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These articles were prepared for the March 15, 2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Lucky for the Lord that He evicted Adam and Eve from their Eden tenancy before the passing of the New Jersey Anti-Eviction Act. Nowadays, He could not dismiss them from any Garden State residence quite so summarily. To get the first couple out based on violation of the landlord’s covenant would require serving notice at least 30 days prior to legal action. Of course, He might be able to evict them under the property damage clause, which requires only three days notice, but that would take a good lawyer. And since He had already cursed the lawyer for giving Eve counsel, it might prove a conflict of interest.
Ever since the laws of leasing fell into human hands, all parties have felt that the scales were tilted in the other person’s favor. To help folks ferret out the fair play in New Jersey’s laws, the State Bar Foundation (www.njsbf.com) offers "Tenant: Landlord Rights Issues" on Wednesday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Call 732-937-7518 or visit www.njsbf.com. Speakers include Scot Conover, an attorney with Ocean-Monmouth Legal Services and Matt Gildenberg, an attorney with Central Jersey Legal Services.
Both Central Jersey Legal Services and Ocean-Monmouth Legal Services are stand alone, for-profit corporations. Their aim is to provide certain kinds of legal advice and representation for those financially unable to afford it. They handle neither criminal cases or suits, but they do specialize in fraud, consumer cases, and landlord/tenant disputes. Eligibility depends on gross income and household size.
Conover’s well-laid plans never included the legal services career where he has spent his past 14 years. Born near his current practice in Allenhurst, he earning a B.S. in engineering from Villanova in l986, followed by a legal degree from Vermont Law School, Conover’s plan was to become a patent attorney. "Patent work is fascinating, and heaven knows very lucrative," says Conover, "but here in legal services, I dispense so much help to so many people who just couldn’t make it without it."
"The whole landlord/tenant situation is laden with myths that keep each side from taking advantage of what are some actually pretty fair laws," says Conover.
Can’t-evict myth. Stories fly around. You can’t evict any seniors ever, for any reason. You can’t evict anyone during winter. Rent-assisted people are in forever – and on and on. The truth is that there are 18 viable ways for a landlord to oust a tenant from his apartment in fairly short order. The most important legal requirement in all cases is warning. In every case, even nonpayment of rent, the tenant must be warned beforehand that the landlord intends to take legal action within a certain number of days or that if the tenant does not cease certain activity, the landlord intends to take legal steps.
Many violations require surprisingly minimal notification. If the tenant does intentional damage to facilities, commits any sort of drug-related crime, or assaults the landlord, the statutes demand only three days before eviction. Disorderly conduct requires only three days prior warning to either cease or leave. It does not matter if the marijuana dealer is age 86, is receiving rent-assistance, and a blizzard is coming on. She can still be evicted.
Some notifications demand what seems to landlords an exhaustive amount of time. If the owner must move tenants out to repair health code violations, he must inform his tenants three months in advance. To turn the building into a co-op or condo requires three years notification for most folks, and for seniors it may require a whopping 40 years notice. (This particular "not-in-my-lifetime" clause is the source of many horror stories about landlord/tenant feuds.)
Once notice is served and the required number of days have elapsed, the landlord may file for legal action. Conover notes that the parties will be called for a hearing within 20 days, followed by a judgment given within three weeks. If the owner gains an eviction order, he may begin a lockdown within eight days.
What’s rent myth. "At least 95 percent of landlord/tenant disputes are over rent," says Conover. Much of the time tenants just plain can’t pony up the cash, but often the dispute stems from the fact that the tenant does not understand the terms of payment. A tenant, for example, may go on vacation, but he still must pay his prorated share of utilities bills, which usually are not included in his rent.
Also, what Conover terms the grace period myth, has fooled more than one renter. If rent is due on the first of the month, even if the contract states that no legal action is taken until the 10th, interest may be charged from the first. Paying every month on the ninth makes you a habitual late-payer. Don’t be surprised if you are served with a notice to pay back interest and/or vacate within 30 days.
No rent strike myth. Yes, tenants as a group, or even individually, can withhold rent for reasons of non-repair. This said, renters should tread cautiously, and be ready to overwhelm the court with documentation. The statute requires the tenant to notify the landlord in writing at a least a few times that the item is broken.
If no response is made, a month’s prior notification can state that the renter will be placing a certain portion of his rent in an escrow account until the repair is made. Two caveats: first, the money must actually be placed in the escrow account; and second, a broken faucet does not make a rent holiday.
Match the withholding to the repair. While that leaky shower may be driving you insane, no judge is going to deem it worth a $500-a-month rent strike.
