For about two years, I ran my own Air Charter. I was the Chief Pilot, Director of Maintenance, and booking agent. My FAA approved Operating Specifications ran 47 pages and covered prescribed procedures for aircraft maintenance, carrying hazardous material (HAZMAT), passenger briefings, and obtaining weather forecasts. One section was on how to properly calculate Weight and Balance.
One August, I received a call from air charter customer who wanted to bring his family from Boston to Long Island. We would be able to get there in less than an hour by air, thus avoiding the four- to five-hour drive to either go around Long Island sound and through New York City, or take the ferry.
First, I had to tell my customer, who once was himself a pilot, that I could not take him, his wife and their two children as I only had four seats. Next, I reminded him that I needed accurate weights of all passengers and baggage to be able to complete the flight safely.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t like getting on the scale, and that I am well above my ideal weight. However, when my client arrived, I dutifully got out my scale and found that he was 24 pounds heavier than he reported; and his wife was 8 pounds heavier (their 8 year-old daughter, thankfully, was 2 pounds lighter than her estimated weight). Their luggage, however, was 30 pounds more than promised. Knowing that I would be close to my plane’s max gross weight with the weights that my customer had provided, I had made a short flight the day before to burn off a few gallons of fuel to make sure that we would have an extra margin of safety. Now, my customer had showed up with an additional 60 pounds; equal to 10 gallons in fuel, or about 40 minutes of flight time. Even if I could drain that amount of fuel, there would not be enough to ensure that we could get to our destination with adequate fuel reserves. Luckily my client was good natured, and understood that violating the weight limit would put him and his family at risk. He apologized and repacked their luggage to lose the unaccounted-for weight, and we were able to complete our flight comfortably and safely.
Weight and Balance sounds simple. It seems obvious that any airplane has a maximum weight that it can carry. For smaller airplanes, that implies a tradeoff between the amount of fuel you can carry vs. the amount of people and bags. Small airplanes are also much more sensitive to where the weight is located. If there is too much weight in the baggage compartment, the elevators (which control the plane’s pitch) won’t have enough force to push the nose down in flight. If you were reckless enough to take off with an “aft” center of gravity beyond the plane’s Weight and Balance “envelope” it is likely to be a short flight as the plane would most likely stall and crash shortly after take-off. In any case, anytime you deviate from the plane’s well-calculated operating handbook, you are in effect, a test pilot.
By now you may be thinking that I have lost the point of my story (but I haven’t). The point is: we always have to make choices about how much we can bring, whether it is packing for a trip, or planning for retirement. In retirement we would all like to travel first class, and have a vacation home (or two), plus maybe a country club membership, fine dining, etc. However, trying to “carry” too many expenses into retirement can lead to a premature “crash.”
We also begin our journey with a fixed amount of fuel (or assets for retirement) that can only carry us so far. And, although we can come up with a pretty good estimate of what we need to get us there, there are often unforecasted headwinds (bear markets), or diversions required for weather (unexpected expenses) that require us to burn more fuel than expected. Having fuel reserves is always a good idea, but carrying extra fuel also reduces what we can take with us (or spend in retirement).
Balance is also important in retirement planning. Is your portfolio properly allocated? Market movements can result in your portfolio drifting away from its targets. You may also wish to reduce market risk as you proceed deeper into retirement, or add some guaranteed income, or protection against bear markets, to your portfolio. Tax efficiency is also important to keep in mind as it can significantly increase the longevity of your portfolio.
A safe flight requires constant vigilance and monitoring of weather, and aircraft systems. A successful retirement also requires ongoing supervision. A trusted co-pilot can make your journey through retirement both safer and more comfortable.
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