Ratio of Work to Reward in Aviation

The last number of months have featured some form of long flight to highlight differences in international flying, whether it is something silly or the occasional time things work out well. With the coming of August, heat was relatively ongoing and oppressive, which also meant that haze levels were very high. Couple bad air with brown (“golden”) hues in most places due to our hot and dry summer, and the ingredients were not present for any useful distance flying. I did, however, fly a tremendous amount of times in August, staying local each time, enjoying some basic Cub flying.

That lends to an interesting idea, one that fuses the idea of low and slow Cub flying together with our anathema to user fees. The general concept in America is that there are user fees for every single action for a flight overseas; click the microphone and an itemized bill comes. While that can be the case in some places and some kinds of flying, there is a more insidious theory that comes in to play, and it does a great job of killing off pleasure flying: rigmarole and senseless requirements for basic flights.

I was going to use the word “bureaucracy,” as it implies unneeded steps to accomplish something, though it has an indelible relationship to paperwork. In the case of flying, not a lot of paper is changing hands in flight, though the concept of arbitrary and duplicitous steps to achieve something, which reality does not, in theory, require any of those steps, is conceptually equivalent. Europe adds nonsense into flight procedures, and that arbitrariness has a way of killing off the desire to go flying – whether or not those procedures involve paying a fee.

Most European airports have a landing fee. That means that every flight involves a visit to the office to pay said fee. In most cases, there is more than one thing going on, so a wait may be involved. Some airports need to have absurd amounts of detailed information about the flight, for which a full invoice must be prepared to comply with European tax rules. After that, payment with a credit card is another complex step, for which some airports will charge an additional fee (stopping now to recalculate the invoice due to the added fee). This extra 10 to 15 minutes is wasted, and is an anachronism separate from the financial impact of the fee itself.

Fortunately, my home field allows for unlimited takeoffs and landings for a monthly fee of €20, so I found a way to sidestep the flamenco dance of paperwork involved with going flying. However, Spain adds a new wrinkle that many other European nations do not: all flights to, from, or through controlled airspace require a flight plan. In that case, as I have previously mentioned, I have to firm up where I am going, which is directly opposite of the idea of Cub flying. I often set out with one thing in mind, keeping multiple alternates available, as visibility is localized, and despite the best of webcams and weather forecasts, reality means that laying eyes on the flight path is often the best indicator. Toss in filing from the Mac at home, activating by phone due to terrain obstructions, and having to contact control authorities–  by now I am tired talking about it. If one wishes to avoid towered fields, then calling in advance, on the day of the flight, is wise to ensure someone will show up to fuel the airplane, which is just as fatiguing. Even if they do bother to show up, it is often a long wait to get fueled. These machinations are opposite of the idea of flying with the door open at 60mph, which I why I stayed in La Cerdanya in August, out of controlled airspace. What is the point of the freedom of flying if it is suffocated with stupidity?

While Europe does a fantastic job of adding unnecessary requirements to simple flights, the concept there being a ratio of extra steps to misery holds true in America as well. There is a reason that those who fly a twin, a business jet, or an airliner smile when they see a Cub, and usually say something like: “That is real flying.” The sheer size and complexity of a panel on modern aircraft, with elaborate checklists, and a multitude of things that must be managed would mean that a pilot wouldn’t be looking out with the door open if he or she could in such an airplane, because there is too much to do (and all of those checklists would blow away). I recall from my complex aircraft training days: “BCGUMPFS” as a mnemonic for the final checklist. In the Cub, it is only “C,” carb heat.

We all make our choices of aircraft based on what we intend to get out of them. The point remains that a Cub represents a simplicity that translates into pure fun, whether in Europe or America. The thing about choosing an aircraft, and therefore an associated level of complexity, is that it is up to the pilot to choose the work/reward ratio. When it comes to certain international flying environments that are filled with superfluous requirements, that freedom is taken away from the pilot to choose, and imposed on everyone, and has the effect to dampen the desire to hop in the plane for a quick flight. What is a matter of aircraft design in America can morph into a more complex political and regulatory matter here. My caution is to be aware that complex flight requirements can be just as obstructionist to general aviation as a new fee.

August was a month filled with tons of flying, though all of it was local. I practiced the art of enjoying myself, as flying in Cerdanya is just like flying in America: open radio calls, a basic traffic pattern, and nothing else. Hop in and go, look out the window for airplanes, and look down below with the door open at cows grazing. Regardless of what it costs to get the plane in the air, I think the essence of general aviation requires the raw freedom of hopping in, taking off, and picking the path as one flies.

As my reminiscing for American aviation continues, I have released my 12th book “American Texture: Canvas from the Sky,” my first work covering a national subject. It contains images from all over the country of textures and patterns as taken from the Cub over a number of years.

All images below taken within 30nm of my home field in La Cerdanya, Spain.

Here I am ranting about a dry and hot August, and we did get snow at 9,000 feet during a brief and sharp cold snap….

Base leg runway 25. This is a motorcycle race, temporarily created between the wheat harvest and subsequent tilling a week later.

When the haze abated, the clouds rolled in.

Cumulo-granite. Tosa d’Alp (8,488 feet) – hill behind the house.

Somewhat clear – though haze is evident. Airfield in center right.

While it looks clear, note the haze below. This is during a strong Tramontane event, which creates serious mountain waves (with clear mountain air), and draws in the marine layer to lower elevations.

Tosa d’Alp again – with the infrared camera. I took up this medium of photography as it sees through haze.

Another mountain wave event – hazy below, dangerous above, ok in La Cerdanya.

Crosswind leg, runway 25, infrared.

Puigpedros – Andorra, France, and Spain in this image. Mountain peaks were clear, though haze was in all quadrants lower down.

Thunderstorm on the French side, infrared.



Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at


  1. is the prevalence of private flying clubs in Europe a reaction to all this nonsense? It would seem so…

  2. Claudio Friederich

    September 13, 2017 at 3:53 am

    As they say, time is money, and it really is true. Whether we are forced to waste time (walk into an office to pay in person, come on, where is this still done for any other “normal” part of life), or pay fees to pay with a credit card (again, come on, what stores add a “credit card fee” to your receipt), we are losing out in the same way.

  3. This is a great write-up on a Scholarship program created by a Michigan Flying Club

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