Friday, November 16, 2007

Better to Be on the Ground Wishing....

There's a proverb in aviation that says it's better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air, than in the air, wishing you were on the ground. This week I had TWO opportunities to fly for business trips, and ended up driving for both, wishing the whole time I were flying....

I had to appear in court in Hampton, Virginia, on Tuesday morning. I reserved the Cardinal and planned to fly down Monday afternoon, then back on Tuesday after the hearing. It would have been a perfect trip for the utility of a small plane. By car, it's about 200 miles, three and a half hours. By air, even taking into account the deviations because of security restrictions that I wrote about before, it's only 140 nautical miles. In the Cardinal, cruising at about 120 knots, it would have been a little over an hour of flying time.

Financially, it also made sense for the client. The mileage rate these days is $0.485 per mile. For a 400-mile round trip, it cost my client nearly $200 in mileage and 7 hours of my time. If I'd flown, it would have been about 2 tach hours on the Cardinal at $83 per tach hour, for an expense cost of $166. As far as my time goes, it would have been a total of about 3 hours of travel time. In all, driving instead of flying cost an extra 4 hours of my time (about $1,400), and $35 in travel expenses.

Alas, the weather was not forecast to be good for my return trip on Tuesday. The cloud ceilings were expected to be too low. That wouldn't have stopped me if I'd had my instrument rating, something a half dozen pilots reminded me of when I sent out an email canceling my plane reservation. In fact, I might have been able to go even without an instrument rating, just flying at a lower altitude than I would have otherwise. But I just couldn't be sure that I'd be able to get home. I knew what the conservative decision was. So I drove instead, and spent about 7 hours of quality time with my iPod and whoever I could reach by phone. Of course, the weather on Tuesday was fine until about 2-3 hours after I would have landed at my home airport. I could have flown.

At the end of the hearing on Tuesday, the judge ordered us to appear again on Friday morning. I scheduled the Cardinal again, and watched the weather. Once again, mother nature was against me. I needed to be in Hampton by dinnertime on Thursday to prepare a witness to testify at the hearing. I watched the weather closely. Thursday morning arrived with a low cloud ceiling and freezing temperatures just a couple thousand feet in the air, but it was forecast to clear up by mid-afternoon. If I was going to drive, I needed to leave by 2:30 or so. At 1:30, the clouds were still low, there was some rain, and the freezing levels were at or below 3,000 feet. It just wasn't safe to fly.

So I made the decision, canceled my airplane reservation, and headed out the door for the long drive. By 3:30, the clouds had lifted, the sun was shining, and it was beautiful. I could have flown if I had waited another hour.

On Friday, I left Hampton about 11:30 to drive back to Washington. The traffic was terrible, barely moving, adding about two hours to the drive. As I sat in the traffic for five hours, watching the sun play on the colorful fall leaves fluttering in the light breezes, I repeated over and over in my head, "Better to be on the ground, wishing...."

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