What a Difference a Bank Makes

Service I can count on.

After too many years banking with Bank of America and, before that, Wells Fargo, I finally moved my personal and business banking to a small, local bank in the small city near where I live. The difference is amazing.

I should start off by saying that when I opened my bank accounts at Bank of America in Wickenburg, Arizona, I got incredible personalized service from one of the bank officers, Mary. I’m not sure if it’s because of the number of accounts my wasband and I opened or some of the balances I maintained, but I like to think it was just the local branch’s way of doing business. Whenever I went into the bank — which wasn’t very often — I was greeted by name by the banker I worked with most often. If she wasn’t busy, we often chatted. When I needed something — for example, an increase on my home-equity line of credit —  she handled it immediately at her desk with a minimum amount of effort on my part. Banking was easy and that’s why I stuck with Bank of America for as long as I did.

But things change. 

When the economy tanked in 2008, banking with Bank of America changed too. The first thing they did was try to recall the home-equity line of credit that my wasband and I often depended on to meet shortfalls in income — me, because of the nature of my quarterly royalty payments (my only source of income at the time), and him, because of his periodic inability to hold down a job. I went to the bank to talk to my usual banker and she told me that her hands were tied. Instead of working with her, I was forced to work with the loan department people in the corporate office, providing them with documents to prove the amount of equity we had in our almost paid-for house. It was extremely stressful, although it did work out satisfactorily, with a reduction in the credit line that still met our needs. At least they hadn’t closed the account. 

After that, banking at Bank of America seem to have all kinds of additional fees and requirements and the friendly atmosphere that I had enjoyed for so many years was gone. Mary left and I felt as if I no longer had a banker. The only thing that kept me banking there was the convenience of their free online banking services and iPhone app. But later, when I moved to Washington state and they closed down all of the Washington branches in my area, it became a real ordeal to make deposits during my busy summer months when I often exceeded the total amount I could deposit using the bank’s iPhone app.

Bank of America wasn’t changing so I’d have to.

I found Peoples Bank when I was out in Wenatchee searching for a specialized signature confirmation document I needed for some divorce-related paperwork. With the local Bank of America branches closed, I found myself at a loss for getting these papers signed and sent out. I had a nice conversation with the bank manager at Peoples and was impressed by the friendly atmosphere that was so similar to what I’d experienced at my local Bank of America branch in Wickenburg all those years before. 

A few months later, when I was ready to move to a new bank, I went back to Peoples. Although the bank manager I’d spoken to was gone, a customer service representative, Selene, stepped right up to help me. She’s been my banker ever since. She’s friendly and enthusiastic and although I’m not in the bank very often — I use the ATM to make deposits — she always greets me by name when I come in. I opened four accounts (two business and two personal) and love how easy it is to move money between them and pay all my bills online. Their banking app isn’t quite as good as Bank of America’s, but it’s good enough.

And now comes the reason why I’m writing this blog post today. 

Helicopter in Overhaul
After three months in the shop, Zero-Mike-Lima’s overhaul was nearly done when I visited it two weeks ago. I pick it up on Monday.

I’m in California preparing for my seasonal frost control job in the Sacramento area. I moved my truck and camper to the airport where I’ll be based for the next two months. On Monday, I fly back to Phoenix to pick up my helicopter, which is just coming out of its 12 year overhaul. To pick up the helicopter, I needed to make a final payment to the maintenance shop and they wanted that payment sent to them by wire transfer.

There are no Peoples Bank branches here in California and I couldn’t imagine, at first, how I could make a wire transfer — for a significant amount of money — without filling out forms at my bank. But I called Selene and after a quick hello-how-are-you conversation, told her what I needed. She told me that because I was a good customer and that she knew me and my voice, she could handle the wire transfer for me. She would just need to do a few security checks that could be handled over the phone. She asked me to send her an email message with the information for the wire transfer, including the recipient, wire instructions, and amount. Since I had a copy of the form for the last wire transfer I had done with her to the same maintenance shop, I sent that along as well. She called me back a while later, we did the security stuff, and she did the transfer for me. The whole process took less than an hour.

Needless to say, I was very pleased.

In my opinion, there’s no substitute for banking with people that you know. For a very long time, I kept my personal savings in an online bank — ING Direct, which became Capital One 360 — account, mostly because I was able to earn very good interest there. (For a while, it was 8%!) It was always a hassle to move my money from one bank to another and that didn’t get any easier when my local bank branches simply weren’t available anymore. The days of high interest on savings are long gone, so it makes sense to keep my money together in one bank. The added benefit is having multiple accounts that help establish me as a good bank customer that, in turn, helps me get the service I need when I need it.

