Far down on the list of national priorities, but still part of the collateral damage of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, is the backbone of general aviation as we in the United States know it — the Fixed Base Operator. With apologies to our readers outside the United States, this week we’ll focus on the tremendous impact the grounding of private, piston airplane operations has and will have on American aviation businesses.
The major airlines, benefactor of and to the strongest economy in the world, are receiving a Federal bailout. Our system of small business Fixed Base Operators (FBOs), schools and repair facilities, though, won’t get direct aid from Congress … and the impact of the two-week-plus restrictions on general aviation has been devastating. My local FBO sold less than $20 in fuel, and took in no instructional or rental income, in the first 10 days after 9/11. Although aviation business owners may qualify for Small Business Administration and other loans (and maybe even Federal disaster loans), if small-town aviation is to survive this crisis, we in the world of personal aviation are the ones who’ll make the save. Don’t stop donating money, time and blood to the disaster relief effort. But if you love the freedom of personal aviation, and want to see its infrastructure survive to support your freedom, consider pledging yourself to the following:
- From your logbook, write down the dates when you’re due for your next Flight Review. You’ll need this later.
- Take two hours of dual instruction. Call your local flying school or flight instructor and schedule two hours’ dual. Learn a new skill. Make a Flight Review out of it. If you’re based in one of the so-called “Enhanced Class B” emergency areas (as of this writing, on 9/25/01), dual instruction is the only way you can fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Use a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) who’s instructing full-time — even if he/she isn’t your usual first choice — with all the airline layoffs, his/her career prospects went from golden to lead in a New York minute. Even if you can’t pass an FAA medical, take some dual — you’ll get back into the air, if even for a short time, and you’ll give something back to an industry that has given you so much pleasure. Two hours’ dual will cost you about $50.00, plus the cost of the airplane… but if every one of the roughly 635,000 certificated pilots in the U.S. took two hours’ piston dual, then approximately $32 million would be pumped, short-term, into the FBO economy.
- Get something fixed. If you’re one of the approximately 200,000 U.S. piston airplane owners, take your plane in for that repair or minor modification you’ve been putting off. At $50.00 per hour shop rate, 200,000 airplane owners averaging a modest three hours’ shop time each would add $30 million to personal aviation’s recovery — even if you got the parts for “cost.”
- Rent an airplane. If you don’t own an airplane, rent one for those two hours’ instruction. At an average $60.00 per hour rental, the 400,000 non-owner pilots in the U.S. would contribute $48 million more to the FBO network.
- Get back on track and keep the economy going, by taking your next Flight Review when it was originally due (see (1) above). This will help spread some of the income out for FBOs, and your ease of scheduling, after the crisis passes.
A million piston flying hours means about $30 million in fuel sales, in a very conservative estimate. If you rent, the fuel cost is part of the rental fee you paid.
So what’s your pledge to stave off the effects of terrorism on our personal aviation freedoms?
- About $300 – $350 (plus parts costs) if you’re an airplane owner, or
- Something near $170 if you rent.
But your contributions will pour around $140 million into the FBO economy, short term, and if they manage their money wisely, most small-town FBOs should be able to take their share of this “self-bailout” and survive as things (hopefully) get back to normal. If we all pledge to revive the FBO system, the biggest problem we’ll face isn’t the failure of our aviation service providers, it’ll be being patient enough to wait while we get on the busy schedules of our instructors and maintainers.
BOTTOM LINE: We general aviation pilots are a “take charge” lot — now is the time for us to take charge of our industry’s future.
Editor’s Note: For more on how to help FBO’s, take a look at Have You Hugged Your FBO Today? by George Wilhelmsen.