9:15 AM

This is Why I Fly GA

When it comes to determining if management in any sector is steering their ship properly, it is always very easy to sort the "hot" companies from the "not" companies. When a damning report such as today's Airline Quality Rating (AQR) surfaces about your industry, it is painfully easy to see which companies have "tuned in" brass at the top, and which ones are suffering from "Industrial Disease", to quote a favorite Dire Straits song that seems – in the case of most U.S. airlines – to be oh so apropos right now.

The Associated Press best covers this report, and has released the following in wide distribution:

"Late flights and lost bags, to say nothing of higher fares, are making air travelers grumpy, an annual survey of airline quality says. The industry posted declines last year in every area of the Airline Quality Rating, amid rising fuel prices, safety problems and bankruptcy filings that shut down three carriers last week alone. The biggest change was in the rate of consumer complaints, up 60 percent overall. The rate more than doubled at US Airways and Comair, and rose for 15 of the 16 airlines included in the study. The exception was Mesa Airlines. On-time arrivals dropped for the fifth straight year, with more than one-quarter of all flights late, according to the survey. The rates of passengers bumped from overbooked flights and bags lost, stolen or damaged also jumped in 2007."
If the AQR report were a report card in fifth grade, Johnny just got an F. It is impossible to find a way for most airlines to have done much worse in this survey. Meanwhile, while the Big Airline world is flushing itself down the toilet, GA manufacturing and deliveries are off the freakin' charts:
"The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) announced that the 2007 year-end shipment figures for the general aviation industry have led to another record high in industry billings, which totaled $21.9 billion, eclipsing last years’ figure by 16.5 percent. Year-end, worldwide shipments of general aviation airplanes totaled 4,272 units, the most in more than a quarter century and up 5.4 percent over the previous year's total of 4,053 units. Aside from the record set for year-end billings, the industry also experienced an all-time high in business jet shipments, delivering over one thousand units for the first time in history. Business jet shipments reached an all-time high of 1,138 units, up 28.4 percent over last year’s figure of 886 airplanes."
This is why I am so very proud to be a pilot...and an airplane owner. This week, I am planning a flight in our family Cherokee 235 down to Central California for a photo/video shoot, and then will be departing that evening for a quick jaunt over to the Wine Country for a wedding. We are lugging lots of photo gear, oversized tripods, wardrobe for the models, the works. It all fits perfectly in Katy's cargo hold, and VFR weather permitting, this flight will be easy and convenient. It is a trip that is scheduled tight, and would be impossible to do in the world of the Big Airlines. I am flying right into the little airport where we are doing the shoot, and then right into the Wine Country...direct on all legs right in the backyard of my destination. Sweet.

Flying your own airplane should be the goal of any business person or company in 2008. If you have a decent-sized corporation that spends a fair amount on commercial air travel just so your people can get frustrated about arriving late without their baggage, why don't you just buy a Pilatus PC-12 and begin your own flight department? If you don't want to hassle with starting a flight department from scratch, why not just buy a fraction of a PC-12...the financials on fractional ownership of a Pilatus make great sense.

Whether you operate a big turbine-powered people mover, or just charter Cirrus SR-22s when you need to be somewhere without any airline hassles, in most flight scenarios, you will beat the daylights out of the airlines. And if you compare customer service between flying yourself or chartering a private plane versus the Bigs, it is a bloodbath...the airlines don't even come close.

That is why I fly GA... to avoid being herded across the sky like cattle by a big, clumsy, out-of-touch airline who plays a shell game with their FAA maintenance records and thinks overbooking a flight is an ethical means of turning a profit.

If you want to begin avoiding the airlines by earning your pilot's license and buying your own GA plane, a few good places to start are Cessna, Cirrus and King Schools.

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