I guess what I’m trying to say with all this is that there’s nothing quite as pleasant or convenient as having a personal banker in a small, local bank that meets your needs.

On Being Elite

A few thoughts about the use of “elite” as some sort of slur.

The other day, I was accused by a troll on Twitter of being part of the “rich elite” because I owned a helicopter and went south for the winter.

I think I was supposed to be insulted. I wasn’t. You see, I’m not ashamed of what I am or what I do with my time and money. I earned all of my possessions and my lifestyle.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

The only things I had going for me at birth was that I was born in the United States, I was white, and I had a good brain.

My parents were not rich. In fact, when my father left us when I was about 13, my mother very nearly applied for welfare. Our financial situation qualified me for free lunch at school; every day, I’d go to the school office and retrieve a small kraft envelope with 65¢ in it — government money to pay for my cafeteria lunch. I’d spend as little as possible and save the rest. When I got home from school, I babysat my younger sister and baby brother while my mother worked as a waitress to put food — mostly hot dogs and pasta — on the table. My grandmother would bring us groceries once in a while and slip my mother a $20 bill to help out.

I started working at age 13 when I got a paper route. I delivered the Bergen Evening Record after school on weekdays and the Sunday Record before 7 AM on Sundays. There were 54 homes on my route, which I had to walk, and I netted 20¢ plus tips per week per house. In those days — the mid 1970s — 10¢ was considered a generous tip; many of the homes did not tip at all. Collection day — Wednesday — was unusually long since I had to stop at every single house to try to get paid. One Wednesday in September, which coincided with the first day of school, my mother used my collection money to pay for our school supplies because she wouldn’t have money until payday.

Our financial situation qualified me for a summer job working at the high school. With three other girls, all a year or two older than me, I scraped rust off an old chain link fence that ran between the school property and the railroad tracks. The wire brushes we used had to be replaced every few days because the bristles would fall out. The gloves they gave us did little to prevent huge blisters on our hands. When it rained, they let us into the school where we went from classroom to classroom, washing the venetian blinds. The wash water had to be changed every 30 minutes or so because the blinds had likely never been cleaned before.

My mother remarried and I won’t deny that my blue collar stepfather brought us quite a few steps up from our dismal financial situation. I got a chance to see some of the better things in life. He took us to museums and restaurants with real cloth napkins. I stayed in a hotel for the first time in my life at age 15. I was even able to accompany my grandparents on a trip to visit family in Germany. And, for the first time, I started thinking about college.

College was possible with two academic achievement scholarships, financial contributions from my parents (they each paid 1/3 of the net after scholarships were deducted from tuition), and a school loan. And work. At one point I held down three part-time jobs while handling a 15 or 18 credit load. I worked hard to maintain good grades and got a BBA with highest honors in Accounting in four years. I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college.

Within two weeks of graduation, I got my own apartment. I paid rent and utilities and furnished it with my own money. It was in a rough neighborhood and a few of my friends didn’t like to come visit. My mother bought me a sewing machine as a graduation gift and I used it to make about half the clothes that I wore to work, so I could look nice without spending a fortune.

I started my first job right away: an auditor with the New York City Comptrollers Office. In just two years, at the age of 22, I became the youngest person promoted to Field Audit Supervisor.  After five years with the city, I started a new job with ADP in New Jersey.  I did my time in the Audit Department before becoming a Senior Financial Analyst working on special projects directly for the CFO.

By the age of 29, I was earning more money per year than my father ever had. But that didn’t stop me from leaving my job to pursue an uncertain career that was more in line with what I wanted to do for a living: write. I built a career as a tech writer and computer trainer from the ground up. I was completely self-taught and worked without an agent. I wrote books and led hands-on computer training classes all over the country. I quickly learned that I needed to write a lot of books to make a living so that’s what I did. When I was on a book project, I’d work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. I wrote books and articles and eventually authored video training courses. I was very good at what I did and it paid off: within 10 years, I had two bestsellers; their periodic revisions were bestsellers, too.

By the age of 40, I was earning more money than I’d ever thought possible, but instead of pissing it away on a bigger house or fancier car, I socked money away for retirement and invested in rental properties: a condo, a house, a small apartment building. And between book projects, I learned how to fly helicopters.

