Flying docs: veterinarians Paul Howard, above, and Seth Koch, right, have offices in Howard's Vermont Veterinary Specialty Hospital

Taking Off!

Flying privately for business is catching on

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

It seems pretty amazing that it was only 100 years ago when a couple of secretive bicycle shop owners from Dayton, Ohio self-taught engineers made the first successful, sustained powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine. That event, on Dec. 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, N.C., launched a revolution that has profoundly affected every aspect of life as we know it.

Machines with names like Sopwith Camel and Spitfire changed the face of military strategy. Airplanes and those who flew them brought welcome romance to the years of the Great Depression. Over the decades, flight went faster and higher until one named Apollo 11 reached the moon in 1969. Supersonic flight evolved from military to civilian in 1971, when the Concorde made its first transatlantic crossing, and devolved this year with the Concorde's last passage. The space shuttle program was launched in the 1980s; unmanned missions were sent to other worlds; and in 1990, the orbiting Hubble telescope dramatically improved our ability to explore them from here.

Arguably, flight's greatest impact has been on transportation commercial and private and while we aren't quite The Jetsons, increasingly, business owners and executives are taking control of their schedules by learning to fly. An FAA general aviation activity survey in 2000 found that business use of airplanes among individuals accounts for 11.6 percent of general aviation flying, and that the total hours flown for business purposes had risen to 3.7 million hours, a 19 percent increase since 1997. The National Business Aviation Association reports that the number of its business members individuals flying themselves for business has been increasing steadily, with an 8 percent rise between Feb. 16, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2003.

We called a few Vermonters to learn how flying has influenced the way they do business.

Ken Bond, a Fairfield resident, is vice president of Music Services of Vermont in Essex Junction, a provider of Muzak throughout the state. A new pilot he received his license in June Bond flies a Cessna 172 he rents from Heritage Flight in South Burlington to service customers in southern Vermont.

Ken Bond credits the events of Sept. 11, 2001, with giving him the nudge to try flying, "something I had to do before this world goes to pot."

"Sometimes, we have a problem at the bottom of the state," he says, "and instead of having our guys take care of it in eight hours, I can take care of it in three and four hours." Bond has also used his trips to do sales.

Like every one of the people we interviewed, Bond admits that flying is something he always wanted to do. He enjoys using his newly acquired skills for outings with his three children, although his wife has yet to agree to a flight. "She's warming up to it," he says with a grin.

Bond took advantage of a program promoted by Be A Pilot, a national, nonprofit, learn-to-fly program that offers hands-on, introductory lessons for $49 at participating flight schools and airports. There are five in Vermont: Morrisville-Stowe Airport; Heritage at Burlington International; Rutland State Airport; Hartness State Airport in North Springfield; and Shelburne Airport. Since the program's inception in 1997, more than 175,000 people have registered for the lesson.

Christopher Hill, president of Heritage Flight, says quite a few people take advantage of the introductory lesson, and possibly half of those who take the introductory lesson at Heritage go on to obtain their licenses. Heritage owns three kinds of small plane: the Cessna 152, Cessna 172 and Cessna 172RG. "They can be used to serve business destinations, including Montreal," says Hill. "Lots of people like to fly to Maine in these, because it is difficult to get to by car, and it's one or one and a half hours by plane and well-served by airports statewide."

Tom Reilly, president of Salem Engineering in Shelburne, earned his private license in 2000 and is working on his instrument rating. He flies a couple of times a month to his pharmaceutical and health care clients in New York and around New England. Although Reilly's license is relatively new, he started flying when he worked for a small airline in Block Island, R.I., at the age of 15, "but I had to save money for college, then bought a house and started a family, so there was never any opportunity to fly until later on."

Tom Reilly returned to flying in 2000 after a 30-year hiatus.

Until November, the Charlotte resident rented a plane out of Shelburne Airport. He's just taken delivery of a T41B, a four-person craft formerly used as a military trainer manufactured by Cessna. "It's referred to as a poor man's 182," he quips.

"A lot of our projects are out-of-state, and so we will either drive five and a half hours to get to projects or we can fly in, and it takes an hour and 40 minutes. Working time is money, and now we have sometimes two to three people making the trips."

Seth Koch of Shelburne has lived in Vermont for only three years, but the veterinary ophthalmologist has been flying airplanes for 13 years, ever since he gave himself flying lessons for his 50th birthday. He regularly commutes in spring, summer and fall between Colchester, where he rents space at the Vermont Veterinary Specialty Hospital, and Maryland, where he also has a practice. In the winter, he takes commercial flights.

"I'm in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," says Koch. I leave here Tuesday morning and come back here Thursday afternoon. Mondays, I practice in Colchester."

When he lived in D.C., he flew his plane to Virginia Beach and Charlottesville to look at horses. "I guess if somebody called me to look at a horse in southern Vermont or Maine or New Hampshire, I would take the plane rather than drive."

Koch keeps his Seneca twin-engine at the FBO AvCenter at Burlington International. That's also where Paul Howard, a veterinary surgeon and Koch's landlord at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital, keeps the Piper Cherokee 6 he owns with two other partners.

In the early to mid-1990s, Howard performed surgery for a practice in New York and would fly back and forth. "When I started out, I would get up and drive three hours, do surgery from 9 in the morning until 10 at night, drive three hours home and have to be ready to go to work the first thing in the morning."

Flying, says Howard, who's had a license since 1975 when he was in college, helped alleviate the tension of his studies and continues to serve that purpose.

Although he's no longer commuting to New York, Howard still uses the plane on occasion for the practice. Having the only referral specialty small-animal hospital in the state, he occasionally is called on to do surgery on pets of people who have second homes in Vermont. "The animal comes in for surgery, and they've gone back to their first home in New Jersey or wherever, and we deliver their animals back to them," says Howard. "One of my technicians and I would put the animal in the plane and off we'd go."

These days, though, he mainly uses the plane to travel to meetings. "I am the current president of the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association and the president-elect of the New England Veterinary Medical Association," says Howard.

Originally published in December 2003 Business People-Vermont