When you build luxury apartments in cities coast to coast, there is an obvious need to travel. That used to scare Ronnie Morgan, who operates half of The Morgan Group from San Diego while his brother manages the headquarters in Houston.
“In the mid-1990s, we used to fly everywhere commercially. Turbulence bothered me; everything bothered me. I started getting used to it and never in my wildest dreams thought I would end up being a pilot.”
That changed when a friend of his father, seated at a Houston restaurant table near Morgan’s family, talked him into taking a flight the following morning in a Bonanza. On that clear, crisp winter day, they flew halfway to Austin, then halfway to Corpus Christie before returning to Houston. “I realized, ‘Wow! You can go places.’” He signed up for flying lessons.
“It took me 50-plus, [almost] 60 hours to solo. I was still deathly afraid. But I just kept with it and ended up getting my private after a year or year and a half of taking flying lessons [in 1997].” A two-year lease on a 1978 Beechcraft Bonanza A36 led to the purchase of a 1994 Bonanza A36. After getting a multiengine rating and looking at Beechcraft Barons and King Airs, he settled on a Daher-Socata TBM 700 single-engine turboprop in 2002 and flew it for five years. He moved up to a Citation CJ1+. While waiting for delivery, Morgan dry-leased another Citation CJ1+ and got his crew rating plus 150 hours of jet time, then started initial pilot training at FlightSafety when his aircraft arrived.
His Christmas present for his business and his family in 2010 was a Cessna Citation CJ2+ with greater speed and range than his CJ1+. He expects to log 200 hours this year flying to the company headquarters in Houston, and to properties in the Jacksonville and Orlando areas of Florida. While most of the properties are developed and sold, The Morgan Group still controls 6,000 units. He also travels to look at new acquisitions. Over the holidays the family travels to a second home in Aspen, Colorado.
He takes a co-pilot along for weather considerations, long trips, night flying to unfamiliar airports, and upon passenger request. When his wife asked that he take their daughter on a college tour to Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and then on to New York City for shopping, he had good weather and flew single pilot most of the way. However, he added a co-pilot for the flight into the busy New York airspace.
Morgan discovered that managing risks means managing the family. “One of my personal minimums is that I never fly to an unfamiliar airport single pilot at night,” Morgan said. So when his wife and daughter arrived at the airport two hours late for a flight from Carlsbad, New Mexico, to Austin, Texas, they were told they missed the flight. Morgan returned the jet to the hangar and went to a nearby golf course. They were tardy as well for a flight from Nashville to Greensboro, North Carolina.
“When I finally got them in the taxi for the ride back to the airport, I made the decision we were not flying that night. At the FBO, we dragged out our luggage, rented a car, and headed back to town for a restful night in Nashville and dinner.”
Morgan’s fear of flying has been replaced by careful management of risk. The reward is on-time personal travel…well, almost.
E-mail the author at [email protected]. Photograph by Art Brewer