When It’s Just Not Worth It to Fly

Turning down flying jobs.

I really don’t like cheap clients.

Anyone who operates an aviation business knows exactly what I mean. They’re the folks that expect you to fly for what they see as just above your cost. The way they see it, even though that rate is far below what you normally ask, you’re still making money, so you should be happy.

[What’s even worse than cheap clients who are trying to get flight time for less than cost is the wanna be clients who want you to fly them around for free. I wrote about one of those in my post, “You want WHAT for free?“]

Unfortunately, their idea of your “cost” is the price of fuel times the number of gallons per hour that you burn. As I detailed in my posts, “How do you make a million dollars in aviation?” and “How Much, How Long?,” fuel is just one part of the cost of operating an aircraft. And it doesn’t even account for 1/3 the cost.

I’ve had a number of these clients in the past and I always came up with some kind of compromise, just to get their business. The compromise was normally more than they wanted to pay but less than I usually charge. In many cases, I wound up giving away so much — usually in ferry time — that the job was operated on a break-even basis. I told myself that it was worth it to get a client that would give me business in the future. But in most instances, any future business involved the same kind of compromises. Even though I was getting compensated for the cost of the flight, I wasn’t getting compensated for my time.

And I’ve come to realize that my time is the most valuable thing I have to offer anyone.

So this week, after going back and forth with a past client, trying to come up with a deal that would satisfy both of us, we hit a wall where neither of us would budge. The job was in Nevada, which is a 3 hour flight from my home base in Wickenburg, AZ or my end-of-summer base in Page, AZ. That’s 3 hours each way. I offered to eat half the ferry time — that’s 3 hours — if he paid the other half at a reduced rate ($495/hour) and guaranteed at least 4 hours of photo flight time at my regular photo flight rate (currently $595/hour). The cost to him for 10 hours of flight time (including the 6 hours of ferry time) would have been a measly $3,865, saving him about $1,500. When I ran the numbers after I’d sent him the rates (very dumb), my first thought was, what was I thinking?

I was lucky that he refused to guarantee the 4 hours. I would have spent 6 hours flying through hot desert — the job was in August — just to get there and back. I would have done the job in hot desert, flying heavy because fuel options were limited, beating the hell out of my aircraft and myself to get the videographer in the right places to make his high-action shots. I would have to eat the cost of hotel accommodations for at least one night. And I’d have my aircraft offline for other work for about two days.

All for a net over known costs that was less than what I was saving him with my compromise offer.

I talked to a pilot friend about this yesterday. His business is remarkably like mine, although he does more photo work and I do more tour work. We swapped stories about cheap clients and cheap client wannabes.

Then he told me his take on price compromises. If there wasn’t much money in a job, he considered what he could be doing with his time if he weren’t doing the job. Hanging out with friends — maybe flying with them. Relaxing with his family. Doing things he wanted to do.

And I realized that I’d definitely done the right thing when I stood my ground. The job simply wasn’t worth flying. Maybe I’d have other paying work and maybe I wouldn’t. But I’d be spending my time in a way that I wanted to, rather than giving away my services for next to nothing.

Life’s short. Business is business.

What do you think?