When I tell people that I’m a professional pilot, they usually ask what airline I fly for? I’ll bet you that most people in the country really don’t understand the difference between the airlines and General Aviation. To them, General Aviation is pretty invisible and/or inconsequential.
“General Aviation” comprises all civilian, non-airline flying. From flight training to corporate/business use, and everything in between: cargo, point-to-point charter, powerline and pipeline patrol, air ambulance, sightseeing, news-gathering, and yes, even private owner pleasure flying - it's all General Aviation.
The helicopter we fly falls under General Aviation. It is a tremendous help for my boss, letting him get things done much more efficiently. Our dealerships are spread out all over the whole state of Alabama. But we can visit two or three them in one day with the helicopter, landing right at the specific location. We have one board meeting that my boss must attend every month in a small town that’s not anywhere near an Interstate. When he used to drive, it took him three hours one-way. That was six hours total – the better part of a workday - spent in a car with limited productivity.
All across the country, General Aviation aircraft (both helicopters and airplanes) help businessmen do exactly what my boss does. They get people to places that are not served by the airlines. Say I had to go from Pensacola to, oh, Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 350 ground miles. There is no airline service, not even a commuter (we call them “regionals” now). Mapquest says it’s five hour and thirty-five minute trip by car – figure six hours. If I had a meeting in Huntsville, it would be a two-day affair.
In the helicopter it would take me a little under three hours to do the trip one-way, which is do-able but a little impractical (that's a loooong time to spend chugging along in a helicopter). Using an airplane like a twin-engine Cessna 421, the trip would only take about 1:15. It would be a piece of cake to fly up to Huntsville in the morning, have my meeting, and then fly back in the afternoon. This is what General Aviation does best.
Many pilots aspire to work for the airlines. There always was a certain romance to being an airline pilot. They were once held in high esteem by the general public. Sadly, those days are gone. Airline pilots suffer the same indignities that the rest of the flying public does: they have to remove their shoes and proceed through the security checkpoint with just as much suspicion aimed at them as anyone else in the airport. The job of “airline pilot” has lost its luster - and a lot of the respect that used to go along with it.
Some pilots, like me, have no desire to work for the airlines. I like it here in General Aviation, flying these wacky helicopters and doing the goofy things we invariably do. The pay isn’t great (compared to a 767 captain) and the benefits are awful. My schedule is…well…I’m just always on call, even if I don’t “work” a lot. (My friends think I don’t work at all.)
Jason Schappert, one of the guys who are doing that Flight Across America thing, is also a General Aviaton kind of guy. Here, he explains why he does what he does.
Jason and Vincent begin their month-long cross-country adventure tomorrow, Friday, June 18, 2010. They will be carrying across the country the message of how important General Aviation is to America. It's a worthy cause, and they need your support.