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Beginning in early August 2001, I started a month-long conversation with a pilot of Middle Eastern origin flying a business jet out of Nashville, Tennessee.

Man-Silhouette

I was assisting him with plans for a Nashville-to-Saudi Arabia trip to be made sometime in September. He required what I considered to be standard materials – a trip kit – a one-time purchase – guaranteed to be current (legal) for a relatively short period of time, say, 14 days. He needed this because he was not a regular subscriber to “Jepps”, Jeppesen instrument flight charts, in simplest terms. He would also require electronic NavData for his GPS – Global Positioning System. The trip kit would be in paper, and would be quite a stack.

I’ll call him “Faruq”.

Every “plate” – essentially overhead views and profile views, technical “drawings” – somewhat akin to architectural blueprints – of how to fly an approach into an airport, how to depart from one, and how to fly in between, all with the intent of not hitting or even getting close to anybody else. When printed, they are on what I would call “Bible paper”; a half sheet and of the same type and feel. Electronically, they are displayed through a device on the cockpit instrument panel. Any ten-year-old kid would these days recognize it.

JeppsKBHM122_Not For Nav

Faruq would need the charts for the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, HI and LO altitude, crossing the Atlantic, Western Europe, and finally the Middle East. His “NavData” would consist of two separate data cards each of which looked like a super-thick plain, black credit card with gold contacts on one end. Then add in the flight planning software. Pretty expensive package, all told; say, four-to-five figures, in the low-several thousands of dollars. As much as it costs, it’s pretty routine for private and business jet operators.

Now, it’s done in a much more integrated, even higher-tech fashion, with more electronics and less paper and other objects to worry about, but the costs are still about the same – high.

– – –

Private Jets: A Guy I Know

A brief interlude, and a bit lighter view of the subject for a moment.

– – –

Guys (they are usually guys…) who own the jets they fly, as many do, or at least fly on, may be  different than most of us, but in many ways, are not so different. It’s that thing about putting your pants on one leg at a time.

I know a guy in Casey, Illinois (about 30 minutes west of my hometown in Indiana) who owns a manufacturing business with a few locations around the country, so, for many reasons, he chooses to own a jet. It’s a Lear 25-something-or-other (I can’t remember exactly now, it’s been too many years) that he keeps in Bloomington, up-state. First, he can afford it. Second, it’s a practical matter for him.

Lear25B_rev1

Who wouldathunk, right there in Casey, of all places, where my aunt Mildred was nurse at the high school for 50 gazillion years. Well, you gotta be from somewhere, and you gotta live somewhere. Might as well be there. I appreciate that he chooses to remain living in his hometown (something I have not done).

I know another guy, I’ll call him “Viktor.” He is a Russian art collector (ancient religious iconography is one of his keenest interests), investor, and philanthropist. He lives in a few places, to include London. So, he also has a jet – A Gulfstream V, if I recall correctly. Huge, expensive, beautiful, yaduh, yaduh, yaduh.

He (and quite a few others) reminds me that immense personal wealth is (or at least can be) a very good thing.

Statistics demonstrate that such people, their trusts and foundations, their direct personal giving and so on contribute with enormous impact. Viktor does. By-and-large, it seems to be their nature. While they can certainly live the way they want (which is by the way, what most people aspire to achieve), they tend to be the financial drivers of positive change in most communities, and they do it freely. I am surely glad for what they are able to do and choose to do.

Viktor once called me to continue working on arrangments for a ’round the world trip.

It was to be partly with his wife and the plan was to mix business and pleasure: Donations and lending of art to various galleries and other philanthropic engagements and some sightseeing, some aircraft business and so on.

It would start in London and on to the heart of Europe then east to Moscow, down to the Persian Gulf, back to several cities in Africa (charitable foundation and art world stuff there), then Brazil, then Dallas or Savannah (again foggy memory) for some extended refresher training in a G5 simulator and an A&P course (Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certification stuff), then New York and finally home to London.

Gulfstream_Aerospace_G-V-SP_Gulfstream_G550_MEL_Vabre

Partly with his wife because he did not want to put her through the solo time while he was getting trained and recertified. That would be sorta like asking your wife to stand in the back yard and watch while you try to assemble then try to use a new weed-whacker. She’s got better stuff to do.

So when he called, he was in Africa – for pure personal fun this time.

He was on safari somewhere, but he was feeling nervous about getting prepared for the Big Trip. So he briefly interrupted his adventure to call and confirm a few details with me. In his thick but (like the British) very intelligent-sounding English, sort of yelling because he didn’t trust his cellphone, he said, “Michael, I am sitting in a jeep looking at an elephant!”

