Friday, April 27, 2007


Leave it to Matt ("No Original Reporting") Drudge to go all fluttery linking to this monster scandal , via the deadly combination of the AP and Newsday. It seems participants in the Democratic debate in South Carolina yesterday flew from Washington on chartered private jets!

Now the last time I flew on a private jet I was a hitchhiker, and that trip ended abruptly and tragically with a mid-air collision at 37,000 feet over the Amazon.

But I've written a lot, before that event and after, about the rapidly growing field of business aviation, including charter jets. I myself fly coach unless my steadily declining elite-status scores me an occasional and damned infrequent upgrade to first class. But I have a pretty good understanding of why it on occasion makes perfectly good sense for some people to fly a private jet, including a charter.

For one thing, a growing number of small and even mid-sized cities don't have commercial air service, or if they do, it's very limited. So for most business travelers, even the most simple of trips -- let's say Washington D.C. to Orangeburg, S.C., where the debate was -- require staying overnight. And increasingly, the only way to get from Point A to Point B by commercial airline, especially if Point b is a lower-case destination, is by connecting through Point C and maybe even Point D.

There is a private airport in Orangeburg, S.C. for business aircraft.

But the nearest airport with commercial-airline service is in Columbia, S.C., 40 miles away. And most of the commercial flights from Washington to Columbia require a connection -- Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte, and Atlanta are among them.

Anyone who travels on business a lot knows that a simple little trip, say the 430 miles from Washington to a small town in South Carolina, can eat up most of two days -- coming and going -- on a commercial airline.

On, which gives you most airline fare data, commercial coach fares for that trip range from $772 to $1,549. The first-class fare is roughly $1,750 on the few flights that use planes on that route that aren't cramped regional jets with all-coach seating.

The AP report -- which stumbles all over the field and gets hopelessly lost in the thicket of Part 121 and Part 135 F.A.A. flight certifications, like a British gardening writer trying to explain the Infield Fly Rule -- says a round-trip charter flight for that route on a typical six-seat business jet costs between $7,500 and $9,000.

I don't know where they got those figures, but I do know $7,500 is about what it would cost for a Lear 60 mid-size jet charter, with a quality charter company, on a one-day trip of this sort. The flight would take about an hour each way, Washington D.C. directly to Orangeburg and back, and the plane would be waiting to take you home when you were ready to leave.

Assume six passengers, because a serious presidential candidate would typically need to travel with an entourage of about that. Assume they are not going to travel in coach, and I am perfectly willing to assume that. Do the math: figure in the wasted time at a commercial airport (using a private airport, you can drive practically up to the plane 15 minutes before departure). Add in time spent in connecting airports, plus driving to and from your actual destination and the wasted time in having to spend the night and fly home the next day -- and the economics of that charter flight start to add up.

I know, we're gearing up for political season and various media wannabe hotshots are scrambling to make their bones with gotcha stories, especially if they can thread in some half-assed scolding lesson about "carbon imprints." Jayzus, do a story about turning down the air conditioning in shopping malls, then! Or find out why we need two air forces, the Navy's and the regular U.S.A.F. Or why we need a dozen huge aircraft carriers (current price tag about $5 billion). Or why we still fire up that stupid shuttle and shoot a bunch of astronauts off in a huge explosion to a barely orbiting and utterly useless space station, like some Wile E. Coyote stunt.

By the way, you never see much about the economics of Air Force One, a monster 747, and the dummy Air Force One that sometimes flies along as a decoy. Not to mention Air Force Two, with Deferral Dick hunkered down on his way to shoot some poor little duck. Duck! I mean the imperative, not the critter.

But even there, these guys have big jobs --- there's a war on, dammit! -- and they can't do them wedged in the middle seat between two hulking Secret Service agents. I want them working, not thumbing through the inflight magazine with their elbows pinned to their sides, hoping not to knock their little 3-ounce cup of Diet Coke over.

I say it's time to lose this faux populist nonsense -- unless some presidential candidate actually gets caught with a girlfriend or boyfriend on their lap while flying to the Bahamas for a policy seminar. Oh wait, that was a yacht, come to think of it. Poor boy never did get over that one.


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