Editor's Log

December 1999 Issue




Diminishing Returns

Is twice as much twice as good, or is it just your ego talking?

The discussion started out being “is a twin better than a single.” But soon it was branching into the philosophical questions of “how much ‘more’ does it take to make something better, when is more less, and can you really afford more anyway?”

Die-hard twin pilots smugly point to the capabilities of their machines and say it’s no contest. The pilots of singles like to say that the second engine does little but lift its own fuel and fall back on old jokes about the second engine only being there to take you to the scene of the crash.

But twins do cost more to operate than a roughly comparable single, and since most general aviation pilots vote with their checkbooks, the popularity contest is long over. Within the world of singles, however, there is great diversity. There is also the law of diminishing returns.

Consider for a second an early ’80s vintage Cessna 172 as a journeyman airplane, basic and entry level. A Bonanza has more panache, more class and a price tag that’s twice the size. Do you get twice as much for your money? (I ain’t gonna answer that, at least not here.)

Crank it up a notch. A Piper Malibu has a price that’s doubled again and a little more style and elegance than the Bonanza. But the incremental difference has shrunk.

And so it goes up the food chain of airplanes. A great deal more money gets you an airplane that’s slightly better.

What’s this got to do with safety? Plenty.

Pilots are always complaining about the cost of flying. Then they go out and spend big bucks on leather interiors for their 20-year-old airplanes. Sometimes they get so caught up in the T-hangar one-upsmanship that they spend more effort making sure they have the nicest plane than they do learning to fly the thing.

I know one couple who traded in their Bonanza for a Baron. The operating costs socked them so hard they couldn’t afford to fly anywhere. This is not smart economics, and it’s certainly not smart flying. Why bother?

If money’s a limiting factor – and it usually is, spend it where it will do some good. Instead of spiffing up the bird and flying with the money left over, fly until you’re safe, proficient and comfortable in the cockpit, and spend the money that’s left on the image thing.

A passenger may like the feel of the leather, but that pleasure will be forgotten with the first bounce. Better, I think, to let them deal with a bit of cracked plastic and treat them to a first class ride. Your polished approach will show you’re a person of substance over style.

And who can argue with that when their fanny is hanging out at 9,500 feet?


-Ken Ibold