Using a light aircraft for business travel within Europe

My work with clients is completely performed on-site and so I travel 100% when I go to work. After living and working in the Americas, in 2012 I have defined my market as being within the boundaries of the European Union and the Schengen Zone. I also intend to see two clients every week and therefore want to travel to the first client at the beginning of the week and then continue on to the next client later.

My engagements are usually stretched out over several months and as I help people to improve what they do, it is not me who has to deliver something on a set date. I don’t have extreme time pressure. It’s not like traveling to an important business meeting. If I arrive in the afternoon instead of the morning, there is no harm done. In an extreme case I might even postpone my arrival for a full day or not be there at all in a particular week.

It leaves when I’m ready

Unlike with airlines or trains, flying yourself has a huge advantage: flexibility. Scheduled commercial transportation services leave at a certain time and if you are not there, then you will stay behind.

Being the pilot of the airplane means that it will leave when I’m ready. I don’t have to rush anything and when my business requires me to stay a bit longer or allows me to leave earlier I can do so without penalties, rebooking costs and hassle or other considerations.

Being searched multiple times per week

Due to a widespread fear of someone performing a malicious act mass public transport suffers from a lot of security measures that are more or less effective. That makes frequent travel - I’m talking about eg. boarding an airplane about two or four times every week - quite unpleasant. Plus, if one travels with a lot of electronic equipment going through security checks isn’t very quick either.

Dealing with complexity

When traveling with commercial carriers that offer individual or mass transportation services one is a passenger and has nothing else to do than to enjoy the ride. All considerations regarding the vehicle, operating it, services at origin and destination, etc. are taken care of by the carrier offering the service. When you use individual transport, such as your car or your aircraft, then all those considerations have to be taken care of by yourself.

Before it was a question of trusting others now it becomes a question of trusting your own abilities and the capabilities of your craft. It also needs to be done in a complex environment with many things beyond your own control. For the commerical carrier all that is not different but the commercial carrier has more resources to put at work and they are a bit more involved with the environment or can use better equipment than available to the individual.

Unlike driving a car in a simplified environment (think about a major highway with traffic flowing in one direction only) flying is more demanding. The actual operation of the aircraft, to keep it flying, is fairly easy. Dealing with weather is the biggest challenge with the highest risk associated with it.

My background

During the late 1980s I learnt to fly a glider, like the ASK-21, and single engine piston aircraft, like Cessna 172 or Piper PA-28. I have accumulated about 280 hours of being the pilot in command on powered aircraft until 1997. In that time I have landed and taken off at small and large airports in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Hungary and Florida, USA under VFR (visual flight rules) during daytime.

Learning to fly and operate an aircraft safely is not for everyone but it isn’t any more difficult than to drive a powerful car. In both cases some understanding of what it entails is required. Staying calm and being able to perform controlled action is another important factor to avoid an accident.

Before 1997 I was renting a Piper PA-28 at very favorable terms that fit within my budget as a student. It has been a hobby - albeit slightly expensive - and I had no need to travel a lot. I relocated to a different city and access to the inexpensive PA-28 became difficult. As a consequence the expensive hobby became just that and without much need for travel, I eventually dropped it.

Being Instrument Rated Is Necessary

Since reactivating my license to pilot an aircraft in April 2013 I have performed a number of VFR flights for business purposes within Germany. In late August 2013 an opportunity for a much greater undertaking showed up: Visiting the ALE2013 conference in Bucharest, Romania. The attempt of getting to Bucharest failed due to weather. It was clear from the beginning that being a VFR pilot is quite limiting but it was worth a try nonetheless.

There really is no doubt that being an instrument rated (IR) pilot is necessary when using an aircraft for business travel. However, even with an instrument rating and a good IFR capable aircraft the weather still can set limits and cause you to cancel a flight. Even commercial airlines are subject to that - as can be experienced every winter.

As of April 2014 I am now an instrument rated pilot. The new skill has proven very helpful immediately as can be seen in a number of trip reports of IFR flights after earning the qualification.

What follows is an unordered list of articles with thoughts and discoveries as I research this topic.

Operational considerations

Performing flights

Others have made similar research or tell about their experiences

Thanks

A very valuable source of information and insight have been the pilots participating in the conversations at the forum of Pilot und Flugzeug as well at the pan-european forum EuroGA. In case you might wonder: “GA” stands usually for General Aviation, which is every type of aviation outside the airlines and the military.

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