And yes, I did buy a helicopter. Why not? It was my money that I had earned through my efforts. I had covered all my other financial responsibilities and set aside enough money for my future. Why shouldn’t I invest in something that would make me happy?

I flew as often as I could and started a helicopter business to help bring in some extra revenue to cover costs. I managed the fuel concession at the local airport. I became an aeronautical chart dealer and ran a small pilot shop. I worked for a season as a pilot for a Grand Canyon tour operator. I sold that first helicopter and bought a slightly larger one. I jumped through hoops with the FAA to get required certifications for charter work. I created advertising material, maintained a website, handled social networking needs, did all the accounting, met with clients, did local and long distance flights. I networked with other pilots about other flying jobs.

All while still writing up to 10 books and dozens of articles a year for my publishers.

When tech publishing went into decline, I ramped up my flying work. I got contracts to do agricultural work in Washington state during the summer. I’d live in a trailer, working on various book projects, waiting for a call to fly, for two to three months every summer. Over the years, I built up the number of contracts I had until I couldn’t handle them all alone; then I brought in other pilots with helicopters to help me, managing work and billing for as many as four subcontactors every season.

I was 52 when the man I’d spent more than half my life with decided he needed a mommy to hold his hand while he watched TV every night more than a life partner to actually enjoy life with. He tried to take half of everything I owned in our divorce, but I fought back to keep what was rightfully mine, what I’d earned through my own efforts while he floundered, failing at one job after another. I went into the fight with a war chest of cash I’d saved while he was pissing his money away on a plane he never flew, a Mercedes he didn’t need, and a condo that was sucking him dry financially. His greed, harassment, and courtroom lies didn’t score many points with the judge and he wound up paying me and his lawyers far more than he could have spent if he’d settled for my offer. His downfall is a great example of someone getting what he deserves.

I’ve spent the last four and a half years rebuilding my life in a new place, working hard to build my flying business, expanding into other work in California and now possibly Arizona. I don’t write much anymore, but I make a good living with the helicopter the Twiiter troll I mentioned at the top of this piece criticized. I’ve learned how to take my skills and assets and turn them into money. And unlike so many other people, I live within my means. Yes, I go south for the winter, but it’s not as if I’m living it up in some fancy condo or hotel. I’m roughing it in an RV often parked out in the desert. 

It's Mine
Just about everything I own was bought and paid for with money that I earned through my efforts. Why shouldn’t I be proud of that?

I worked hard and smart and I succeeded. Is there any reason I should be ashamed of that?

So yeah, if making a good living and owning a helicopter and wintering in the south makes me part of the “rich elite,” I’m okay with that. I earned it.

And to the people who troll me with their jealousy-driven comments: What’s your excuse for being a loser?

Banking Stupidity

Yesterday’s snafu, which cost me about 3 hours of my life.

I hate when things don’t work the way they should — or even the way you’re led to believe they should. That bit me yesterday and caused a time suck for me. Here’s the story.

I recently moved all my banking to a local bank with branches throughout the state. I was tired of dealing with the mobile app deposit limits imposed by my business and personal banks (BofA and CapitalOne 360 respectively), neither of which had local branches. I figured that having all my accounts in one bank would make it easier for me to do my banking. And I found a bank I really liked, one where I was greeted with enthusiasm when I walked in and gave me service beyond my expectations. One with the online banking, bill pay, and banking by mobile app features that I needed to simplify my financial chores.

All Accounts in One Place
How refreshing to be able to see and work with all of my bank accounts in one place.

I set up the business accounts first and then the personal ones. To access all of my accounts via online banking, they set me up with their Business Manager system. I could see and work with all of my accounts (two checking and two savings) with one login. I could even easily (and immediately) transfer funds between accounts to handle surpluses and shortfalls in my checking accounts. All good so far.

I immediately set up my bill pay information for business and personal bills. I even set up e-bills and auto-pay, which would automatically pay bills on time without me having to remember to set up a payment. I’ve used this capability with online banking for years and it’s a great tool for anyone with a busy life, especially if you travel as often as I do. When I set this up, I was very careful to use the correct checking account for each payee — business bills to be paid from my business account and personal bills to be paid from my personal account.

So imagine my surprise when I got a letter from Premera Blue Cross saying they’d rejected my premium payment because they don’t allow payments from business accounts.

I wasted about 15 minutes confirming that I’d set up the autopay to pay from the correct account. I had.

