I can't believe I forgot to tell you guys about the time we rented a plane in Maui.
A very big THING in Hawaii are helicopter tours of the islands. We did one of those in Kauai, on our honeymoon, and it was very ohhhh-ahhhh. HOWEVER. There are a few things about helicopters that make me somewhat uncomfortable about doing that again.
Thing The First
A helicopter tour is pretty spendy. Helicopters cost a FORTUNE to insure (waaaaay more than a single engine aircraft) and they're not cheap to purchase in the first place. Training is also very expensive. (On the good side, they do drink the same fuel.) A complete tour of Maui runs almost $400/person. That's...a lot for an hour and a half flight.
Thing The Second
Helicopters crash with more frequency in Hawaii than in most other tourist destinations. There are probably a couple of factors that play into this: frequency (both in number of total flights per day and flights per day per helicopter versus other general aviation in the area), dramatic terrain changes what with the VOLCANOES RISING FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, and frequent, severe, weather changes due to that terrain and the ocean (fog,rain, and a helluva big crosswind, all probably changing minute-to-minute and mile-to-mile).
In the past 30 years there have been 60 helicopter crashes in Hawaii. 17 were fatal. That's...a lot.
Per a local blog,
There is a proposal in front of the FAA that would establish a minimum altitude of 1500 feet in order to avoid obscured mountain peaks that are frequently found in Hawaii. Hawaii operators believe that the increased altitude could result in additional crashes from reduced visibility in clouds often present at higher altitudes.
So, yeah. It's a tricky thing to fly in Hawaii, helicopter OR airplane.
We started asking about renting a plane and circling the island ourselves. Mostly, it sounded a HELLUVA lot cheaper. Turns out, you can do that!
This is Big Beach, in Wailea. I took this picture and I am very proud of myself.
We rented a 2003 Cessna 172 SP from Maui Aviators. It's going for $164/hour these days and we probably paid close to that or the same when we did this in 2009. We had the engine on for about two hours and we circled Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. I think the total bill was about $400. If you'll notice, the above price for a helicopter tour does not include Molokai or Lanai. And? Our plane also seated FOUR people for that price. We only took two plus the instructor, but there was plenty of room for a fourth.
For the price of ONE seat on a SHORTER helicopter tour, we got THREE passenger seats and a LONGER tour. Much better value.
Oh, yes, the instructor. It's very common that a shop will require you to take an instructor until you get "checked out" in their aircraft. Only after you've been checked out can you rent solo. This is very typical with any rental operation, no matter the location. It's not exactly like renting a car: there's more cash at stake and it's easier to kill yourself. They have to be confident a pilot knows how to handle the aircraft and is familiar with the local airspace and regulations.
For example, in Hawaii you do not file a traditional flight plan, you file an Island Flight Plan. You check in over the radio at each waypoint (a physical landmark or set of coordinates) and say how long it will be until you get to the next one. If you don't make it to the next waypoint and check in on time, Flight Service will immediately begin overdue aircraft procedures. This way, they have a very good idea of where you are and where to send search and rescue, which is important because there are mountains to fly into and a big, big ocean below and it's super easy to die fast out there.
Oh, this is fun to talk about right? IT'S FUN! COME ON!
Anyway, we had to take one of their instructors with us, but that was a SUPER GREAT thing and we would have wanted him anyway. He knew all the waypoints (and how to PRONOUNCE them) and he was a great tour guide. Chris did the flying and our instructor handled the radio and provided some live narration.
The views were amazing - the high wings on a Cessna give passengers an unobstructed view and there are lots of windows. Another great thing about taking a plane up ourselves was if we want to go back and look at something? Or get a little closer? We can do that! We're not on a schedule or trying to make a razor thin margin off this flight. We're just payin' by the hour.
So, we DID do that. We were trying to see some whales off of Kapalua, and we thought we saw one, so we edged over that way and circled for a bit. We ended up seeing a few, which was really exciting to see from above.
This one is actually the Pipiwai Trail, that I mentioned in the last post. That waterfall up top is the 400-footer and you hike basically from the beach up there and back. It's AWESOME.
I also really enjoyed flying along the far side of Molokai, with the sea cliffs. These are the highest sea cliffs in the world. I had thought the cliffs on Kauai, along the Kalaulau Trail were spectacular, but these were just jaw-dropping. I wanted to double back and see them again, but the wind and weather were not in our favor. The Kalaupapa Peninsula was also interesting to me, as I'd gotten really wrapped up in Father Damien's story a few years ago and had spent an odd amount of time reading historical fiction and actual biographies about/from that era. I could see the church and the cemetery and it was just...kind of somber and unexpectedly meaningful to see from above.
So, yeah! We rented a plane in Maui and it was totally kick butt. Owning an aircraft isn't for everyone - Hell, if you don't have a far-off place to go on the regular, it doesn't make any fiscal sense. To make it worthwhile you have to actually fly the damn thing pretty often.
There are a lot of recurrent costs to ownership that you can escape with a rental. The best scenario is to get your license and get checked out with a local group. That way, if you want to go to New Orleans for the weekend twice a year, and you enjoy flying yourself ANYWAY, you can do that for a DRAMATICALLY lower annual cost in terms of access to a quality aircraft. (And trust me, this is a WAY more quality aircraft than the one we own, it's almost 40-years newer.) And, since you're already checked out, you would be well past needing to take an instructor with you.
Then, obviously, you can also do things like this with a pilot's license - see other places from above, as you dictate the route and schedule.
I've been thinking A LOT about taking my first flying lessons in the next few weeks and I have to admit, I AM SO NERVOUS. I don't know why! I have spent more than a hundred hours in a tiny-ass airplane and I am pretty familiar with how it works. But, there you go, I AM NERVOUS. I'm thinking about it a lot more often than I used to though, and the idea appeals to me more every day. I'd like to start soon, but I think it'll be more like this fall before my first flight with our instructor. I'll start working on some ground school items this summer and take my first lesson this fall, once the heat breaks.
I hope I don't barf. That would be really embarrassing.