BY BRUCE KAUFFMAN
Business is taking flight around the region.
As lines grow longer at the commercial airports due to heightened security and flight delays become routine, business people are climbing into cockpits of their own and flying wherever they have to go to get their jobs done. The time they save, they say, is more than worth the considerable investment they make in their own private aviation.
“It’s all about time,” said Fred George, a San Diego-based aviation journalist, “and the most important thing in a business person’s day is time, and saving it. The last thing that business people can tolerate is waiting around commercial airline terminals.”
George, senior editor and chief aircraft evaluator for the McGraw-Hill Co.’s monthly Business & Commercial Aviation magazine, is a pilot himself. He’s flown some 145 different airplanes and has spent enough time as well in big airports to chart what he calls “the airline misery factor” and conclude that the commercial airline industry has become “completely untenable” for scores of business people.
As frequent private pilot Jerry Blank, of the Law Offices of Gerald Blank in San Diego, points out, a lot of time and personal wear and tear is saved by flying one’s own plane to the remote locales where cases take him. One case took him to Chowchilla on six separate occasions, for example. That trip would be eight hours one-way by car from San Diego and require an overnight stay. It took three hours total, there and back, in his plane.
The gentle weather in San Diego and Southern California makes for some of the world’s smoothest cruising and gives the region the dubious distinction of having the most congested air space in the country. Southern California is also home to a half dozen of the nation’s 20 busiest small airports.
Congested Air Traffic
According to a 2003 accounting by the National Business Aviation Association Inc., the busiest of all general aviation airports in the country is Van Nuys Airport and two of the top 20 are here in San Diego County , Montgomery Field in the city of San Diego, ranked No. 15, and McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, No. 17.
Southern Californians make up a fair share of some15,000 pilots who fly themselves around for business , and whose companies, George said, account for two-thirds of the gross domestic product of the United States. Two local high flyers, Lou Frank, majority owner and chief executive officer of Four Point Publishing LLC in San Diego, and Blank, the lawyer, both fly out of Montgomery.
At one time, Blank was a white-knuckled, anxiety-riddled passenger on commercial airlines, and said he used to be “scared to death” of flying. The solution: Face the fears head-on by learning to fly himself.
In 1974, he started taking lessons and after three months he flew a plane, a Cessna 150, solo. “It was less intimidating and less frightening than flying commercially,” he said in an interview. “I learned what made an airplane fly … and I felt that I was in a lot more control personally.”
Knowing how the laws of physics keep an aircraft aloft made him more comfortable on commercial flights, but being a pilot himself kept him away from the big airlines most of the time. By 1984, he’d bought his first plane, a Cessna 182 Skylane. Now he flies as much as three times a week, a recent trip taking him to San Francisco to confer on a fraud case with a corporate client. His current plane is a six-cylinder, six-seat, cabin class 1999 Piper Mirage, with a single turbocharged 540 cubic-inch engine. It flies in all sorts of weather and travels at speeds up to 240 miles an hour at altitudes of about 25,000 feet.
It’s the same plane that Blank flew for fun in June 2005 to the International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, a 12,000-mile trip with stops in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and, finally, Paris. In 1993, not long after the breakup of the Soviet Union, he also took a trip along a newly opened air route from Nome, Alaska, to what he calls one of the most interesting places he’s ever seen: Providenya, a remote city in a cold Siberian outpost, where he stayed for several days with a local family and experienced what he could of the bleakness of their existence.
Volunteer Flight Services
He also joins many other pilots, both here and across the country, as a volunteer for charitable groups such as Angel Flight. That organization arranges to transport people to visit ailing relatives or to secure special medical or surgical treatment. One recent trip took him to Fresno to bring a mother back to San Diego with her infant so the child could get treated for a congenital defect at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego.
Blank’s name may be familiar to many. He blazed into the public eye in 2000 when he found that a witness in a murder trial four years before had lied at the urging of a deputy district attorney. After a second trial, the sentence of his client, David Genzler, was reduced from life in prison for second-degree murder to six years for involuntary manslaughter.
Lou Frank, whose Four Point publishing firm for construction industry trade magazines is being acquired by the NACE International trade association of Houston, shared none of Blank’s formidable fear of flying. Drawn to aviation as a boy , his father flew in the Army Air Corps in World War II , Frank first experienced flight at the age of 11 when, for his birthday, he got to go up over St. Louis in a Cessna. Now, some 42 years later, he remembers the experience as one of “exhilaration and emphatic enthusiasm.”
He said he dreamed for years of getting a pilot’s license and then, in 1984, at the age of 31, finally did. The drill, he said, is “almost universal:” Ten months of study, once a week in a plane and once a week in a classroom.
In 2003, he bought his current craft: A turbo-charged, four-seat Cessna TR182 that zooms along at speeds up to some 190 miles an hour at altitudes of as much as 20,000 feet.