Friday, September 11, 2009

Commuting

It's inevitable. Every year, school starts. Suddenly, my time is not my own.

But this year is going to be different. The Computer Science department is short-handed, and asked me to teach a one of their courses (Data Structures and Algorithms). I really enjoy this course and jumped at the chance.

And there's a bonus. The University has two campuses, about 45NM apart. Oh, wait, I mean about 50 statute miles apart. Data Structures has students at both campuses. And that means I can commute by air!

Our Faculty Handbook says that private aircraft travel is reimbursed at the same mileage rate as private auto travel. So, the university would be paying for half the flight, while Uncle Sam would pay for half of the rest (my very conservative accountant thinks that any flying I do is tax deductible because it "enhances my ability to attract students." His words, not mine.)

I hate it when my motives aren't pure.

So, the first day of school, I packed up my books and drove out to the airport. I was not wearing a tie, but at least I had a nice Nordstrom's dress shirt. I got a standard briefing, did a preflight for the Archer, and flew to school. The FBO had a courtesy car (I was mentally prepared to pay for a taxi). I taught my class and flew home. Sweet!

The flights were not interesting. For the first I departed runway 3, headed northeast, and landed on runway 2. No turns. On the way back the valley winds had done their daily shift and I departed runway 20, flew southwest, and landed on runway 21. Again, no turns. But at least I flew. (I once had a 500NM flight like this, alone in a Cessna 414. I departed Fresno, which smelled like olives, flew runway heading for a few miles, and got "cleared direct Pocatello." The GPS showed me on the very extended centerline of runway 3 at Pocatello. My next turn was a right at taxiway 'C.' That was one of those hard-to-stay-awake flights.)

When I got back to my office I called the CS department office to ask about the reimbursement.

"We don't have any money for that this year. The professors are going up there out of pocket."

So now Uncle Sam would be paying for half of my flight, fer sure: commuting for the benefit of my employer is definitely tax deductible.

This week, the Archer was in for its annual, so I took the Six. (The Archer has been in the shop for a while and I'm not sure the club is ready to handle the presumably large bill that generates. But the only way for us to raise money is to fly.)

The Six is definitely overkill for a flight of this distance. I dragged around 5 empty seats at 140 knots. My DUATS flight log showed 19 minutes up, 20 minutes home. But it always seems like a guy in a dress-shirt in a high performance airplane gets a better reception at the FBO than the guy in a t-shirt in an Archer. And the Six is a great value: half of the performance of a King Air for 1/8 of the price! Still, professors and pilots share the parsimony gene, and I hesitated to spend the extra money to fly the Six. I finally said "I'm a pilot. I fly places!" and wrote the check.

This week's flight was more interesting. I had to turn out early to avoid a helicopter in the pattern, and I landed on runway 20 up north, so I got to make a couple of turns.

I think I'm going to enjoy this commuting, no matter the expense. The commute will be my only connection to business aviation, the source of clients with airplanes like 340s and 414s and 210s and Mooneys who need recurrent training. These folks are fun to work with, the flying is challenging, and the airplanes are nice. As a professor I am too cheap to buy one.

And, I don't have to wear a tie.

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