Time is Money

One of the first things people discover about flying is that it requires an abundance of two resources: time and money. The money part is pretty obvious. Anyone who inquires about flight instruction at a local school will figure that one out before they even take their first lesson. The importance of time is a bit more nebulous.

When I began working as an instructor, I noticed that even in affluent coastal Orange County, at least one of those two assets always seemed to be in short supply. Those who had plenty of money rarely had much free time; they were financially successful because they worked such long hours. Younger pilots typically had fewer demands on their schedule, but funds were limited at best. It reminds me of Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence formula, E=mc2. But instead of matter and energy being interchangeable, it’s time and money. Benjamin Franklin took it a step further in a 1748 letter, concluding that “time is money”.

I learned to fly during a period when both of those elements were readily available. It was a luxury I didn’t appreciate — or even recognize — at the time. It’s probably for the best, since I would have been sorely tempted to spend even more on my addiction.

After flying Part 135 for the past three years, it’s interesting to note how those same limits apply to charter customers despite being much higher up on the proverbial food chain. These restrictions are the very reason Part 91/135 business aviation exists at all.

Case in point: I recently flew a dozen employees of a large retailer around the U.S. to finalize locations for new stores. They were able to visit ten cities in four days, spending several hours working at each destination. Out of curiosity, I ran our itinerary through booking sites like Kayak, Orbitz, and Travelocity to see how a group of twelve might fare on the airlines. Would you be surprised to learn that the answer is “not well”?

Our first leg, three hours in length, would have taken twelve hours and two extra stops on the airlines and actually cost more, assuming business class seats. Some of the subsequent legs wouldn’t have been possible at all on the airlines because they simply don’t serve those destinations. Overall, chartering the Gulfstream IV-SP cost less than trying to do the same trip on an airline. As far as time saved, on an airline, each of those ten legs would have required passengers to be at the airport 90 minutes in advance of their scheduled departure time. That alone would have wasted fifteen hours — the equivalent of two business days.

A chartered aircraft waits for passengers if they’re running late. If they need to change a destination, we can accommodate them. Travelers spend more time working and less time idle, literally turning back the clock and making everything they do more productive. And once we’re airborne, they can continue to do business, preparing for their next meeting and using the cabin as a mobile office. They can conference, spread out papers, and speak freely without worrying about strangers overhearing sensitive information.

This time/money exchange is present on every trip. Since I’m based in Los Angeles, our passengers are often in the entertainment industry. Imagine an artist or band who had a concert in Chicago on Monday, Miami on Tuesday, Denver on Wednesday, and Seattle on Thursday. They need to be in town early for rehearsals, interviews, and appearances. These tours sometimes last weeks or even months. Keeping a schedule like that would be nearly impossible without chartering. Imagine the cast of big budget film needing to be at film festivals, premieres, media interviews, awards shows, and such. Or the leaders of a private company about to go public or meeting with investors around the country prior to a product launch. Franklin was right: time is money.

When I fly on an scheduled airline, the inefficiency and discomfort remind me of why charter, fractional, and corporate aviation will only continue to grow. The price point of private flying doesn’t make sense for everyone, but for those who need it, it’s more than a convenience. It’s what makes doing business possible at all.

This post first appeared on the AOPA Opinion Leaders blog.

  7 comments for “Time is Money

  1. Johnny Parker
    September 22, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Thanks and very well said, the same model can be used on small and medium business users also.

    • September 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Good point. Passenger counts and/or trip distances might argue for a different aircraft type, but the principle remains the same.

  2. Colin
    September 22, 2014 at 10:19 am

    “It’s what makes doing business possible at all.”

    Well, not quite. Buddy Holly rose nearly to the pinnacle of his portion of the entertainment business mostly while riding a bus. There are a lot of businesses in the United States which have never spent a dollar chartering a jet and they are doing just fine.

    Would it have cost more? Would it have been harder on the employees? Would they have gotten less done during more time, sure. That’s an increase in *efficiency,* not the difference between possible and not possible. And, at some point, you look at who benefits from the increase in efficiency.

    • September 22, 2014 at 10:35 am

      I agree. That’s why I added the caveat that it doesn’t make sense for everyone, but for those who NEED it…. it’s invaluable. Even today, there are entertainers who go everywhere in a bus, so it can certainly be done. But there are many companies that couldn’t exist in their current form without aviation. Car companies like Ford and GM come to mind. When you’ve got test tracks, manufacturing plants, parts warehouses, dealerships, design centers, sponsored racing teams, auto shows, and a dozen other things going on all over the planet 24 hours a day, you can’t make everyone and everything travel by road or even airline. It’d put them at such a competitive disadvantage that they’d be out of business.

      Using the retailer we flew on that trip as an example, my understanding of the business is that the vast majority of sales occur around the Christmas shopping season, so ensuring those stores are open early enough to benefit from the holiday boost might have more than compensated for the cost of the trip.

  3. September 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    I flew my father around in his airplane for a number of years. He was a real estate investor. Real estate is all around us, and below us of course, if in the air. We went to a large number of small airports- VFR, IFR, we did it all.

    In one day we could check on 3 different projects in small towns with runways under 3500 feet, no lights at night, etc. By going into small airports right close to the project, we could knock out what would be a week tour in one day.

    Totally agree time is money.

    This aspect of general aviation, even on as mall scale with single engine airplanes, is highly undervalued by our government and population in general. Business aviation, large or small, drives this small business economy.

    I believe it’s yet another reason why we’re seeing economic difficulty, since many of these companies are being squeezed out of being able to afford such things, thus having a real impact on their ability to remain agile.

    • September 26, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      I love stories like that, Chris. It just shows how long-established and proven business GA flying is. It’s common to think of business flying as being a turbine show, but people use airplanes of all shapes and sizes to get things done.

      At one time, government and society in general seemed to understand the value proposition that GA offered for business, but I guess it doesn’t quite fit with the class warfare narrative of the fat cat in an expensive suit crushing Mr. Middle Class under the wheels of his fancy bizjet as he jets off for yet another vacation.

  4. Graeme Hatzkilson
    September 30, 2014 at 9:03 am

    In some ways in the airline system, Time can be money with the whole seniority system if you believe all that increase in pay. Guess Mr. Franklin would would think of this young tradesman as a dolt! (or his parents)

    There is a great video promoting HOW Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ props up local business’s and actually stamps a dollar amount value on the field. Its there on their website. I feel it is well presented.

    I am at the point in my career where I would like to start getting paid for my flying.

    Speaking of the Detroit big Three, they were scolded for showing up each on their private jets. But in this case, they were begging for money. I wonder if anyone put a bottom line on the time is money for the CEO, or what it would have cost to get from MSP -> DCA.

    Interesting article. I like the idea of having your money grow though. Easier said than done.

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