ground speed, and remaining flight time. It’s a tight fit, and whoever grabs the first seat is Flight Attendant for the Day.

The Meridian is a single engine turbo prop, and land on much shorter airstrips, without a tower, making it really convenient for our work sites that are far from any towns with a commercial airport. Where at one time our construction managers spent hundreds of hours per year driving tens of thousands of miles, wearing out pick-ups nearly every year, e can allocate the aircraft to the remote jobs.

Being a company with a relatively small workforce, we make sure the economics of our decisions make sense. While it sometimes feels, and certainly sound,  like a complete luxury, and is no doubt used as a perk for executives at some big corporations, the aircraft usually are based on sound economic analysis. I no longer gather enough frequent flier points to cover my personal vacations, but they have made a difference in the amount and quality of work we can accomplish.

The Lear, back at home base

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Categories: Travel, Work and Jobs

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