Mark R. Twombly is a writer and editor who has been flying since 1968.
Sometimes in life we know exactly where we're going, but we're not so sure how to get there. Unless the we means pilots.
As far as we're concerned, the right response to the question of how to go just about anywhere other than a trip to the grocery store is always, "Let's take the airplane."
That's easy to say when the only one making the trip is the pilot. It gets complicated when more than one person is involved. Schedules conflict, interests vary, or one or more in the group may not relish the prospect of riding in a small airplane for hours at a time. In that case there's only one sensible thing to do — forget about trying to make sense.
That's what a friend once revealed to me. He owned a piston twin, but his wife wasn't comfortable flying in it. When they traveled to and from their homes in the Midwest and Southwest Florida, she booked passage on the airlines while he flew his airplane.
"Makes not a lick of sense," I thought to myself at the time. "Why incur the extra expense of the airline ticket when they own an airplane?" I've since come to better understand diverging travel priorities within a flying family, and how divergence sometimes makes the most sense.
My wife, son, and I had to be in north Georgia for a weekend family get-together. The question was how we would make the 680-statute-mile trip — by car, commercial airline, or in our own airplane.
If the decision was based on dollars alone, the three of us would pack up the car and drive for 12 hours. Option two was the airlines plus a rental car for a two-hour drive to the final destination. The package might cost less than flying ourselves, but only if we were able to book nonrefundable tickets well in advance.
Option three, flying our airplane, was the most expensive but also the most convenient way to go. Why drive for 12 hours or spend six hours struggling with a combination of the airlines and driving when we could fly the entire trip in about three hours? So that was it. We'd fly ourselves. End of discussion.
Except that my wife and son weren't finished discussing it. We couldn't agree on a time to leave or return home. I had to go early and return late because I was responsible for the rental house. My wife had to attend to matters at her bookstore and couldn't meet my departure requirement. My son had to return early because of his job. Three people, three schedules, three travel options. What to do?
Like any owner, I have to write checks to support the airplane regardless of how much or little I fly it. Lately, the checks seem to be getting bigger. Fortunately, with three partners everything is one-quarter the cost. But a quarter share of a lot of money is still a lot of money, at least to this working stiff.
Ironically, the expense of simply keeping the airplane airworthy, up to date, hangared, and insured is disincentive for using it for its intended purpose. Actually flying the thing means paying into an engine reserve fund and buying fuel and oil. In our 20-something-gallons-per-hour twin, fuel at today's prices is an expense that commands attention.
So when it became clear that my wife and son might end up driving separately, I agonized over going in the airplane myself because of the cost and, on the face of it, the inefficiency of it all.
But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that making the trip solo in the airplane was the right thing to do. My wife astutely pointed out that anything else would put me in a foul mood.
Along with attitude, logic argued in my favor. Why continue to partner in the airplane if I was going to have second thoughts about using it? Sure, it's fun to hang out at the hangar and polish out fingerprints in the paint and on the panel, but we become pilots to fly, not just hang out.
Yes, the cash calls seem to come more frequently and for larger amounts, but it's still an affordable partnership. And it makes no sense to pay the fixed costs and upgrades on the airplane but balk over the direct cost of flying it.
I would have preferred that there were three of us in the cabin when I took off in late afternoon, bound for Georgia, but the five passenger seats were empty. My son had left hours earlier than I — and arrived hours later. My wife made the long drive the next day.
Flying myself while my wife and son drove their separate ways was not the most cost-efficient way for all of us to travel. But at some point cost ceases to be the sole qualifier of efficiency. If that were the only factor few of us would be active pilots.
The three of us met in Georgia and later, back home with two cars, an airplane, and a stack of gas bills. Nonsense? Maybe, but at least for this trip, this time, it made sense to us.