Private skies: Pilot licences a business advantage
An epidemic of flight cancellations for safety inspections. Ever-increasing delays at busy airports. More airlines heading into bankruptcy.
With the nation’s commercial air travel system in increasing turmoil, private aviation presents an attractive alternative for businesspeople who are licensed pilots. It often gives them an edge over competitors who rely on commercial flights or jet charters for their business trips.
“The big question is, ‘What is your time worth as a businessperson?’” said Greg Romano, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Frederick, Md. “On a typical airline flight with the time you spend on the ground, on lots of trips 500 miles or less, the time savings can be pretty significant.”
The FAA mandates a minimum of 40 hours of flying time to obtain a private pilot’s certificate. The typical training time is 60 to 80 hours, given the current generation of more advanced aircraft, Romano said. Flying lessons average around $8,000, with an additional $3,000 to obtain an instrument rating enabling pilots to fly in poor visibility.
Some businesspeople take up flying as a hobby and later recognize its potential to increase their productivity, particularly by letting them fly into small airports close to their destinations.
A $5,000 investment in a used Cessna 150 helped Chuck Hurley’s scoreboard business take off. In 1972, Hurley was working full-time as a high school math teacher when he started a scoreboard installation business on the side.
“Then I realized the airplane could get me a lot faster from point to point than my competition,” Hurley said.
Hurley is president of Scoreboard Enterprises of Mansfield, which installs and repairs scoreboards at schools and colleges throughout New England.
The Easton resident obtained his private pilot’s license in 1973 and began flying to jobs. In 1986, after leaving teaching to run the business full-time, he spent $25,000 to upgrade to a used Cessna 177.
Flying enables Hurley to reach schools on Cape Cod and Islands more quickly than he could by car. “It’s one of those things that’s invaluable,” Hurley said. “They’re reachable (by automobile), but you’re going to tie two days up just to do an hour’s work.”
In one instance, Hurley restored a broken scoreboard hours before Nantucket High School’s Thanksgiving Day football game.
With gas prices for cars hovering well over $3 a gallon, flying offers competitive fuel costs. For instance, Hurley estimated fuel costs for a flight from Mansfield Municipal Airport to the Berkshires at about $90, compared with $50 in a work van.
Stanley Zamkow of Sharon took flight lessons in 1980 with the goal of flying for recreation. Quickly he realized aviation’s potential to enhance his business, Digital Design & Development Inc., which installs and maintains equipment used to chart waterway depths. The work requires Zamkow to travel along the East Coast.
In 1988, Zamkow bought a half share of a Piper Arrow from a fellow pilot for $12,500 and began flying the single-engine four-seater out of Mansfield Municipal Airport non-stop as far as the Carolinas. When Hurricane Hugo roared through Charleston, N.C., in 1989, Zamkow was able to fly into a smaller airport and get to a repair job while Charleston International Airport was still closed in the aftermath of the storm.
In addition to fuel costs, Zamkow pays $235 a month to hangar his plane in Mansfield, $1,400 in insurance and $1,000 for annual inspections and routine maintenance.
Zamkow, 59, most frequently travels to New Jersey, flying into Teterboro Airport or Old Bridge Airport. From Mansfield, the trip takes 90 minutes.
In 28 years as a pilot, he only recounts one white-knuckle experience. Flying from Delaware to Cape May, N.J., before he had an instrument rating, Zamkow was unable to avoid a cloud bank and lost his bearings. Because it was still daylight, he was able to keep control of the plane and avert a crash.
Although Zamkow got his instrument rating in the early 1990s, he still takes a cautious approach to flying in challenging conditions.
“There’s a saying that there’s old pilots and bold pilots,” Zamkow said. “I got to be an old pilot. I’m the guy who lands and waits on the ground if the weather’s not too good.”
For Norwell real estate developer Greg Webb, childhood vacations often included trips in his father’s Cessna.
“It was like getting in the back of a station wagon,” Webb said.
When Webb started building vacation homes in Maine, he recognized the advantages of flying to work sites. “I thought, ‘There’s a better way to get there than driving,’” said Webb, owner of Webb Builders.
He obtained his pilot’s license in the 1990s and shortly thereafter obtained his instrument rating, effectively doubling the number of days he is eligible to fly. Webb flies his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza out of Plymouth Municipal Airport to Bethel Regional Airport and back twice a week while he works on a pair of projects at the Sunday River ski resort in Maine.
The high-performance Beechcraft reduces what would be a four-hour drive to a two-hour flight that burns about $150 worth of gas – less than the fuel costs in an SUV.
“You save a little bit on the gas, but the big thing is the time,” Webb said. “The plane’s never late and you never lose your luggage.”
Steve Adams may be reached at email@example.com.
Introductory flights at local flight schools
King Aviation, Mansfield
What you get: A 25-minute introductory ride in a Cessna Skyhawk
Horizon Aviation, Norwood
What you get: 30 minutes of ground instruction and a one-hour flight in a Cessna Skyhawk
Norwood Flight Center, Norwood
What you get: one-hour flight in Cirrus SR-20
Alpha One Flight, Plymouth
What you get: 20 minutes ground instruction, 20-minute flight in a Cessna 152
Shoreline Aviation, Marshfield
What you get: 15 minutes of ground instruction and half-hour flight in a Piper Warrior
Licensed pilots in the U.S., 2007:
- 84,399 student pilots
- 242 recreational pilots
- 2,031 sport pilots
- 228,475 private pilots
- 128,540 commercial pilots
- 146,722 airline transport pilots