I wasted another 5 minutes confirming that the payment that had been sent in September was sent from the correct account. It was.

I then spent a total of 30 minutes on the phone with Premera, most of which was on hold — of course — to tell them that they were wrong, that the payment had come from a personal account. They told me that the payment instruction — this was an electronic payment — indicated that it was from “Flying M Air L.” I had to explain at least three times in three different ways that it was a personal account held in the same bank as my business account. (Being on hold for so long put me in a pissy, frustrated mood that got me shouting at the guy and didn’t help my blood pressure reading when I stepped into the doctor’s office 20 minutes later.) The Premera customer service guy told me he’d start an investigation with the accounts receivable people but I was okay for now since my account was paid up for the month. He’d call back (which of course hasn’t happened yet.)

Later, I spent another 20 minutes on the phone with my bank’s customer service department. After not being able to figure out, at first, what was going on, they eventually told me that since I’d used a business log on to create the bill pay instructions, any payments would indicate that they came from my business no matter which account I used. If I wanted payments to show my name instead of my business name, I’d have to create a personal account login and use the personal banking app to manage payments. Fortunately, this wouldn’t change my ability to see and work with all of my accounts from the business login. I just couldn’t create personal payment instructions there.

So this morning, I spent over an hour recreating all of my payees and payment instructions on the bank’s website for personal accounts. And deleting those same instructions from the bank’s website for business accounts.

It’s dumb and its frustrating but at least (I think) it’s fixed.

Now don’t get me started on the bank websites’ crappy user interfaces.

But despite all of this stupidity, I am much happier with my current banking setup. Honestly: why did I wait so long to make this change?

A Note on Apple Stock

I’m doing some math this morning and I thought I’d share an old image.

In January 1997, in Apple’s darkest days, I purchased 50 shares of Apple stock for $16.75 per share.

Back in those days, you bought actual stock certificates and I kept mine in a safe at home. Over the years, I bought and sold more Apple stock using a brokerage account. Meanwhile, these shares snug in the safe, began to grow. Not only did they grow in market value as Apple rebounded and became the major technology player it is today, but there were three stock splits, 2:1, 2:1, and 7:1 over the years.

Apple Stock Certificate
Back in 1997, Apple stock looked like this.

I transferred the stock certificate and its offspring to a brokerage account before the 7:1 split, so it would be more liquid. I sold it off in bits and pieces over the years to help finance various other investments like my first helicopter and a small apartment building I used to own. Because of the splits, there were always shares to sell. In 2013 and 2014, these shares were instrumental in helping finance my crazy divorce and build my new home.

I still have some of those original shares. If you do the math — which I did this morning — you’ll discover that the shares I have left have a cost basis of about 60¢ per share. This morning, Apple opened at $114.57 per share. If I still had all the shares from this original investment (which, sadly, I do not), it would be worth $160,398 — all from a $837 investment by someone with faith in a failing company.

What’s Wrong with Being an Artist?

My reaction to a Wells Fargo ad that has my creative friends outraged.

One of my creative friends on Facebook posted the following ad image:

Wells Fargo Ad

His comment: “Oh, Wells Fargo, fuck off.”

His friends had similar comments voicing similar outrage.

Now if you were born and raised on the east coast — as I was — you might not understand the problem. I think east coasters are raised with a different set of values than the rest of the country. I suspect the person who created the ad and the one who approved it didn’t get it because if they did, it never would have appeared. While it plays to a certain group of people, it’s downright offensive to others.

I get both sides and want to explore them briefly here.

Career-Focused Parents

The ad creators were likely tapping into the hopes and dreams of parents who simply want their kids to achieve on a career path that they can be proud of. Back east, at least in the household I grew up in, that meant having a job title that could be equated with a good living. In other words, money.

I get this, possibly a lot more than women in my age group do. When I was in high school and was good in math and showed an interest in accounting, it was a given that I’d go to college and eventually be a CPA. My (lower) middle class family was all over that idea. They saw a CPA as someone who makes a lot of money. There was even talk of me eventually becoming an actuary — the folks with accounting degrees who made even more money.

For the record, none of that talk came from me. I didn’t want to be an actuary and, as my college time progressed, I didn’t want to be a CPA, either. I admitted to myself, in my junior year, that what I really wanted to be was a writer. (I’d been writing since I was 13 and still have those notebooks.) That’s when I got up the nerve to phone home and tell my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. I’m sure seismologists are still talking about the minor quake caused by the fit she threw at me over the phone that day. Writers don’t make money, she told me. Do you want to be poor for the rest of your life?

