Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Forget the Sleigh: All the Cool Kids Were Flying GA for the Holidays!

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

We've all seen the same B-roll from the country's large airports this time of year showing frustrated travelers headed to Grandma's house - waiting in long lines for the scheduled airlines to put a jet at a gate, fill it with warm bodies and get outta Dodge. Even on a good day, flying via the "majors" can be at best a headache, and at worst, an ache generally located at the southbound end of a northbound passenger.

But there were a few smart members of our aviation family who bypassed the clown posse and flew via their own airlines this holiday season...choosing general aviation as their means of travel. Let's check in on two of them:
"I used a rental SR20 as a bit of a time machine to make things faster," said Adam Fast, a.k.a. @AdamCanFly on Twitter, "and to have a bit of fun surrounding all the festivities. I made a solo trip Friday evening to visit a friend from college and her family who live
Adam Fast in a rental SR20
51nm away, but due to being on back highways it's a solid 2 hour drive. A headwind made the trip out .8 start to stop and back .6 start to stop. Weather was wonderful for this flight, legally night both ways.

Then I took my grandma and great uncle down to Tulsa on Christmas Eve for festivities with my dad's side of the family. Joplin to Tulsa is via interstate but we still saved about an hour each way over driving (not counting preflight / loading, which I think is a lot of fun and never factor in to a trip) We had our share of pies, Christmas candy, gifts, probably around 30lbs of stuff plus a bit more ballast to keep the CG far enough aft.

Weather planning was a much bigger deal for the Christmas Eve flight thanks to TAFs that flipped widely every cycle, and a MVFR departure with reported visibility right at 3 mi (once in the air, I had at least 6nm the whole way out). The TAFs stayed good throughout the day but it didn't keep me from checking ForeFlight pretty often to make sure nothing unexpected was happening. The return trip had 5mi visibility reported but about 8-10mi once I was up.

In the case of the Friday trip, flying was considerably more convenient. Christmas Eve from a purely practical standpoint I'd say it was about even - but flying was WAY more fun.

I'm going to skip over the cost justification as far as being quoted is concerned. If I didn't, I wouldn't have flown. Some pilots have to justify cost, I'm not one of them. I enjoy it, so I'm going to do it. It doesn't feel right to go from a positive use to "yeah, it costs a lot of money and that makes me sad but I did it anyway.

Flying by GA airplane to see family for Christmas was a good way to have some fun and plan / fly a trip profile I hadn't flown in a while, plus got us where we needed to be faster."
Doug and Denise Winston
Another GA pilot who bypassed the highway and the cattle call used the family flying sleigh to hop over the Grapevine just south of Bakersfield, CA:
"I'm an instrument rated, 2,200 hour pilot, owner of a 1978 Cessna T210M, said Doug Winston. "My wife Denise and I flew from Bakersfield (BFL) to Torrance (TOA), CA to spend Christmas with my parents and siblings on Christmas Eve. It makes a 3 plus hour ordeal on packed freeways into a 50-minute pleasure flight with a fantastic sunset at 9,000 feet. We were able to spend time with two different family groups in the same day without being exhausted. No traffic, no stress and no speeding tickets; the reasons I got my pilot’s license in the first place back in 1984. Our SUV gets about the same MPG as the plane, so why not fly?"
We all fly for different reasons, but these two pilots have demonstrated why we REALLY fly. We do it because it's fun, because it saves time, and because when you compare soaring high above a packed interstate to dodging Kenworths hauling groceries to the nearest Piggly Wiggly, this is the Mother of All No-Brainers.