Monday, January 26, 2009

How to run an FBO into the ground

The FBO where I rent a Piper Warrior about every 90 days is a "keystone species." Whether it lives or dies will determine whether aviation does. It is -- or at least was -- one of the largest in Minnesota. It oozed professionalism and I started going there about 8 years ago even though it requires me drive clear across the Twin Cities.

So it's a little depressing to go there these days -- or to log onto their Web site and see only one Piper Warrior is available (they've got heavy into Cessna 172s).

Today I wanted to do a little lunch hour flying and when I drove into the parking lot, only one Warrior and one Cessna were on its massive ramp. And they were parked fairly far away from the building, the significance of which I immediately surmised.

It was 2 degrees and I know what happens to airplanes when it's 2 degrees outside, especially when they're parked too far away from the building to be plugged in to keep the oil stirred.

Another Warrior was in the open hangar.

I was invited to pre-flight the one in the hangar and when I got there, I knew I was screwed. The oil heater was plugged in, but when I pulled the dipstick, there was frost on it, and the oil was the consistency of peanut butter. But I pressed on anyway, even though it was clear there was no power to the heating element.

After a pre-flight and with frozen fingers, I tried starting it. The prop turned, but never caught despite all of my cold-weather-starting tricks. No plane is going to start when it's 2 degrees without the benefit of an engine preheater.

And that's my point. They knew I was coming. Where was the engine preheat? Why wasn't it going so that when I got there, I could preflight and give it a chance to start.

As I was packing away my gear after 6 tries, the lineman knocked on the window and said, "I'm going to put a preheater on it."

I said, "OK," at first but then modified it to "don't bother, I've got to get back to work."

As I dropped the keys back off inside, there were apologies all around and I was sad more than mad. I'm sad that the people who still have jobs in the American economy don't understand the wonders of customer service. I was sad that aviation is going to be killed off partly because of the people who work in it.

It was just a stinkin' preheater. And I was just a customer who's going to start looking around for another place to rent an airplane.

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