Of course I didn’t — I’d had a good taste of that life when my father left us and we were trying to survive on my mother’s waitressing pay. So I stuck with accounting. Two years later, was working at the first of three jobs in auditing that made my first eight years out of college the nine-to-five grind I grew to despise.

I should point out that a lot of women my age were never pushed into careers the way I was. Although the ones with financial resources did go to college, it was understood that they were there for an “MRS degree.” (That was the big joke around campus.) So many of the ones I knew in the very expensive private university I went to — Hofstra on Long Island, if you must know; I got scholarships — hooked up with a male counterpart on a solid career track, got married, and put their BA or BBA or BS degree aside, never to be used. It was a given in the 70s and 80s that women got married, had children, and let their husbands take care of the finances. But my family never pushed me that way and when I was old enough to think for myself, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Neither was being a CPA.

My mother freaked out again when I left the last of those three jobs — where I was a financial analyst for a Fortune 100 company making more money at age 28 than my father ever made — to start a freelance writing career. But within a few years, I was making a good living and a few years after that, I was making an incredible (even to me) living. Doing what I wanted to do, building my own unique career path, making my own life outside corporate America.

But you see, the parents the Wells Fargo ad are appealing to don’t care what their kids want to do with their lives. Like my mother, they just want their kids to have potentially lucrative careers that they can brag to their friends about. After all, which sounds better:

  • Maria’s article about the new zika virus prevention measures being tested in Florida was just published in the New York Times.
  • Maria was just promoted to Director of Auditing at Wells Fargo Bank.

What I don’t think my mother counted on was my ability to succeed as a writer. I suspect “Maria just published her fiftieth book” satisfied her need to brag. And I don’t think “Maria just bought a helicopter” hurt either. Touché.

From the Creatives’ Point of View

To be fair, this Wells Fargo ad seems to take a slightly different tack. They’re pushing careers in science. It’s as if they’re saying to parents, “Sure, your kid might want to be a ballerina or actor now, but we can help you get him or her on the right track to a great career in the sciences.” It doesn’t take much to walk away with the message that a career in the sciences is much better than a career in the arts.

And that’s what’s offending my creative friends.

What’s wrong with wanting to be a ballerina or an actor? Or a writer? Or an artist?

In my opinion, if a kid has a real natural talent for dancing or acting or writing or painting or any other creative thing and loves to do it, he or she should be encouraged at every step. Nurture that love. Provide lessons and moral support. Help him or her succeed in doing something he or she loves.

Sure, a lot of kids will “grow out of” their love for a creative endeavor. But what about the kids who don’t?

Kids like me? I began writing stories when I was 13 and did it until I was deep into my 40s. Writing is in my blood, as it is with most writers. Blogging is an outshoot of this, a creative outlet for me — even though the stories I tell here are deeply rooted in fact and/or opinion. I never grew out of my love for writing. I was just smart enough to jump the tracks when I realized my career train was taking me in a direction I didn’t want to go. How many other people aren’t brave enough to do this? And get stuck with a career and possibly a life that they really don’t like?

Why would you pull a kid away from something he or she loved doing — and might actually be good at — and push him or her into a career they might not like? A career that would leave him or her feeling unfulfilled? Always wondering what life had been like if they’d stuck with the thing they really loved?

Imagine if the world’s great creatives had been pushed into “practical” careers and stayed there: Fred Astaire, Martha Graham, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut? And countless others? Can you imagine how dull and empty our world would be without the creatives that make us think and wonder? Who entertain and enlighten us?

Are any of these people worth less than an engineer or botanist?

Success Trumps Happiness?

To me, the Wells Fargo ad represents a sad truth about today’s American society: It’s more important to be successful than to be happy. And sadly, success is measured by what you do, what you earn, and what you own.

Parents should want just two career-related things for their children’s futures:

  • The importance (to me) of financial security

    Because of my past, financial security is very important to me. I don’t want to be poor, I don’t want to move back to my mother’s home — even if it were possible. And I take great pride — which fuels my happiness — in my ability to make a decent living in my current career as a pilot. My financial security also helped me in my costly divorce battle, making it very easy to rebuild my life alone.

    I’m also very happy with the life I’ve made for myself, especially these past few years. I’m happy with my work and the amount of time I have to travel and play and spend with friends.