Replacement relocation. Who pays when the tenant must leave while the landlord repaints or repairs health code violations? This is a situation that is rarely addressed in rent or lease contracts, usually because the cost can be enormous. In most cases, the law doesn’t want to touch it either. Temporary relocation costs are a negotiable item between tenants and property owner. And often these fights become nasty, since neither side has any real leverage.
When the landlord wants to move in. "Generally speaking a renter has tenancy as long as he pays on time and does no real, intentional damage," says Conover. The state does allow for landlords to take back possession of their own property if they plan to make it their own residence. But the owner who wants the tenant out so he can give the apartment to his niece will find a rough go in court.
When the tenant stays on after the lease expires. Many leases renew automatically when their term ends. But if a lease does not renew automatically, and if a tenant stays on after a lease expires, he does so under a month-to-month lease. This lease ends upon notification by the tenant that he is leaving or by the landlord that he must leave. (Full details on this and other landlord/tenant issues in New Jersey are available at www.lsnjlaw.org.)
It probably is ordained that landlords and the tenants of their prized property will forever face disputes. Eden’s owner gave the first couple only one rule for maintaining His garden as He wanted it. And they couldn’t resist breaking it. But if we have learned anything over the years, it may be how to settle little disputes – at least those that don’t in any way involve apples – with a little forgiveness and common sense.
– Bart Jackson
Losing a job can be an opportunity to change your entire life and discover what you really want to do – and who you want to be, says Helen Burton, a lifestyle empowerment coach. While Burton does not deny the trauma and stress of losing a job, she believes it can become a golden opportunity and a great time to "turn your ideas into action."
Turning those ideas into action is the topic of Burton’s talk at St. Paul’s Job Networking Group on Saturday, March 18, at 8:30 a.m. at 214 Nassau Street. There is no charge, and the meeting is open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack of same. Call 732-512-1300.
Burton, whose coaching business, Love Yourself Coaching, is located at 2 Phylet Drive in East Windsor, understands firsthand what changing a career means. She began her coaching business four years ago, after "several years on a path of self-discovery."
She had spent most of her working life with the state Environmental Protection Agency. "I knew there had to be more to life than contract management," she says. "I heard about coaching and I wanted to work with people to help them make changes in their lives." She started her business while still working full time for the state, but retired from that position last year and now coaches full time.
When Burton first began her path of self-discovery, she decided she wanted to help people make significant changes in their lives. She became a Certified Empowerment Coach, graduating from the Institute of Professional Empowerment Coaching, and now works with individuals and groups to "help them achieve total satisfaction and success in their business careers and personal lives."
"Everyone has the answers within themselves," says Burton. "Sometimes they need the help of a coach to discover these answers and create an action plan to make their dreams a reality."
"When a person loses their job they often feel that they have lost who they are," she says. "They feel they are their job. They no longer understand how they fit into life" says Burton. Instead, a healthier way to look at a job loss is as "a time to rediscover who we are, and what we want to do in life."
Taking action is the best way to feel better, says Burton. "When you take action, even a small step, you feel 100 percent better about your situation, because you are doing something."
Burton suggests these steps:
Take a mini-vacation. It may seem contrary to Burton’s first advice, but taking time out to refocus and think about things is the first step in any action plan. The mini-vacation doesn’t have to take a long time or cost any money, she says, but it must be long enough to get ready to focus on the next step.
"Take a walk with your dog. Go to a coffee shop or bookstore for awhile. Turn on the stereo and sit with your eyes closed for 10 minutes." The point, she says, is to take some time to "relax, regroup, and refocus."
Make an action plan. The next step, says Burton, is to come up with a plan. It can be as simple as making a few phone calls or something much more elaborate. But an important point, she adds, is to break the plan into small, easy to complete steps.
Once you have a plan, begin to put it into action by writing down and making a commitment to complete certain steps each day. "Don’t plan on doing 20 steps in a day," she warns. If you can’t accomplish them all you will feel a sense of failure. Instead, plan on two or three steps in a day. "If you feel like accomplishing more, that’s great."
Make a list. This applies both to those who have jobs they hate and to those without jobs. If you are unemployed, make a list of the things you disliked about your last job and the things you loved. This list will help you frame your job search. If you loved the work, perhaps litigation, but hated the large law firm politics, you might hang on to your profession, but concentrate on finding work with a smaller firm, or perhaps with a non-profit.
If you currently have a job, list the elements of the job that you enjoy – perhaps the work itself or your co-workers. Then try to isolate the things about the job that you hate. Sometimes it’s as simple as the commute. If everything else is positive, consider drawing up a telecommuting proposal, or try something even simpler. Maybe switch from a solitary drive to a car pool, or from a car pool to the train. Sometimes simple changes can give you a whole new outlook.
If you hate making cold calls, maybe sales is not for you. Or maybe you need to try to figure out a way to make them easier. It could be that writing a script before you call could make a difference. Maybe a few coaching sessions from someone who excels at cold calling, and enjoys it, could make a major difference.
