General Aviation Continues to Fly

by Alan Klapmeier

To the charge that I am an "airplane nut" how do I plead? Guilty, your honor.

As with most of us, and all of Jim's guest bloggers, our choices and passions give us a particular view on issues. For me these issues include not just aviation, but also the relationships between productivity and the economy (more later), the economy and business, and business and integrity.

I can't remember a time when I was not interested in aviation. I have spent most of my life educating myself about, building and flying airplanes. My office is full of airplane models and my bookshelves are filled with aviation books (with a particular tilt towards Spitfires and the Battle of Britain). I travel by personal aircraft, whether for business or pleasure, averaging over 500 hours of flying per year. Yes, I live and breathe aviation--it is one of my passions.

Do you remember the dreams of flying, and the feeling of freedom that you had as a child, and the ability to look out over the landscape and know what's beyond the horizon? I think there is something inherent in all of us that drives us to desire freedom. Flying is a manifestation of that desire.

But of course flying is more than just a dream.

So let's start with this question: Why don't more people fly? Sure, they may not find it as consuming as I do, but I believe that many would find it valuable, given the opportunity to experience it the way I do. Unlike some in aviation, I'm okay with people learning to fly and participating in this industry only because they need to travel, not because it is their passion. Besides, that's an easier economic justification than trying to quantify joy, and I expect that those who enter into flying for economic reasons will ultimately fall in love with it anyway.

There are many reasons to learn to fly. However, today I will focus on the value of flying for transportation rather than the enjoyment of flying. It's not that enjoyment is any less compelling; it's just that it requires a better writer than I to properly communicate the joy of flying. For your consideration let me suggest the writings of Richard Bach or Lane Wallace.

As a practical point, flying can be a solution to the problem of transportation.

I suspect that one of the reasons more people don't make more use of general aviation is that they don't understand what it is like today. For example, Friday afternoon I was chipping ice in northern Minnesota (a brief warm spell had caused just enough of the snow to melt to create a layer of ice on driveways, roofs and in front of the barn). Unfortunately, this meant I was several hours late in leaving for a trip. I needed to be in Maine to participate in a presentation on Saturday. The flexibility provided by my small airplane meant that the flight didn't leave without me that morning as originally scheduled. I didn't lose my bags along the way. I didn't have to spend day and night driving after missing the flight. And most importantly--I didn't miss the meeting.  

It took me just under four hours to fly from northern Minnesota to Portland, ME, that afternoon. Portland to D.C. on Sunday night was three hours. Late Tuesday night, with the flexibility of staying two hours past my original deadline, we flew to Savannah. Melbourne, FL, was another two hours Wednesday morning. A quick flight over and back to Bartow that afternoon, and an evening flight from Melbourne to Venice, FL, to meet my wife at her sister's house concluded a day of travel that would not have been possible by any other form of transportation. Today we came back to Duluth, MN, after one stop for fuel. Total time in the air was just over seven hours. House-to-house could not have been done faster by airline even though I was "only" flying my Cirrus with headwinds for half the trip.

From just a transportation point of view, general aviation trips like this example represent tremendous flexibility and efficiency. 

In today's hectic world, flexible transportation is ever more important. GA aircraft allow you to get more places to get more done. It also makes it easier to bring the extra people that may be necessary to get more out of a meeting at virtually no increased cost. Getting more done with less (the definition of improving productivity) is one of the key ingredients to improving your economic situation.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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