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A pilot acquaintance from the air-show and fly-in circuits visited Wichita recently- flying into the area in pursuit of some good-old American Commerce. The Deal involved the prospect of developing some real estate sought by investors he believes hope to ‘build-to-suit’ for another company with plans to expand. Before seeing him here- the real life of J.G. (as we’ll call him) never came up in conversation whenever we crossed ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2009
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Soup To Nuts:
Business Aviation connects the dots like nothing else.

A pilot acquaintance from the air-show and fly-in circuits visited Wichita recently- flying into the area in pursuit of some good-old American Commerce. The Deal involved the prospect of developing some real estate sought by investors he believes hope to ‘build-to-suit’ for another company with plans to expand.

Before seeing him here- the real life of J.G. (as we’ll call him) never came up in conversation whenever we crossed paths before. Both of us fly- and both of us believe in using aircraft for businesses. Both of us have put those beliefs into practice.

J.G. operates from a major metropolitan area- but does little business there. Instead- he works with clients and prospects in second and third-tier markets; places where the population- base and “off-Broadway” prices combine to make the work profitable and – usually – lower in intensity. But to offset his preference for development projects of a lower-intensity level requires J.G. to work harder in some areas – primarily on intelligence- and being ready to move.

The need to move brought him to Kansas on short-notice to lock in a proposition before another party he knew to be angling for the same parcel. The other party- he’d heard- was en route when J.G. landed the option he sought.

“Oh- this is one of those times when the airplane probably made the difference-” he recounted. “The other guy? Well it’s not my fault he’s not quicker.”

J.G. doesn’t hesitate to promote aviation and business use… to non-competitors. “No sense educating competitors on my tools to success-” he said. “My competitors should be smart enough to figure this out; others have.”

Essentially- J.G. agreed to share this recent experience with World Aircraft Sales Magazine because he firmly believes “the public and politicians need to know we do serious moneymaking with our airplanes. At least- that’s the reason we have this airplane.”

J.G.’s airplane is ready when he is - whenever he is. His trip to Kansas illustrates his use. In part- thanks to this company-owned propjet- J.G. exploited some good timing to get himself to Kansas and look at the property 25-miles out of Wichita. The scenario played out as follows.

After some cold weeks spent reviewing information on a number of opportunities- and talking to a number of potential prospects- one of those prospects unexpectedly called with some questions. The call was unexpected because the client heard- and passed on all the proposals J.G. fielded to them. For whatever reason- though- something changed… The client called: could the property be had for this money- and these conditions?

A quick call to the property’s representative affirmed the questions and conditions. J.G. could get the property at a price that made the client’s budget work- and still make the deal profitable for everyone- the problem being that there was a possible deal with another interested party. That guy was going to call back with an arrival time to see the property.

At that point- late in the afternoon- J.G. simply told the property agent- “I’ll see you there in the morning – around 9:30 if that works.” The agent- J.G. related later- sounded a little caught off-guard- but- agreed that would work. J.G. left his office about an hour early that afternoon – headed home with his briefcase and notebook computer- packed an overnight bag- picked up his flight bag and headed to the airport. The race- it seems- was on.

At the airport- while a ramp worker pulled the airplane up to the pilot center- J.G. pulled out his notebook- talked to Flight Service while he looked at weather and wind conditions; he filed his flight plan via DUATS- loaded the plane- performed his pre-flight checks- and was ready for engine start when an assistant arrived with the papers needed – and a freshly cut cashier’s check- just in case it was needed.

At 5:30p.m J.G. launched for a spring-evening leg- arriving at a small-town airport near to the property just after 8:00p.m.- local time. Thanks to the work of his assistant- the FBO had a courtesy car ready along with directions to the local chain motel – the one purported to have the best Internet service.

“Too many guys want the best restaurant or breakfast bar… give me good- reliable high-speed – like the plane-” J.G. explained. With instructions for the plane’s handling out of the way- the pilot of the last few hours returned to businessman mode. By 9:00p.m- J.G. was checked-out on the courtesy car- and checked in to the motel – and ready to find a bite to eat. At 10:30p.m. J.G. settled in with his notebook- checked his e-mail- and readied his materials for the next day.

The next day went a little rougher; the property agent waited for J.G. at his office while J.G. went straight to the site; then they had trouble getting some terms straight. Despite it all- though- J.G. landed the option – thanks in part to that check – and was done before lunch.

He stayed in town to lunch with the property agent (who let J.G. pick up the tab) and had the dirty little pleasure of being at the agent’s office when the competing developer arrived – just after 2:30 in the afternoon.

Acquaintances as they are- the disappointed agent seemed surprised that J.G. had beaten him by so much time as to have looked at the property and paperwork- and secured that option. “The look on his face was one of a puzzled guy-” J.G. related later.

J.G. headed to the airport for a short hop to Wichita to enjoy a big steak- some Scotch and a good cigar in celebration of his success. He almost offered to fly the other developer back to Wichita- as a courtesy. But J.G. knew there was his rental car to return and other issues connected… like educating the competition on why they lost that day. But you can’t say J.G. didn’t think of making the generous offer.

