Vanpool

I’m part of multiple Facebook groups to keep tabs on news and discussion for my different commute options. Recently a Jason Alferness posted to the Southworth Ferry Commuter Group that he was offering up his co-pilot seat on a commute flight he was doing from Bremerton to Boeing Field. I was intrigued so I asked him for an interview.

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What made you want to “aero-commute”?

I always just wanted to fly. I had a good friend bring me with on a flight and the rest is history… I had to do it. Getting through the process of learning to fly does take some considerable determination and time. The Aero-commute is mostly just a way to mix up my commute and make it more interesting. I don’t save time or money vs my normal commute… in fact all things together it probably takes me longer and it certainly does cost me more more (especially if I add in ground commute costs in Seattle). But it’s far more beautiful and more interesting — The daily grind is boring enough, so anything I can do to keep it fun is good by me!

How long have you been a pilot? How many hours/experience?

I got my license in 2016, MANY years after I first dreamed about it.  Never took a step toward making it happen til about a year before that.  I have about 300 command flight hours, pretty much exclusively in small single engine planes, though I have a few hours in powered hang gliders and the like.
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What made you want to become a pilot?
I have wanted to fly since I was a kid.  It got forgotten for many years while life happened, then one day a pilot friend was kind enough to help me realize that if I was going to do this NOW is the time or I may never do it and that further I realized it could be done by interested people of ordinary financial means (of which I am).  There’s nothing like the freedom and beauty of flying in the Pacific NW.  It’s a joy like no other.
Where else do you fly besides Boeing Field?
Anywhere local with a runway.  I’ve landed at many Washington, Oregon and Idaho airports and a few a bit further out.  Because of the size and speed of my plane, I don’t fly in or out of SeaTac (though it’s not impossible to do so), but other than that, I’ve been to many of the public airports in the area

However, my plane is of limited performance.  I cruise maybe 100mph ish, so while I’m going faster than a car and can go in a straight line, so I don’t usually fly far, since a jet will do 4-5x that.  A small single engine plane is no substitute for a jet and if I have to travel across the country.  People sometimes even ask for a flight to Hawaii or something… which is just not possible or sensible.

Walk me through how an “aero-commute” day goes.

Every flight begins with briefing important information about whether and flight restrictions online and/or on the phone.  Then if weather etc looks good we’ll drive or carpool to the airport.  (I’m based out of Bremerton National)… There’s a preflight period where you check over the plane (maybe 20 min or so), then a taxi, systems check and takeoff.  The actual flight is maybe 20 min in the air, wheels up to wheels down.  After landing at Boeing, I’ll either catch a bus or Lyft/Uber (depending on the days constraints) to work.  Reverse process in the afternoon…
How often do you do this?
During the nice part of the summer, maybe once every week or two… during the winter it’s far less frequent because weather is typically not as good.

It’s HIGHLY weather dependent and cannot be used as an everyday substitute for other commute options every day, so if you think you don’t have to drive or take the ferry anymore, that just isn’t the case.  Small planes have much greater limitations as far as what is safe to fly in than your average Alaska or United Airlines flight.  You can do things to increase the amount of time you can fly, but there will always be days when it’s best to stay on the ground.

How do you typically commute?
Carpool to the Ferry at Southworth, to Fauntleroy, and a vanpool from there to the U District.  Occasionally I’ll drive around.
The plane is the “I need some mix-it-up fun in my commute” fix or maybe if I am planning to go out of town that weekend, or I have an unusual daily schedule that day that requires flexibility, etc. Once every week or two when the weather is good.

How does the time and cost compare to how you commute typically?

It’s more expensive, but asking about the cost of the commute is like asking a salmon fisherman how much that salmon meal just cost him.  If he wants a low number, he says it’s free except for a sore casting arm… if he wants a high number, he adds the cost of the fishing gear, license, boat gas, etc.
Similarly, with flying… It’s maybe 20-30 bucks in gas alone (Aviation gas is more expensive than auto gas) but that’s very plane dependent.
However, I’m a partner in a plane, so I’m not adding buy in costs to the plane, plane maintenance, hangar rental fees, training costs, etc.  which do add up, but which I’ve already largely bitten the financial bullet of… Renting a plane costs ~150-170$/flight hour for a similarly equipped plane, but if you invest in your own plane and partner with others, you can significantly reduce the costs of ownership.  If I had to rent all my plane time, it would be a no-go for me for a lot of reasons.

So costs are a tough question to answer — But if you’re interested, you can find a way to do it.  Take the first step and start talking with people about ways to do it more economically if it’s breaking the bank.  Pilots love to help other pilots.

What does the Puget Sound look like from up above during the commuting hours?

Gorgeous!  Mountains, Water, Ferries, sometimes aircraft carriers or subs.  It’s can’t be beat!  But I sometimes am happy I’m not in the clog of I5 when I fly over it departing Boeing!

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What types of flights do you see coming and going at Bremerton and Boeing fields? Any interesting stories?

Everything under the sun… Military flights (Apache and Chinook Helicopters, cargo and & fighters), Commercial flights, Corporate jets, helicopters… there’s a huge diversity.  We’ve flown in over the clouds of Blue Angels testing their smoke trail systems on the ground (thought maybe one of the hangars on the ground had caught fire until we saw the blue planes.   😉  )  Something new to see every day.

Finally, what should people know about aero-commuting?

If you have interest and time and are of an average income, flying is something you can probably do.  It has it’s costs for sure, but it’s affordable by normal people if you’re creative.  I used to believe it was a rich man’s/woman’s hobby only and that’s simply not the case.  In fact most of the pilots I know are of average means financially.  They’re just totally in love with flying and make it a priority.
The one thing I would say that is a non-negotiable is that it’s a big time commitment.  Training, staying current, etc all require a regular and non-negotiable time commitment.   It’s not something that you just do for awhile and come back to gain in 5 years… Think of it as a true lifestyle change, but one you’ll love.

It’s also a great community.  If you are interested, there’s always somebody willing to help you.  Generous, beautiful people from all walks of life.  You start by flying a plane and soon learn you’ve joined a family, whether you knew that when you started or not.

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I think I used almost all my commuting options this week:

  • Fast Ferry
  • WSF
  • Sounder
  • Carpool
  • Vanpool
  • Bus
  • Company Shuttle
  • Time Shift
  • Telecommute

Mixing it up definitely keeps it interesting. I’m waiting for the day I end up forgetting which way I came in and ending up in Tacoma with a car in Bremerton or vice versa. That won’t be a good day.