No Jet, No Sweat

No Jet, No Sweat

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No Jet, No Sweat

Enjoying all the benefits of a business aircraft does not necessarily mean you need to get a jet. Robert P. Mark looks at the smaller aircraft making a big difference.

Alan Josephsen’s been running a successful recycling company – Alan Josephsen Inc. – for the past 37 years. 

Sit down with him over a cup of coffee and you’ll quickly realise he’s not shy about sharing the strategies that helped him to grow his company, including his preferred mode of transportation … flying.

Despite a base just north of Chicago, Josephsen seldom sees the inside of an airline terminal, preferring to use a private business airplane as the most efficient way to visit clients in nearby states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Tennessee. Surprising to some though, Josephsen’s airplane isn’t a US$50 million biz jet, but a single-engine Cessna 182 that carries just four people and cruises at speeds of about 150 mph. Even more surprising though is that this company CEO doubles as the company’s only pilot.

About two to three times each month Josephsen heads to nearby Waukegan airport (KUGN) along Lake Michigan’s western shore and opens the hangar door to prepare the airplane for another flight, usually to meet with managers at many of the paper mills scattered around the Midwest. In the course of a typical two-day trip, Josephsen might depart UGN for a short flight to Sheboygan for breakfast, then on to Green Bay for lunch and perhaps another short flight to Shawno Wisc., before landing that evening in Eagle River. Josephsen feels lucky that his last meeting of the day in the region often coincides with the town where his family maintains a vacation property. Sometimes of course, the last stop of the day might be Memphis Tenn. after winding his way south from Chicago. After landing, Josephsen calculates he spent about 4 hours in the air before handing his 182 off to the line crew for his only overnight stop.

Josephsen remembers the old days when he made similar trips using nothing more than a suitcase and his trusty F-150 pickup truck. He’d always be too exhausted to make the Chicago, Sheboygan, Green Bay, Shawno, Eagle River trip in one day. Then of course, he’d face a similarly grueling trip a few days later getting back home.

No need to be a math major to figure out the amount of time it took to complete each version of the same business trip. Using a single-engine business airplane, Josephsen easily accomplished in one day, usually without a hotel stay, what it used to take three exhausting days behind the wheel of his old Ford. But his use of the airplane is hardly a lark when you consider that almost none of the cities Josephsen visits operate any kind of airline service. If airlines were the only option, he said the trips simply would never happen. 

In the US, people like Josephsen are becoming more common as men and women who once only passingly thought of flying their own aircraft, now view earning a pilot certificate as a valuable cost of conducting or growing a business.

The cost of earning a pilot certificate to operate that airplane in good weather (VMC) might run about US$12,000-US$15,000, while the cost to purchase an aircraft like Josephsen’s might be US$200,000. The cost of a hangar to shield the airplane from the elements can vary from US$250-US$750 per month depending upon the airport that is usually not close to a major airline hub. Fuel, insurance and regular recurrent pilot training are additional as well. One benefit of course is that depending upon the tax bracket of the individual learning to fly, much of the training costs, as well as, the operating expenses of the aircraft can be deductible.

While these numbers represent serious chunks of capital to a small business owner, there’s one element often left out of the calculations by those who immediately point to a business airplane as simply an extravagant expense … time. In fact, Josephsen refers to his Cessna 182 as his time machine because of all the useful time it gives back to his life and business. Naysayers will counter that nothing can actually create time, but look again at just that one business trip of Alan Josephsen’s. Those couple of extra days of pleasure every so often in Eagle River for example, his reward for hard work, didn’t exist before he purchased his first airplane.

The math confirms the ability of an airplane-equipped business to visit more cities in less time than they might by using a car assuming an average speed of 50 mph on a good day. Even a small business airplane like the Cessna 182 triples that average speed. Unlike automobiles and pickup trucks, airplanes fly in a straight line for the most part and never encounter the construction season.

OK, perhaps the concept of time creation is a bit of a stretch. A better way to think about how business aviation – even using a single-engine airplane – can benefit a small business is by reallocating those 24 hours available to the pilot each day in a way they might never have before imagined. The National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA.org) website is chock full of similar stories, as well as methodology to help any company bean counter better understand the value of flying versus driving.

Becoming a Sky Warrior

Trading in a road warrior’s driving gloves for the wings of a pilot doesn’t happen overnight, however. Earning a pilot’s certificate requires a significant commitment of time and money. The most basic pilot license is called a private, single-engine land certificate. This allows the pilot to fly an airplane that uses just a single piston engine powering a single propeller. That airplane can only be operated in relatively good weather, referred to as visual conditions, that refers to the pilot’s ability to navigate essentially by looking out the windows, in daylight or night.

When poorer weather like rain or fog or snow is forecast, piloting an airplane requires another level of skill, called an instrument rating, tied to the need for the pilot to now fly by reference to the instruments and radios installed on the instrument panel. The marvelous part about airplanes is that they perform pretty much the same way in fog as they do on a clear sunny day, having no idea what the weather around them is like. Only the pilot must be better prepared. With just a private pilot certificate and an instrument rating, the pilot can use the airplane in almost any kind of weather to go almost anywhere day or night.

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Men and women who only passingly thought of flying their own Mooney M20, now view earning a pilot certificate as a valuable cost of conducting or growing a business

Of course piloting an airplane is not for everyone. In addition to the required investment of cash and training required to learn to fly, becoming a pilot requires the small business owner to be able to divorce themselves from their business once they enter the cockpit. While flying an airplane represents an adventure to most, an opportunity to view the world around us from a platform few others can enjoy, it’s also a challenge. Flying an airplane requires solid, yet flexible judgment, as well as well-honed hand-eye coordination skills, better than those demanded of someone driving a land cruiser. But like learning nearly any new skill, most people who commit to earning a pilot certificate say that many of the skills they learned to fly safely, like concentration, improved judgment and planning, successfully carry over into their daily working lives.

Aircraft operation as a business tool usually demands either outright ownership or that of a shared arrangement with one other person to create the schedule flexibility to make all the moving pieces come together. Some people even purchase or lease their airplane before obtaining their license. This gives a new pilot an opportunity to become thoroughly familiar with that one airplane from day one. Others prefer to learn in the smallest trainer and later transition to a larger aircraft once they’ve gained additional flying experience.

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Typical trainers available today include the Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20 or a Piper Warrior. While these same aircraft can also be used as a first business airplane, many pilots might quickly begin to find them to be too slow for regular business travel. Slightly more sophisticated aircraft might include the Cessna 182, the Cirrus SR-22, a Mooney or the Beechcraft Bonanza. A great resource to begin the search for locations to learn to fly as well as reports about these aircraft can be found at flighttraining.org – the training arm of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest pilot organisation in the world.

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Skills acquired learning to fly an aircraft like the Citation TTx can also prove valuable in business

When asked how his life might change if he ever had to sell his airplane, Josephsen groaned a response. “I’d probably have to double my life insurance considering how much time I’d need to spend on the highway again, no matter how great the car might be.” Luckily for many savvy business owners, they only need their car to run back and forth to the airport.