    None of this was handed to me; I worked hard to get where I am. The feeling of achievement I get almost every day also adds to my overall feelings of happiness and well-being, as I blogged in July.

    My parents should be satisfied, even though I never became the CPA they wanted me to become.

    Financial security. Can they support themselves, especially as they get older? No parent who cares about a child really wants that child living at home because they can’t support themselves. But under no circumstances should a child be pushed into a career because its earning potential is greater than the career that child wants.

  • Happiness. The way I see it, if you can wake up every morning — or nearly every morning — looking forward to that day, you’re happy. (I’m there now, but I certainly wasn’t there when the alarm went off at 7 AM and had to make a 30-mile commute to a job I hated. The memory of those mornings has scarred me for life.)

Note that is a bulleted list, not a numbered list. That means you can take those two points in any order. I guess the order you take them in determines, in part, the kind of parent you are.

Now where’s the Wells Fargo ad promoting careers as dancers or actors? You know, you can send a kid to a costly school for that, too.

China Cheap

How do they do it?

When I was in Quartzsite, AZ this past winter, wandering around the sales, I bought a new pair of reading glasses with yellow-tinted lenses to cut the blue light from mobile devices. I’d heard that the blue light was bad if you used a device at night, which I did. Often. I think the glasses have helped improve my sleep patterns.

Because I need readers with me all the time and I don’t always carry a purse or clothes with suitable pockets, I’d taken to wearing the glasses on a chain around my neck, kind of like a stereotypical librarian from the 1950s. (I’ve been accused of many things, but vanity is not one of them.) When I bought the new readers, they also had beaded chains that were quite pretty and only $2. I bought one.

I wore it just about every single day for six months. Then it broke, dropping microscopic beads on the floor. I was definitely not going to restring them. With heavy heart, I tossed the chain away and got online to find a replacement.

Nice looking beaded chains were available on Amazon.com starting at about $12. Surely I could do better.

I did. On eBay. $3.56 with free shipping. I submitted an order and paid with PayPal.

I knew it was coming from China and I figured it would take a long time. Maybe a month. Whatever. I wasn’t in any hurry. I still had the old chain I’d used before the nice beaded one.

China Letter
A letter informed me my eyeglasses chain was on its way.

China Box
My new eyeglass chain arrived in a very nice satin-lined gift box.

The chain on my glasses
Although not quite as pretty as the one I broke, my new eyeglasses chain certainly does the job.

But within a few days, I got an email message from the Chinese company I’d bought from. It was written in perfect English, easy to understand, and complete in the information I needed. If scammers wrote letters this nice, they’d fool more people.

The package arrived about a week later. It was a padded envelope with Chinese postage on it. It easily fit in my mailbox.

I brought it in and opened it up. I was very surprised to find a nice pink box inside. I’d been expecting the chain in a cheesy plastic bag marked with an inspection number. The box made it suitable for giving as a gift.

When I opened the box, I found the beaded chain inside it on a piece of satin that seemed made just for it. Classy.

And that got me thinking. How do these Chinese companies make money?

First they have to get the materials and labor to create the item they’re selling.

Then they need the fancy box with the satin insert and someone to carefully stow the chain inside it.

Then the box goes into an envelope with a packing slip. A label goes on the outside with postage.

And then someone takes it with countless others to the Chinese equivalent of a post office where it’s shipped thousands of miles. It goes through customs (I assume) and gets sorted into the U.S. postal system. And eventually it makes it to my mailbox.

For $3.56.

Less than the cost of a latte.

How can they possibly make any money on this?

Helicopter Owners, Pilots, and Owner Pilots

It’s all about a difference in goals.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared in AOPA’s Hover Power blog. If you’re a helicopter pilot, you owe it to yourself to check in there regularly to read great articles written by experienced helicopter pilots.

I think a lot about the goal differences between helicopter owners and pilots. This could be because of my annual involvement in cherry drying work which is one of the few kinds of work that probably appeal more to owners than pilots.

What Owners Want

I think I can safely say that all owners–whether they own and fly for pleasure or own primarily as part of their business–want to keep owning the helicopter. That means keeping costs low and revenue–if any–as high as possible without jacking up costs so they can continue to meet the financial obligations of ownership: insurance, debt service, storage, required maintenance, registration, taxes, etc.

