Public Math

By lex, on November 19th, 2010

So, I was reading Charles Krauthammer’s seminal (sorry) “Don’t Touch My Junk” op-ed in the WaPo today:

The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn’t need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning “I rely on God,” killing all on board.

But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.

The junk man’s revolt marks the point at which a docile public declares that it will tolerate only so much idiocy. Metal detector? Back-of-the-hand pat? Okay. We will swallow hard and pretend airline attackers are randomly distributed in the population.

But now you insist on a full-body scan, a fairly accurate representation of my naked image to be viewed by a total stranger? Or alternatively, the full-body pat-down, which, as the junk man correctly noted, would be sexual assault if performed by anyone else?

This time you have gone too far, Big Bro’. The sleeping giant awakes. Take my shoes, remove my belt, waste my time and try my patience. But don’t touch my junk.

And I was thinking, really: Maybe it’s time for a second look at that Part 135 air taxi service. I mean, the last time I ran the numbers it was hard to imagine building a small air charter business that could make any real money, once you’ve paid operating expenses. But I’m starting to believe there’s a market out there for jaunts between say, 300 and 1000 miles that take you more or less direct to your destination via a satellite airport rather via the Part 121 commercial air carrier hub and spoke system that routes you from Sandy Eggo to Fresno via Las Vegas or Oakland. With the added advantage of not having to get to the airport 90 minutes early – on a domestic flight, mind – so that you can find parking at $20 per day before being groped by a federal wage slave, get packed in like a sardine in a can between the hippy chick who hasn’t bathed since the 60s and the retired lumberjack who could stand to lose a pound or two, and then finally handed two packs of pretzels if you’re really charming. Then! You’ll get to wait at your destination for another 45 minutes while your baggage clears and jump in the public transport to the rental car agency for your sub-compact Daewoo Teensie-Weensie.

Alternatively, Sandy Eggans wishing to fly to Catalina for a weekend, Hawthorne for that bidness meeting at Manhattan Beach or Truckee for to schuss the schlopes – not to mention Vegas, baby – can meet Cap’n Lex at Montgomery Field, be in the machine in 15 minutes and dropped off at the door where a rental car awaits.

For, you know a price. Which doesn’t include groping. Unless you insist, and far be it from me to dissatisfy a customer, for we’re building our brand on the service, like.

Which leads us to the requirements of the mission. You have to be able to get there most of the time, weather notwithstanding, and there’s few of us who eagerly pine for the opportunity to cruise around in the hard clag while the ice accumulates. That leads me to a pressurized plane, like the Beech 58P Baron, for example, or maybe Cessna’s P210 if it’s six seats you want and you don’t mind having just the one engine.

The Baron can be had for between $400k and maybe $150k or so, depending on avionics, engine and airframe times. It carries six, of which one will pretty much have to be the pilot in something short of luxury to nearly a thousand miles according to Wikipedia, with 45 minutes of reserve. Operating costs are around $300 per hour with engine reserve, so a flight with a family of four from MYF to Truckee would be about two hours of flight time one way, or $600 prior to paying the pilot/owner. If the owner/operator wants to take out $100k a year from the job on 60 hours per month, he’d pay himself around $140 per hour, which adds up to $740 one way, split four ways for $185 a head. tells me that an economy flight from San Diego to Reno – no flights go directly from Lindbergh to Truckee – will set you back $241 plus baggage fees with generous heapings of indignity thrown at no extra charge.

So win/win, yah?

Well, no: You can’t leave the equipment there for a week while Muffy and Biff take Heather and Aidan to the chalet, so until you get on a scheduled route, you’ll prolly have to deadhead the machine back again for other revenue generating flights until they’re ready to come home. So that’s effectively four total trips for two revenue generators, doubling the round trip cost to $370 a head. And that’s before you pay your monthly loan payment of $1800 on a mid-time, well equipped Baron 58P. Not to mention tie-down or hangaring at between $300 or $1000 per month. Let’s leave aside insurance for the nonce ($7600).

Amortizing the leaner of the two fixed costs of $2100 a month ($1800 + $300 for a simple tie-down vice a plush hangar)  over a single pilot operation limited to 60 hours per month yields another $35 per hour of costs, always assuming you can generate 60 hours of business per month, which is a mighty assumption. On our notional trip to Truckee and back, that’s $280, or $70 per seat added expense: $440, nearly twice what the Part 121 carriers are charging.

Alternate platforms include the turboprop Pilatus PC-12 or the twin engined King Air. While a turboprop will be more efficient per passenger mile, the acquisition costs can be daunting: $2+ million for 10 seats for the PC-12, between one and two million for a King air with the same seating arrangement. At six percent, the note on a $2mil airplane is $14,328 per month, and the King Air 200′s operating cost is around $650 per hour (the Pilatus is only $350).

Either way, ouch.

Although… although: Planequest’s total operating cost for the PC-12 is just over $500 per hour, but that’s based on an annual usage of only 288 hours per year. Say we operate the machine only 50 hours per month on an annual basis (600 hours), we can cut the amortization of the fixed prices by over 50%: Napkin math says ~$425 per hour. A round trip to flight to Truckee and back now takes us only 3.3 hours. At the lower operating rate, we’ve got to pay Lex $166 per hour so he can pay his patriotic taxes on the full $100k, so that adds up to a total of ~$600 per hour. Total cost for the trip is $1980, and with eight pax that’s $250 or so, $500 if you’ve got to dead head between revenue flights. But all that’s before we pay $14k per month in interest on the loan, unless they’re giving them away. Which adds a whopping $280 per hour to the cost on a 50 hour month, unless we hire a staff of at least two or three additional aviators to fly the machine when Lex is sleeping.

So, I’m still not quite sure we’re there, nor am I certain how anyone makes this work.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, Lex

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