Flying for Bowl Games

And keeping very busy.

My cell phone started ringing on Saturday and it didn’t stop. By Sunday afternoon, I was booked with a Grand Canyon day trip (from Phoenix Sky Harbor) on Monday, a one-hour Phoenix Tour from Scottsdale on Tuesday morning, and a 1-hour charter from Wickenburg on Wednesday. On Monday afternoon, while I was at the Grand Canyon with my passengers, the Phoenix tour turned into another Grand Canyon Charter. I turned down four Grand Canyon day trips and two Sedona day trips from the Phoenix area for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday because I was already booked. I couldn’t keep up with the messages that came in while I was airborne on Monday and Tuesday and on Tuesday morning, while at the Grand Canyon, I had to shut my phone off because my battery was nearly dead.

Why all the sudden interest in helicopter day trips and charters?

The bowl game that was held in Glendale on Monday night. Don’t ask me which Bowl game it was — I don’t follow football. I only know who played (Florida Gators and Ohio State) and who won (Florida) because my Monday passengers were Gators fans and my Tuesday passengers were disappointed Ohio fans.

Like so many Phoenix area businesses, I feasted on the influx of big budget tourists, folks who think nothing of dropping $2K for a day’s entertainment. In the case of the Grand Canyon day trips, both parties wanted to get to and see the Grand Canyon but had limited time for the visit. They simply didn’t want to make the 4-hour (each way) car ride from Phoenix. So they hired me to take them by helicopter — 1-1/2 hour from Scottsdale (each way) and 1-3/4 hour from Sky Harbor

Yesterday’s group didn’t have much time to spend at the canyon. We left Sky Harbor at 9 AM and arrived at Grand Canyon Airport barely in time for them to hop on a Papillon helicopter for a canyon overflight. Afterwards, we had an hour before we had to leave the Grand Canyon to get them back to the Phoenix area in time for their pre-game parties. They spent about 3/4 of that in Papillon’s gift shop. We did have time for a quick burger at Susy’s restaurant at Prescott Airport. I think they enjoyed that meal at a typical airport restaurant almost as much as the rest of their day. Of course, they probably enjoyed the game a lot more, since their team won.

Today’s group is just a father and his 10-year-old son who are here from Ohio for the game. They spent Sunday at Sedona and decided to fly with me to Grand Canyon for the day. I set them up with a Papillon tour and they got bumped up and upgraded to fly with Grand Canyon Helicopters (Papillon’s sister company), which flies much nicer equipment (EC130s). Although they were supposed to be on the short tour, they were put on the long tour and they apparently loved every minute of it. (What’s not to like?) We took the Xantera “taxi” to the park and I set them loose in front of El Tovar so they could walk the rim and have lunch on their own.

Now, at 1:30 PM, I’m sitting in the upper lounge (hotel guests only!), trying to produce something for my blog. There’s no wireless Internet here — and that’s a good thing. After all, I ‘m less than 300 feet from the rim of the canyon and shouldn’t even be looking at a computer. I’m meeting my passengers right outside at 3 PM for the return flight. I’ll have them back in Scottsdale by 5 PM and I’ll be shutting down on the ramp in Wickenburg before 6.

Yesterday’s flight was the first time I flew to the Grand Canyon from downtown Phoenix. It isn’t a particularly interesting flight. Not if you do a straight line, anyway. So I take little side trips. The highlight was probably the red rocks tour of Sedona about an hour into the flight. I flew my passengers past the airport and over town, then headed up the canyon where the tour operators there take their passengers. Near the end of the canyon, I pulled up, climbing at about 1,000 feet per minute to get over the edge of the Mongollon Rim. My front seat passenger was nervous, but he did okay. Then more relatively uninteresting stuff to the canyon. On the way back, I took them west of Bill Williams Mountain with a stop in Prescott, then down the east side of the Bradshaws. I showed them the ruins on Indian Mesa on Lake Pleasant before heading into Phoenix.

Got jets?Cutter Aviation, my FBO of choice at Sky Harbor, was a complete mob scene when I got there at around 3PM. Jets and other large aircraft were coming in for the game — last-minute folks who hadn’t come days before to enjoy the weekend. My helicopter was an insignificant speck on the ramp among all the jets. They started leading me to parking in a “Follow Me” car, then just drove away, leaving me to set down wherever I wanted to. I found a spot in the corner of their ramp with the Swift FBO jets parked behind me. I was only planning on being there for a few minutes, so I didn’t think it mattered too much where I parked. I escorted my passengers into the terminal there, pocketed a generous tip, said goodbye, and placed my fuel order for 20 gallons. The next guy asked for 1,680 gallons. It took a long time to fuel me, probably because the idiot with the truck was trying to fit it all in one tank. Meanwhile, big planes kept coming in and the FBO person in charge was getting more and more nervous by the minute. There were at least 50 people — pilots, national guard guys, police, limo drivers — you name it — in the Cutter terminal. The place was crazed and I wanted out. It was a pleasure to get clearance from Sky Harbor tower to follow the “river bottom” and head northwest once I’d passed Central Avenue. I logged 4.3 hours yesterday, which is more than I budget for those flights. Not a loss, but certainly not the kind of hourly rate I like to earn. My fault. I charged them my north valley rate; I should have charged for south valley, which is $200 more. The tip helped.

Today, I flew my passengers from Scottsdale, which is a shorter flight. We went past Jerome instead of Sedona on our way up. I’ll overfly Sedona with a Red Rocks tour on the way back. Scottsdale was also full of jets this morning, but I expect most of them to be gone by the time we return. At least I hope so.

It’s been nice visiting the GC these past two days. I got a chance to chat with a few old friends from Papillon yesterday: Tiny, who is now a lead pilot (he started the same season I did in 2004); Mark D, who wasn’t particularly chatty; Chuck R, who seemed embarrassed to see me; Borden, who is also friends with our good friends Elizabeth and Matt; and Evelyn. I was hoping to talk to Brenda about HAI, but she didn’t seem to be in. Today, I ran into Tom (who once rescued Mike and I from Indians — long story) at GC Helicopters, where he’s a pilot.

I had lunch at El Tovar today. It feels good to sit down and relax. Things are pretty quiet here and, if I had more time, I would have attempted a nap. Last night I had trouble staying awake until 8 PM — I was so exhausted. I’ll probably sleep well again tonight.

But the good news is, Flying M Air could shut down for the rest of the month and still be in good financial shape.

As for my blog…it’s being neglected. But I’ll get back to it soon.

What do you think?