One Mistake too Many
Many years ago, my flight instructor would constantly tell me, “When you have time to spare, go by air.” As a new pilot, I heeded his word as law, and before long I was flying more, and flying frequently. Be it one of the many trips up and down the east coast to enjoy fly-ins like Sun-N-Fun, going for that $100 hamburger, or just flying into airports and spending a lazy weekend experiencing all the adventure and excitement of a new location one thing was evident: I had caught the aviation bug and have never looked back.
As my log book grew in entries and hours, my skillset did as well. I attained my high performance and complex ratings, took lessons flying float planes, and achieved my instrument flight rules (IFR) and multi-engine ratings. With time, my skillset and interest grew as I realized what the aviation world meant for me - freedom. I started flying for business purposes as often as I could, bolstering my personal relationships with customers by visiting multiple clients over the course of a week. I found myself in a position where I was living my dream life; I had become more effective in my work, my rapport with customers grew exponentially, and I found peace of mind in flying as a private pilot. Of course, good things don’t last forever. I had traveled to Florida with my best friend, from my home base in New Hampshire on a multi-city trip that brought us to stops in New York, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Ohio. One would think that since Florida is the home of Embry-Riddle and airports are prevalent that the state would also be home to some of the best trained personnel in aviation. But at this particular airport in Florida, we stopped for a night’s stay where I had meetings scheduled the following morning. We had arranged for a rental car with the FBO and told them upon arrival that we wanted to be topped off and ready for departure by noon the next day. When we arrived, we were greeted by a line crew staff member who verified what we wanted, and asked if our parking brakes were on as he was going to put our aircraft in a hangar overnight. We confirmed that the brakes were off, got in our rental car, and were on our way.
The next day, we returned to the FBO. After a close inspection of our aircraft during our pre-flight, we saw that the there was damage to our nose gear. This was a result of the nose wheel being turned beyond its limits while the line crew towed our aircraft into the hangar. Obviously, I was not pleased at all, but hey, accidents happen. My friend looked at me and said, “looks like we will be spending the night here.” We then reported the damage and the line crew person denied responsibility for the damage. Since he was the only person on duty, we asked to speak to the manager, and he promptly got the owner of the FBO on the phone. Apparently the FBO was owned by a couple, who upon retirement, had sold the FBO to someone who had no knowledge of aircraft. Thankfully, they agreed to come down and speak with us. When the owner got there, my friend, who happens to be a licensed airframe mechanic and inspector (IA), told them what parts needed to be repaired. This was confirmed by their own mechanic, they proceeded to order the part with overnight shipping, and a promise was made that the repairs would be done in the morning. Upon arrival, we were told the part would not be in until the following day. We asked about why it hadn’t been ordered with overnight shipping, and the airframe mechanic (A&P) on duty said that the owner changed the shipping to two-day air delivery due to the shipping cost. We asked why we were not told that and we merely got a shrug and were told we needed to speak to the owner. Upon speaking with them, they had told us that the part was too expensive to ship overnight. We expressed our chagrin as we realized our overnight stay was escalating into a week long affair. As a result, I had to reschedule my appointments for the rest of the trip to accommodate this mishap.
We arrived the next day and inspected the repair our satisfaction, we went in to pay for our fuel so we could then be on our way. When we got to the desk, we were presented a bill that had our fuel on it, but also had three nights hangar storage on it along with the cost of the part, the shipping cost, and the A&P’s labor on it. We contacted the owner and explained that the damage was caused by their line crew member and that we should not have been charged for the part, the labor, the shipping, or the extra two days of hangar storage. To our amazement the owner then asked why we thought they should have to pay for it! After a near two-hour back and forth session of my friend explaining the responsibilities of care by an FBO, how important training is, how FBO’s are responsible for the aircraft in their care, and that we would be refusing to pay for the repairs, they finally conceded. By the time all issues were resolved we had lost several days of our business trip and stressed client relationships due to the negligence of a single FBO. I now tell people I know who are pilots, “When you have time to spare, go by air, but always, and I mean always, pick your FBO’s carefully!” And I’m sure this string of mistakes by that FBO not only cost them my future business, but the business of the many people whom I have shared that story with.