I swear, I pictured nutty old uncle Ernest Hemingway, phone in one hand, Winchester .458 in the other, multitasking with life itself, oblivious to what could happen next – to himself or anyone near him – and having a good time doing it. If I had heard a huge KaBoom! right then and there and a bunch of panicked yelling I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

I liked his Russian English, but he was often frustrated by it. Many times he put his very proper English wife on the phone with me to sort out what he really wanted to say. She replaced his heavily accented and numerous “I’m sorry Michael”‘s with that intoxicating and wonderfully flowing Queen’s English. I truly didn’t care what the words actually were; they could have been made up for all I cared. I just listened in a sort of trance. At that point it was just 8-year-old me lying in bed and Mary Poppins singing something about about tuppens and cough syrup, lulling me to baby-sleep. I could have had her translate Viktor for me for the rest of my life and been pretty happy about it.

Anyway, during that global trip, he ended up calling me from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. He was in the midst of his wealthy, luxuriant frustration, agonizing over a very expensive broken gadget-thingy, and needing another trip kit because now his jaunt was going to be extended by a week or so… IF he could get the very expensive gadget-thingy fixed. He would say his immense wealth was rapidly depleting with his questionable decision to some wear some of his multiple hats.

I asked a simple but rotten question: “How is it?”

His response was pretty down-to-earth and relatable.

“Michael, I am the mechanic, the pilot, the janitor, the caterer, the electronics technician, and sadly, the owner.”

I guess crap feels the same for everyone, regardless of where it comes from.

– – –

That “Faruq” was in need of a Jeppesen Trip Kit was in itself somewhat odd in that virtually every business jet on the planet that regularly flies internationally – which this one did – requires Jeppesen procedures, whether paper or electronic, and Jeppesen electronic NavData for their on-board navigation systems.

Jeppesen is (or at least was at that time) the only producer of such information and electronic data on a worldwide scale. (Other businesses, such as SwissAir, and some governments produce regional information for internal consumption, but nothing on the scale of Jepp). If someone is to fly globally, they have to use Jeppesen.

My memory of all the fine details of this event is not as clear as it was ten years ago; I think my conclusion must have been that this was a newly acquired aircraft and perhaps flying “home” so did not yet require any subscriptions. A trip kit would suffice. So our conversations continued. We spoke regularly – two to three times each week. Eventually, what became the most outstanding aspect of those conversations was the thing that led to a standstill: money.

Normally – routinely – Jepp takes this type call all day long, every day. These people pay right now. If they can afford this aircraft, or if their company deems it necessary to have it, they can pay, and they do. The people who fly on a company aircraft from Seattle to a meeting in Minneapolis or from Teterboro to London, or the guy who flies a family-owned G-4 to the Kamchatka Peninsula to go salmon fishing, or the small but very hard-working, very successful factory owner – say, a foundry or electronic components, or wiring harnesses, or industrial hydraulic pumps – and he’s the guy from Casey.

He owns his Lear because it’s what’s needed and not because it’s fun – and flies from Bloomington to Columbus to Little Rock to Dayton and back home all in two days – they all have established themselves and their businesses financially enough to pay for their flying.

– – –

But not my guy, Faruq.

What first stood out about him was how exceptionally polite and articulate he was. Not that he got the Queen’s English exactly right. Lord knows that we Hoosiers (or maybe just we Hoosiers south of I-70) rarely do that. He had his grammatical foibles, but he handled his english a lot better than I would have handled my Arabic.

It was his presentation that stood out more than anything. And it developed into an upward spiral. The more polite and appreciative he was, the more I enjoyed speaking with him and helping, then, in return, the more pleasant he continued to be. And so it went. But somewhere after our second or third conversation, the calls began to end with projections and anticipations of when and precisely how payment would be wired or a company credit card would be provided.

The plans were clearly stalling for want of “show me the money.”

– – –

By early September the calls were coming almost daily.

He became very apologetic and began searching me for alternative ways to get the materials shipped on time; he had a hard deadline he had to meet. He would say, “We’ve got to go by . . .” or “The boss needs to depart no later than . . ” and he became more and more animated in his expressions over the phone, making it clear this was extremely important and he was becoming desperate, caught in the middle.

But invariably we would end up rehashing the fact that I could not ship anything without full payment. It had arrived at a place that was entirely uncharacteristic of business jet operators.

It was then that again he would apologize profusely and assure me he was doing everything he could to arrange payment but it was difficult. It was clear to me that moving payment from “Saudi to here” would continue to be fraught with snags. For whatever reasons, a credit card couldn’t do it. Cash converted to a cashier’s check couldn’t either. Neither could a wire. So the order never went.

– – –

Our last phone conversation was sometime during the week of September 3-7; I do not recall exactly which day. Faruq expressed the slightest bit of hope that a wire transfer could be made, but he also spoke with what stood out to me as an undertone of resignation, as if he knew the trip he needed to take so badly – or the trip he was under such pressure to complete – would not take place. He was friendly and polite all the while. He thanked me and I thanked him and wished him the best.

Over the weekend, as he occurred to me only as an after-thought, I expected to hear from him Monday, September 10th, but didn’t.

Then of course, it was Tuesday.

– – –

Next week: Part V – Gone and Forever

Logo-Boeing-Company

– – –

Jeppesen “plate” image credit Jeppesen and courtesy The Professional Pilots Rumour Network

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