Once home- J.G. picked up the story of the competing agent’s travels. While no unusual issues arose for the guy- the story constituted the flip side of the business-flying issue. Mr. Gray (as J.G. called him) found a match for the property a full four or five hours ahead of the call made to J.G. That a parcel suddenly became interesting to two different groups at almost the exact same time may seem unusual- but to J.G.- it’s one of those “normal abnormalities” that his work occasionally produces.

“From famine to feast and back in a week isn’t so odd-” he said. “It’s just one of those reasons to stay flexible- and ready to move.” Mr. Gray was searching for the best way to get to the property when J.G. was talking to the agent representing the property. Shortly after J.G. ended his call with “See you in the morning…” Mr. Gray pinned down his flight arrangements – arrangements that left him feeling good.

With a 7a.m. departure from a southeast airport he would arrive in Atlanta about 8:30a.m- with plenty of time to make a 10:20a.m connection- which promised an arrival at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport just before noon. He’d pick up the rental car- find his way across 35 miles to the town and find the office - probably able to look at the property by around 1:30p.m. That’d enable him to get back to Wichita for the last departure of the evening- and be back home shortly after midnight.

The story from Mr. Gray started unraveling before his first flight pushed from the gate; thank the gate hold imposed by the Air Traffic Control system’s Flow Control. The gate hold lasted only 30 minutes; the arrival into ATL was only 45 minutes late; taxi time and waiting on a gate delayed un-boarding until about 9:45a.m. “He wasn’t having a very good morning-” J.G. continued.

Thankfully for Mr. Gray- some of the same problems helped slightly delay his second- leg departure for long enough for him to catch his breath - and the remainder of the flight fit the “Uneventful” description. The wait at the rental-car counter- though- saw the single agent helping customers seem a little overwhelmed by the presence of five people all waiting to claim their wheels. Mr. Gray was number one in the queue; he was relieved. Yet he still spent 20 minutes getting everything sorted out- finding the car and heading out of town.

Factoring in a couple of minor driving mistakes – taking an off-ramp to the west when he needed to continue straight just two more miles ultimately cost Mr. Gray 15 additional minutes before he finally found his destination… and found that he was too late! He would actually have been too late by about the departure time of his second leg!

He could have stayed home and saved time- money and frustration.

Our Mr. Gray could have tapped something as basic as a charter flight - but he misjudged the situation- feeling comfortable in the knowledge that he and J.G. both had to make a similar trip. From Mr. Gray’s perspective- they faced equal travel hurdles. Both needed (within the confines of his perspective) to connect somewhere to a flight into Wichita- and both needed to get from Wichita to the town north of Wichita. Mr. Gray erroneously counted on both of them needing an airline to get them to Kansas!

J.G. did the business aviation equivalent of clicking three times the heels of his red ruby slippers. He left when ready – when he needed to leave – and flew non-stop- direct to the small airport near the very property of everyone’s interest. Mr. Gray knew of the little airport- more in an abstract sort of knowledge; no commercial air service was his main piece of knowledge.

J.G. knew of the airport because when he first started looking at that parcel as a development prospect- he also researched its proximity to the nearest airport- for two reasons: first- as a development attraction; second as a possible destination- should he need to visit. And it was the proximity to the property that proved to be the element that returned the prospect to J.G.

“Obviously- it’s my failure – not playing up the airport info more prominently-” J.G. confessed. “An available airport is a necessary factor to their plans. Now we wait to see whether our parcel wins out against two other smaller cities served by general aviation airports.”

“For this project- the airplane really paid its way-” J.G. explained. “Serving short-notice and long-haul to let me get a leg-up on the competition – you’ve got to love it. But it’s hardly the only time – and it’s not really typical.” As he related his more-typical use- missions center on trips he planned farther in advance in co-ordination with multiple people at multiple stops.

“My trips are usually linking four to six appointments over three to four days-” J.G. explained. “The itinerary I leave for my people looks like I’m trying to connect the dots into a child’s drawing- zipping southwest- then over to the southeast- then upwards northwest and so on… until I close the loop and land back home.”

The flexibility helps when those inevitable plan changes occur; sometimes he’s the source of the change- when weather commands a new flying decision. “These trips also cost far less than using alternative aviation – you know- the airlines-” J.G. quipped.

“Try using an on-line service or even a travel agent to get you to four- five or six different cities and towns in the allotted time to match with the people on the other end-” he challenged. “Generally- my trips can’t be flown any other way- costs notwithstanding. If they could- they would collectively cost thousands more than I spend owning the airplane.

“Best of all- it works as cheaply short-notice as with plenty of notice. Oh- sure- fueling the plane for the Kansas flight wasn’t cheap… and it was longer than my average trip-” J.G. recounted- “but it was cheaper than Gray’s airline tickets – by about half. And it’s still paying off dividends. I’m not about to tell him- though.”

Well- Mr. Gray- if you’re listening…

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