“Let me be straight with you. What I'd rather have is an airplane. We just had a third kid. I don't like flying commercial. I like to take my family to Hawaii. When I go east, I'd like to have pilots I know. ”
Exit: Business jet or airliner?
Sophisticated software can tell you which makes the most sense on a flight-by-flight basis.
The National Business Aviation Association has reams of data proving that corporate aircraft pay off for those who use them. The association’s “No Plane, No Gain” program is front and center in this advocacy effort. (This columnist’s opinion: great program, terrible name.) But one of the NBAA’s least-recognized products could be one its best tools—the Travel$ense software program.
The NBAA began research on this program in 1994, after being encouraged by the work of Dennis Keith, then director of aviation for Frito-Lay. Inspired by a spreadsheet developed by Brad Vineyard, chief pilot for Amoco/Houston, the association started to develop the software in the following year. The NBAA continues to refine it to this day; for example, a recent update improved the way the program retrieves fare information for comparable airline flights.
Travel$ense, which BJT has reported on in the past, calculates whether a particular trip would be more cost-effective if flown on the airlines or on a privately owned or chartered aircraft. The software is customized for the individual flight department or aircraft operator and includes up to 2,000 parameters.
It accounts for costs associated with airline flying over and above ticket prices—ground transportation to and from the large airport (compared with using a closer general-aviation field); and costs for overnight stays required to accommodate airline schedules, including hotels, meals, rental cars and entertainment. Travel$ense also factors in the most critical of all assets: executives’ time. It accounts for hours lost when traveling to and from the big airports at both ends of each flight; time spent in security lines; time lost due to canceled flights (using historical data to evaluate the chances of a particular airline flight being canceled vs. the private flight); and more.
The NBAA acknowledges that most of the program’s components have been incorporated into many aircraft operators’ planning efforts over the years, using “calculators and yellow legal pads.” But employing such old-fashioned tools means reinventing the wheel for every operator and makes it impossible to cover all the statistical parameters. “What is revolutionary [about Travel$ense],” according to the association, “is that many old issues are brought together in one place and rapidly considered in a sophisticated way for the first time.”
Travel$ense relies on a user-defined and customized decision matrix that includes data on dates, times, city pairs, number of passengers and comparative costs for airline tickets and aircraft direct operating costs. The program will recommend an airline ticket over a business jet flight if it’s best for the bottom line. However, reports the NBAA, “We have found that Travel$ense often confirms the hunch—on a dollars-and-cents basis—that business aircraft are a time-efficient and cost-effective way to travel.”
Beyond its ability to help chief pilots and dispatchers track costs, the most important benefit of Travel$ense could be its ability to present a CFO, a board of directors, stockholders and even reporters with hard, unambiguous data that clearly show how business aviation pays off.
Mark Phelps welcomes comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.