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.

Ron Rapp is a Southern California-based charter pilot, aerobatic CFI, and aircraft owner whose 9,000+ hours have encompassed everything from homebuilts to business jets. He’s written mile-long messages in the air as a Skytyper, crop-dusted with ex-military King Airs, flown across oceans in a Gulfstream IV, and tumbled through the air in his Pitts S-2B. Visit Ron’s website.


  1. Mitch, I, too, learned to fly when I had time and money. Not only did I not fully appreciate what I had, I was then further blessed with access to a 182 for the cost of fuel. Racked up about 400 hours that way…I am still amazed at the generosity of others at that time in my life (heck, at all times in my life, for that matter).

    It’s been about 20 years since then and flying essentially stopped for me. Now nearing my mid 40’s and settled into a new career; maybe, just maybe, in another year or so I’ll be able to get back into it….

    I hope I can pay forward the generosity bestowed upon me.

    • Glad to hear I’m not the only one who was so lucky during my training!

      Paying it forward is definitely important as well! I have to remind myself it’s not just financial; mentoring and such can be just as important. When I was a new CFI, the flight school where I worked had a dozen different types of aircraft, and the instructors there got me checked out without charging me for their time. I’ve always remembered that and passed that along to other CFIs with whom I work.

      I too hope you can get back into it sooner rather than later! Money comes and goes, but the one resource we can never refill is our reservoir of time…

  2. Scary, but insightful. Had to wait until I retired, and my grandkids left home, before I had the wherewithal to even consider finally accomplishing my lifelong goal – a PPL. Went to work for friends, part time after that, and just happened they were the owners of three Cessna’s. Because I also did odd jobs around the hangar, and helped with aircraft maintenance, (always under supervision,) they let me “exercise” the aircraft when they weren’t in use. Now, they have had to close down their business because local politicians closed down the local GA/commercial airport, and moved over to the oversize USAF base, (now closed,) so the big jets can land there. Problem with that, they do not like GA at all, but do like the occasional jet charter, and they are actually catering to the larger (unscheduled) flights, Allegiant and Spirit. Haven’t flown at all since then, with the exception of a few hours in a J-3, but had to travel out of state to even do that.

    • Yours is not an uncommon story. The inability of politicians to see beyond the next election is not surprising, but the public needs to be educated about the importance of GA airports to every aspect of aviation, from manufacturing to airlines to the military to emergency response and disaster preparedness. One of my frustrations is that organizations like AOPA do such a great job of explaining these things… but their efforts mainly reach other pilots instead of the general public. In the end, I think it’s going to take each of us, individually spreading the word, talking about aviation to kids, going into schools, and being what Glenn Reynolds calls “an army of Davids”. For example, I recently gave a multimedia presentation to a hundred or so Jr. High kids about aviation and all the careers available therein. That’s the only thing I can think of that can counteract the rings of chain link fence.

      • Ron, you are correct, especially about each of us, ultimately, being responsible for educating the general public about the value of aviation, at all levels. Not just their charter “vacation” flight to Florida on those big jets, but all of the planes, pilots, and support staff. But, around here, one can’t even find an aviation magazine of any kind, other than the AOPA magazines I give to my doctor and my barber. Even at the local newsstand in the two nearby airports, they don’t even have them. The new FBO over at the former base doesn’t even have them in their lounge, (primarily designed for the use of “corporate aviation,” not the local sight seeing flyers.) Contacted the manager of the FBO and asked about rentals and flight lessons, “no can do,” because of the insurance requirements of the airport owners, the local county. My attempt at getting people’s attention is to write a “letter to the editor” of the local newspaper every month. (300 word maximum length.)

  3. “actually cost more, assuming business class seats”…

    What about in coach like the rest of us…?

    • Obviously even short-notice, full price coach fares would be cheaper when compared directly to the cost of chartering. But then, to visit ten cities and have a few hours of usable work time in each of them would take a couple of weeks. The question then becomes, how much do these people earn? What is their time collectively worth in terms of salary and other compensation? And how much of their other responsibilities are falling by the wayside as they waste time in unproductive environments while they travel?

      I airline a lot (in coach) and traveling between any two cities on a scheduled carrier sucks up at least half a day.

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