Ground Clutter

May 4, 2007
The ‘Other’ Side

I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the other side. Unfortunately, just like Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr., I will never get there. My ‘vision’ was provided by Pat Epps of Epps Aviation, PDK, who was nice enough to pick me up at AVL (Asheville, NC), take me with him to a meeting in Macon, GA (MCN), and return me to AVL.

Pat said he would be in a Bonanza or Baron, and I was as happy about it as a teenaged boy getting his first kiss. Most of my travel these days is via airlines, so traveling by Beechcraft was going to be a pleasure.

I showed up at AVL’s Million Air FBO early, hoping that someone I knew would see me being picked up like a business tycoon. (Told the two young ladies that I was waiting to be picked up, but they didn’t seem the least bit impressed.)

Y’all, Pat showed up in a Pilatus PC-12. (The two ladies still weren’t impressed, but I was.) Truth is, Pat had invited four other people and worked his way right out of a Bo or Baron. I, of course, tried to create the impression that the multimillion dollar airplane was strictly for my benefit.

The trip down was wonderful. Hell, just being “picked up” was wonderful. I didn’t have to check baggage, remove my shoes or computer, undress, or display my liquids in a plastic bag. I waited in no — repeat, no — lines. I just sat for a few minutes in one of Million Air’s easy chairs, sipping free coffee and nibbling on free popcorn until my golden chariot arrived.

The PC-12 cruised down to MCN at 360 knots, and it was, hands down, the most comfortable airplane in which I ever rode (I have sat in Gulfstreams, but never ridden in one). The leg room alone put me in hog heaven.

We flew back to AVL after the meeting. A fellow pilot I knew was in the lobby about to fly off in his C-172. By golly he was impressed (even though the young ladies remained impassive).

Now, before I get all of the email asking, let me answer the question, “Ralph, how come you don’t fly general aviation everywhere, since you love it so much?”

Well, back in the day when I had access to a Cessna 172, avgas was only a buck or two per gallon (I can actually remember when it was less than 50 cents per gallon), and airlines were still relatively expensive, I often flew myself for shorter trips. I still bought a ticket to Louisville, Little Rock, or Tallahassee, but if the weather was great on the day of the flight, I canceled that ticket and flew myself. It didn’t matter, because back then before yield management dominated the industry, the airlines would, believe it or not, refund the full price of the canceled ticket.

To safely fly genav on my schedule, I’d need a propjet. Can’t afford that and never will.

As the Bard said, “ ‘Tis true ‘tis pity, and pity ‘tis, ‘tis true.”