Fewer hassles, lower cost appeals to plane owners

Chris Dettro

Mounting complaints about commercial carriers are piquing interest in an alternative flight plan — a do-it-yourself version.

Vaughn Henry, a Springfield-based estate and charitable planning consultant, owns, along with 29 other people, an interest in three planes hangared at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

Henry says he hasn’t flown commercially in more than a year. Instead, he flies himself to business meetings in such places as Branson, Mo., and Hays, Kan. — destinations that are difficult and expensive to get to on commercial airlines.

“I think there’s more frustration with air carriers, and people are talking more about flying privately,” he said. “Then they say, ‘But I don’t have a million dollars to spend.’

“Well, you don’t need a million dollars,” he said.

Henry’s fractional ownership group has two Piper Archers and a Cessna 172. Even with 30 people in the pool, Henry said there’s never been a time he needed a plane when there hasn’t been one available.

Henry joined the group for $800 and pays $50 a month for pro-rated maintenance and hangar space.

When he flies — approximately 60 to 70 hours a year — he also pays an hourly rate that depends on fuel costs and other factors.

It isn’t cost-effective, Henry said, to fly from, say, Springfield to Seattle. You can get a commercial airline ticket for less.

But for flying from Springfield to Branson, for example, Henry says it is more economical to fly himself — about $300-$320 for the four-hour round trip.

“I fly direct, don’t have to change planes, and I don’t have to wait for TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) to wave a wand over me,” he said. “And if my luggage with clean underwear isn’t there when I arrive, I know whose fault it is.”

Most of the private planes at the Springfield airport seat from two to six people and fly between 140 mph and 180 mph.

Henry recently flew from Springfield to Hays for a meeting and was paid mileage as if he had driven the roughly 1,100-mile round trip. The cost “came out about the same,” he said.

Had he flown, he said, he probably would have gone from Springfield to St. Louis, then to Kansas City, then taken a smaller plane to Hays.

“It stops in places like Salinas along the way,” he said. “It’s like taking the Greyhound bus.”

Henry works with family-owned businesses, farmers and ranchers, so his clients aren’t in Chicago or New York. They’re in out-of-the-way places that are unpopular destinations for commercial airlines.

Henry, a pilot for 25 years, has owned planes before. He said there are about 600 airports around the country that commercial aircraft use, while roughly 2,000 are accessible to general aviation.

“For me, it’s more economical than flying commercially,” he said. “And compared to driving, there’s not all that much of a difference. These aren’t just toys for rich people.”

Mark Hanna, director of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, said there is “a diverse audience of aviation users out here. It’s not a partisan, elite crowd.”

And if the plane owner isn’t a pilot and his company doesn’t have a pilot on the payroll, there is a pool of pilots at the airport who can be contracted to fly the plane, Henry said. If you’re not a pilot and don’t have a plane, there are on-demand air taxis that will fly people to and from their destinations.

“General aviation is the roots of flying,” Hanna said. “That’s where the next generation of astronauts, air-traffic controllers and airport administrators comes from.”

Hanna says it has become more challenging to keep that progression moving forward, given additional security regulations incorporated since Sept. 11, 2001.

“The birth, the continuance and the future of aviation is in the general aviation community,” he said. “It has been a core piece of this airport since its inception.”

Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510.

Three services here for private pilots



Springfield pilot Vaughn Henry calls the three fixed-base operators — or FBOs — at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport “the heartbeat of the general aviation community.”

Rob Fisher, an owner of 1st Class Air, one of those FBOs, calls them “the best-kept secret out here.”

1st Class Air, as well as Landmark Aviation and McClelland Aviation, provides maintenance, fueling, hangaring and other services — including flight training — to planes based at the airport and others.

“We’ve been blessed to have three FBOs here,” said Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport director Mark Hanna.

“We’re like a full-service gas station,” Fisher said.

In the five years he’s been there, Fisher said, he’s seen an increase in his firm’s maintenance business as some aircraft maintenance shops in the area have closed.

“Our maintenance brings in other business for us,” he said, noting that 1st Class Air services planes from Florida and Colorado, as well as from Decatur and Taylorville.

Fisher said the private planes at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport are used primarily for business travel, with some personal use mixed in.

Pilots must stay current with their training, and every plane flown must go through an annual inspection.

“The whole aircraft gets torn apart,” he said. “If it is used for flight-for-hire, they have to do the inspection every 100 hours of flight time.”

The most popular type of private aircraft?

“This field is strong with Piper Saratogas and Beechcraft Bonanzas,” Fisher said. “Other places, Cessna is big.”

“Both are low-wing aircraft with retractable landing gear that helps with speed but adds to complexity and expense,” he said.

Both aircraft have room for four to six people.

Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510.

A fast, cheap flight to Kansas

A trip to Hays, Kan., from Springfield cost Vaughn Henry about $320 each way the last time he flew there in one of the private planes of which he is part owner.

His return trip took about 4 1/2 hours, with a stop in Sedalia, Mo., because of thunderstorms and tornadoes in the Kansas City area. His time to Hays was interrupted by a planned side trip to Nebraska.

Henry said he got a quote of $1,780 for a round trip from a commercial airline for the Springfield-to-Hays-and-back route.

A check of airline ticket Web sites Thursday showed the cheapest rate for a Springfield-to-Hays round trip with a week’s notice and a one-day stayover with departure on a Friday was $750 plus $50 in taxes and fees.

The flight to Hays required two plane changes, and although the time spent in the air was 3 hours and 35 minutes, the total time was 9 hours and 42 minutes because of layovers.

Coming back to Springfield, the $750-round-trip flight went from Hays to Great Bend, Kan., to Kansas City, then to Charlotte, N.C., before returning west to St. Louis and then to Springfield.

Total time: 8 hours and 50 minutes.

For another $50, there was a ticket that would take you from Kansas City to Chicago, rather than Charlotte, and then to St. Louis.

A check for the same trip Friday showed the cheapest round-trip ticket available was $1,160.

Flying clubs also part of general aviation

The general aviation community at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport consists of more than people who own part interests in planes.

There are flying clubs, such as the Flying 20 Club and the Springfield Flying Club.

Pilot and consultant Vaughn Henry says clubs are attractive to people “who would like to fly and can’t justify the dough it would cost to buy a plane today.”

Charlie Watts, an engineer for Ameritech, has been a Flying 20 Club member since the 1980s. The club owns three planes and has 40 to 45 members, he said.

Watts flies mostly for pleasure, although he sometimes flies to Kansas for his job.

“The places I work, there aren’t any commercial flights,” he said.

His membership costs $800 annually, although that is reduced for a year if the member takes flying lessons.

Henry said clubs accommodate both people who have a genuine business need to travel and pleasure fliers “who like to fly to Charleston for a hamburger.”

“A decent plane and a decent set of avionics (radios, navigation system, GPS, etc.)” can be had for around $100,000, he said. A new plane could cost between $200,000 and $400,000.

“I think you can learn to fly if you have average intelligence, average coordination and above-average common sense,” Henry said.

What’s flying

-Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport has 168 aircraft based at its general aviation area.

-Of those, 133 are single-engine aircraft, 33 are multi-engine, and six are privately owned jets.

-Four private helicopters also are based at the airport.