Of course, if a helicopter is owned as part of a business, the owner’s main goal is probably to build that bottom line. That means maximizing revenue while minimizing expenses. While every helicopter has some fixed costs that come into play whether it flies or not–insurance, hangaring, annual maintenance–an owner can minimize costs by focusing on work that pays even if the helicopter doesn’t fly. That’s why you can lease a helicopter with a monthly lease fee that’s independent of hours flown and why certain types of agricultural work–cherry drying and frost control come to mind–pay a standby fee that guarantees revenue even if the helicopter is idle.

As an owner, I can assure you that there’s nothing sweeter than having your helicopter bring in hundreds or even thousands of dollars a day while it’s safely parked at a secure airport or, better yet, in a hangar.

If the helicopter does have to fly, the owner wants the highest rate he can get for every flight hour and the lowest operating cost. How he achieves those goals depends on his business model, the equipment he has, the services he offers, and the pilots who do the flying.

What Pilots Want

What pilots want varies depending on where they are in their career.

  • Student pilots want to learn. Their goal is to learn what they need to and practice it enough so they can take and pass checkrides. Because they’re paying full price for every hour they fly, they’re not necessarily interested in flying unless it enables them to practice the maneuvers they need to get right on a check ride.
  • New pilots want to fly. Period. Their primary interest is building the time they need to get their first “real” flying job: normally 1,000 to 1,500 hours PIC. They’ll do any flying that’s available. And even though commercial pilots and CFI may be able to get paid to fly, some will fly for free or even pay to fly if the price is right. Indeed, I’ve had more than a few pilots offer to fly for me for free, which makes me sad.
  • Semi-experienced pilots want to build skills. Pilots who have had a job or two and have built 2,000 hours or more of flight time are (or should be) interested in doing the kind of flying that will build new skills or get practice in the skills they want to focus on for their careers. So although they still want to fly, they’re more picky about the flying they do. They’ll choose a job with a tour company that also does utility work over a job with a tour company that doesn’t, for example, if they’re interested in learning long-line skills.
  • Experienced pilots want flying jobs doing the kind of work they like to do and/or paying the money they want to receive for their services. Pilots with a good amount of experience and specialized sills are often a lot pickier about the jobs they take. For some of these pilots, flying isn’t nearly as important as pay and lifestyle. A utility pilot friend of mine routinely turned down jobs if he didn’t like the schedule, just because he didn’t like being away from home more than 10 days at a time. But dangle a signing bonus in front of him and there was a good chance he’d take it.

Of course, there are exceptions to all of these generalizations. Few people fall neatly into any one category.

But what you may notice is that most of them need to fly to achieve their goals, whether it’s passing check rides, building time, learning skills, or bringing home a good paycheck.

And that’s how they differ from owners.

Owner Pilots

I’m fortunate–or unfortunate, if you look at my helicopter-related bills–to be both an owner and a pilot. I’ve owned a helicopter nearly as long as I’ve been flying: 15 years.

The owner side of me is all about the revenue. I love agricultural contracts that let me park the helicopter on standby and collect a daily fee for leaving it idle. Every hour it doesn’t fly is another flight hour I can keep it before I have to pay that big overhaul bill. (I own a Robinson R44 Raven II, which requires an overhaul at 12 years or 2200 hours of flight time, whichever comes first.) It’s also an hour I don’t have to worry about a mishap doing the somewhat dangerous agricultural flying work I do.

The pilot side of me wants to fly. I love to fly. I bought a helicopter because I felt addicted to flying and needed to be able to get a fix any time. (The business came later, when it had to.)

Home Helicopter
Owning a helicopter means having a safe place to keep it when it’s not flying.

And because I’m an owner, with ultimate say over how the helicopter is used, and a pilot, with a real desire to fly, I can pretty much fly where and when I want to. But when the fun is over I’m the one who has to pay the bill.

Being an owner pilot gives me a unique perspective, an insight into how owners and pilots think and what drives them.

Working Together to Achieve Goals

In a perfect world, owners would think more about pilots and work with them to help them achieve their goals. That means helping them learn, offering them variety in their flying work, and paying them properly for their experience and skill levels.

At the same time in that perfect world, pilots would think more about owners and work with them to help them achieve their goals. That means flying safely and professionally, following FAA (or other governing body) regulations, pleasing clients, taking good care of the aircraft to avoid unscheduled maintenance and repair issues, and helping to keep costs down.

What do you think? Are you an owner or pilot or both? How do you see yourself working with others? Got any stories to share? Use the comments here to get a discussion going.