Hurricane Irma: Move The Airplane Or Stay Put?

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Every few years, airplane owners in Florida are confronted with the unsolvable conundrum: A hurricane bears down on the state and they have to decide whether to move their airplanes out of harm’s way or just button up the hangar and ride it out.

Thirteen years ago, when Hurricane Charley threatened, here’s what I thought about moving an airplane to dodge a hurricane. My world view of what a powerful hurricane can do was formed by Hurricane Andrew, which roared into South Florida in 1992. I didn’t experience the storm firsthand, but was there shortly after it passed. A vivid memory at Homestead Airport: The chain link fence was peppered with thousands of what looked like paper scraps. But they weren’t paper, but bits of shredded aluminum from airplanes. Some still had shards of N-numbers and sundered fittings. It left an impression.

So when my turn came with Hurricane Charley in 2004, I moved our then-Mooney 231 to Georgia, smack into the path of another tropical storm. The airplane was hangared, so no damage was done, but the decision illustrates the danger of moving airplanes out of Florida to avoid a storm. It’s a little easier in Texas or the coastal Carolinas because the directional choices are better defined. I moved the airplane twice more that season, once to New Jersey and once to Pennsylvania, combining the move with business trips.

So what would I do today? The Cub makes the choice a no-brainer. It’s too slow and too lacking in capability to move anywhere and, not to be too harsh, it just doesn’t have the hull value to justify the effort. If I owned a $150,000 airframe, I might feel differently, but I’m not so sure. If you’ve never done it, preparing for a big storm is among the most stressful things of routine life. First, you have to think about physical survival, then property protection—housing, mainly—then everything else.

For me, the airplane is everything else. It’s far down the list of things I’m worrying about as it I get storm shutters up, check food and water supplies and get the generator ready to rock. If there’s any time left after all that’s squared away, I’d think about the airplane if it could do 140 knots and there was room for the dog.

If you’re pre-thinking this decision, I think what it distills to is this: The insurance company will pay for your loss, but most of us have more tied up in an airplane than just money. There’s some emotional investment, too, especially if you did a custom upgrade or refurb work. If the airframe is destroyed, you’ll face the prospect of replacing it and repeating all the work you did on it in the first place. That may not be particularly appealing. It wasn’t to me, which is why I was willing to relocate the airplane and drive back to Florida (once) to weather the storm. The investment in time and money was worth it to avoid the work and nuisance of replacing the airplane if it were lost in the storm.

A decade hence, I have learned another lesson: A decision like this is intensely personal. I can no more advise you of what to do than I could suggest what you have for breakfast tomorrow. The decision to evacuate Florida in the face of these strong storms is similarly personal and driven by complex variables that are different for everyone. Just in the past 24 hours, I’ve had people tell me to get out; it’s a no brainer. While others have said they would stay. I appreciate the counsel, but everyone has to make the decision for themselves and live with the consequences.

Comments (13)

Move pets, asses and iPad.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 6, 2017 12:43 PM    Report this comment

Well...I would rather evacuate in an airplane than a car. You could be swept to sea in your car on I-95 due to the massive traffic jam. Imagine 12 hours to Orlando via car. Cub becomes sensible. Anyway hope it keeps moving east and stay safe.

Posted by: Jack Healan | September 6, 2017 3:34 PM    Report this comment

Sometimes what seems like the right decision turns out wrong. Many years ago a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico was on track to hit the Houston area. Many of the corporate planes moved out of hangars at Hobby airport up to a hangar in Austin. As a result, I was able to move my humble Beech Sundowner out of its tie down spot and into the now vacant hangar. At the last minute, the storm shifted to the west and came ashore south of Corpus Christi. Once inland, it veered north, spawning numerous tornados as it died. One of those tornados hit the Austin airport and collapsed the hangar housing the refugees from Houston. In the meantime, my Sundowner rode out the edge of the storm safe and dry. I guess the moral of the story is that if you plan to move out of harm's way, move WAAY out of the way.

Having just survived hurricane Harvey, I wish all you Floridians luck with your nemesis. Be safe.

Posted by: John McNamee | September 6, 2017 3:53 PM    Report this comment

The meek shall inherit the earth. Or at least a little concrete patch of it inside a hangar in Houston.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 6, 2017 4:40 PM    Report this comment

It's a tough call. Best of luck!

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 6, 2017 5:03 PM    Report this comment

Paul, you are a seasoned veteran of both aviation and Florida life. I wish you and all the folks of Florida safety and the good fortune of Irma passing well off the coast.

Posted by: Ben Wittman | September 6, 2017 9:23 PM    Report this comment

In 2004, I moved an airplane out of St Augustine to -- of all places -- the Maule factory in Moultrie, GA. I think it was Charley? Turns out, it could have stayed but ... who knew. It WAS a lot of trouble both to move it and to later retrieve it. Those folks were WONDERFUL !! In retirement, I've solved all that ... my airplanes are safe and sound WAY up north. Now my only 'conundrum' is ... when do I head south to pick up the pieces of my house. I wish everyone in FL to be safe.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | September 6, 2017 11:01 PM    Report this comment

It might be a good time to go on a cross country trip. I can tell you that our Mayor in Houston, with whom I disagree on most political points, was right that most of us should just stay. OTOH, there are some homes that people should have known were going to flood and evacuated on their own.

So, I guess you gotta make a good decision based on what you know. If you don't think you will regret it,don't let chance make you regret it later.

Posted by: Eric Warren | September 7, 2017 1:05 AM    Report this comment

Hey Paul, you are welcome to fly your Cub to St Louis and I'll arrange hangar and overnight accommodations (for the Cub & you respectively). It's not that far of a day flight !
Can also arrange a hangar "banquet" with you as a guest speaker !

Posted by: Michael Weidhaas | September 7, 2017 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Thanks, Michael. If I didn't have so much basic survival stuff to do, I'd take you up on it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 7, 2017 9:54 AM    Report this comment

Hang in, Paul. Charge every battery pack you can think of so you can keep us updated if there's total power loss. Hope you're not sitting in one of those maddening lines on a highway I'm seeing on WC...

Posted by: Dave Miller | September 7, 2017 2:28 PM    Report this comment

"I can no more advise you of what to do than I could suggest what you have for breakfast tomorrow."

What an honest statement. Most editorials are designed to persuade the reader to accept a certain point of view, but this one is delightfully non-campaigning (is that a word?). Brilliant. May God bless all of you in Florida and elsewhere as you ride through this next storm.

Posted by: A Richie | September 8, 2017 2:14 PM    Report this comment

I think I agree with my wife: Our California earthquakes are better than the hurricanes because you don't have to agonize over it for days & days before it hits.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 8, 2017 5:57 PM    Report this comment

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