Rudder Warriors: More Execs Do their Own Flying

Walt Meziere's single-engine Piper Comanche flies at less than half the speed of a large jetliner.

But the owner of Rockwall-based Golden Eagle Law Enforcement Systems Inc. says his single-engine plane often gets him to client meetings faster than a commercial flight.

"Two and a half hours gets me anywhere in Mississippi I need to be," Mr. Meziere said.

Before he started flying himself, it often took two hours just to make it to the gate at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, allowing for road traffic, parking delays and security lines.

Although the travel time on a large jet is shorter, most of his clients are at county sheriff's departments outside big metropolitan areas, meaning he often faced at least another hour's drive to get to his appointments.

Mr. Meziere is part of a small but enthusiastic group of executives who have opted to fly themselves as commercial travel has become more cumbersome since 9/11.

Executive pilots say they like flying themselves to save time and sometimes money, though their decisions aren't based just on efficiency.

"Anyone who flies does it because they love flying," said Dallas businessman George Moussa.

"Business" flying - defined as trips where operators are piloting themselves - accounted for about 14 percent of general aviation activity in 2005, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Although the number of overall hours of business flying remained substantially stable, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said interest appears to be growing.

The group has gotten more requests for information about training and tax issues, said Chris Dancy, an association spokesman.

For Mr. Meziere, who got his pilot's license in 2002, flying himself generally makes more sense.

The 46-year-old travels to see customers about three weeks a month, often flying between multiple appointments in a single day to avoid unnecessary overnight stays.

On a recent trip, he left Rockwall's Ralph M. Hall Municipal Airport in the morning to fly to client meetings in Bolivar, Miss., and Dawsonville, Ga., and returned home that evening.

That kind of flight wouldn't be possible using scheduled service.

By flying himself, "I'm not on anyone's schedule," Mr. Meziere said.

Being able to fly to multiple destinations in a day has also been important for Mr. Moussa.

On frequent trips between furniture markets, he often stops in several cities to meet with clients.

"I can get there when I need to be there and then leave when I want," Mr. Moussa said.

Mr. Moussa, who owns a Dallas-based furniture importing and distribution business, Ambella Home Collection, often uses his six-seat Beechcraft Baron 58 to bring samples to customers.

Executive pilots say they consider the cost of lost time working around an airline's schedule when they decide whether to fly on their own or commercially.

Based on his flying schedule and using a relatively new aircraft, a four-seat Mooney Bravo GX, Richardson business owner Paul Clark estimates it costs him about $150 an hour to fly on his own.

With most trips popping up with only a few days' notice, he doesn't worry about expensive walk-up fares and change fees when plans are altered at the last minute.

On longer flights, the economics of flying commercially often outweigh the conveniences of independence.

For trips of more than 500 miles, "the commercial airlines become more viable options," said Mr. Clark, president of West Associates, a distributor of technology products. "It's a balancing act."

Initially, Mr. Clark expected he would need to use his small plane only about six times a month for business. Lately, that's expanded to 10 to 15 trips a month as he has found more reasons to use it.

"It just feeds on itself," he said.

Chuck Bauer, owner of Chuck Bauer Professional Sales Training Corp. in Carrollton, only has to look down at the traffic along Interstate 35 between Austin and Dallas to be reminded why he flies himself.

"It's a constant reminder why I fly," Mr. Bauer said.

Mr. Bauer, whose plane is outfitted with satellite radio, rented planes for three years before buying a four-seat Cessna Turbo 182 in September.

He says doing business in Texas makes flying himself even more important.

With clients in small towns, Mr. Bauer said he's able to tap into a broader customer base that he may not have pursued if he had to fly to one of Texas' major cities and drive the rest of the way.

"The general aviation community makes it very viable for me to increase my business," Mr. Bauer said. "I can get in and out of the airports to meet with clients."

Some avid pilots have faced a tougher time conducting their business trips when working for others.

Robert Johnson, who last year sold his Irving software firm, has found himself back on commercial airlines for business trips after the new owners cited liability concerns.

Mr. Johnson still flies himself for personal trips but misses the convenience of using his plane to travel to business appointments.

"I could get a lot more done because it was more efficient," he said.

Mr. Johnson recalled flying between Des Moines, Iowa, and Champaign, Ill. - a trip that now requires a stop in Chicago even when flying on regional aircraft.

"You have no control over the schedule," he said. "It's like the difference between driving a car vs. riding on Greyhound."

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