Look at past jobs. Think about jobs you’ve had in the past. What did you like about them? What part of those jobs would you like to do again? What did you really love? Can you find a way to incorporate those passions into a new job or your current position?
Burton compares work passions to the structure of an egg. "Find the foundation of what makes you excited," she says. "This is the yolk of the egg – what you are passionate about. The white of the egg is "the packaging, how you go about fulfilling your passions."
Understanding and acknowledging your passions will help you to find a way to fulfill them, says Burton. "Maybe your passion is teaching, but you don’t have a teaching certificate, or you don’t really want to teach in a traditional school setting. Is there another way to fulfill your passion for teaching? Maybe you can mentor someone in your profession. You can often find another setting, a different way to do what you love."
Talk to others. Once you’ve decided what your passion is, you need to learn how you can fulfill it. The next step, says Burton, is to set up interviews to learn more. These can be informational interviews, she says, not specifically job interviews. "Call someone who is doing what you want to do. Ask them for coffee and sit down and learn about their work." People love to talk about their work and themselves and are usually very willing to take sometime to help someone else.
As a coach, says Burton, one of her most important roles is to help people be accountable. Making an action plans give people specific steps to use on the road to discovering not just a new job, but a new passion for living and a new sense of fulfillment in work.
– Karen Hodges Miller
Eamon Doherty was a non-tenured professor in Fairleigh Dickinson’s department of computer science and engineering, teaching robotics and telephone communications related to his doctoral work, when the job market threw him a curve. During the last couple of years the outsourcing of jobs in telephone communications and robotics to India and China has forced him to find a new academic focus.
When Doherty found himself in the unseemly role of trying to market his classes to students moving in other directions, he switched to the department of administrative science at Fairleigh Dickinson’s Anthony J. Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies, returning to an earlier professional interest in security, computer forensics, and data recovery. He had developed expertise in this area working for Morris County from 1989 to 1995, setting up, ordering, delivering, and configuring PCs for the county probation office, its prosecutors, and its courts, and then teaching people how to use them.
In line with his current work, Doherty offers a workshop on "Computer Forensic Training on Handheld Computer Devices" on Monday, March 20, at 8:30 a.m. at the New Jersey Human Resource Development Institute in Trenton. For more information, call Gretchen Johnson at 201-692-7032.
Doherty finds it rewarding to be able to help security and law enforcement professionals as well as hospital information technology personnel keep current on techniques for investigating information on hand-held devices. His approach helps them to protect the community, the privacy of patient information, and corporate data and workflow. He talks about the general principles – and the technology – behind computer forensics:
Ensure that there is legal authority to investigate. "Everyone needs the authority to do what they’re doing," says Doherty. In a large corporate setting, newly hired employees are asked to sign telephone and Internet usage policies that waive privacy rights if the employee violates the rules.
For example, if an employee steals corporate information, or even makes eBay purchases or plays games during company time, says Doherty, "the information technology group can take your computer and cell – whatever they have provided – and if you have violated company policy, you can be terminated or disciplined."
From the perspective of the criminal justice system, a law enforcement officer or a private investigator needs a search warrant, which requires either proof of probable cause or exigency, for example, when people are missing and finding them may be a matter of life and death.
Create an image of the information using specialized software. Blackberries, cell phones, and PDAs are storage devices just like a computer, explains Doherty. Besides the obvious information about phone calls made and received and E-mail messages – including content – even the small devices can store illegal videos, corporate intellectual property like patents, stolen credit card numbers, or evidence of stalking activities.
Doherty uses software from the Paraben Corporation (www.paraben-forensics.com) called Device Seizure to pull all data off a device and to store it in a computer as an image. The image includes not only currently active data, but also deleted items that have not been written over with new material. In his seminars Doherty, who says "I don’t have anything to hide," illustrates the process using his personal blackBerry, which yields 192 categories of information.
Ensure image security. To ensure that investigators have not changed any of the device data, the original image is placed in a secure place and then used only as an exact verified copy. The imaging process creates a number called a "hash mark," which will change if the investigator makes any changes. "The hash mark ensures the integrity of the data collected," says Doherty.
Although Doherty is committed to his current career path and believes that "computer security and forensics is important for national security and to keep the community safe," he is also deeply involved in the work on computer-brain research that first captivated him as a graduate student. He volunteers in a nursing home, helping a paralyzed 40-year-old resident to put firewalls and antivirus software on his computer.
While at Fairleigh Dickinson, Doherty developed and patented, along with two students and the university, a special phone interface for people who are paralyzed and unable to speak. First, a program displays numbers on the screen and the user selects, one by one, the numbers in a telephone number – "clicking" on one by either thinking hard or making a face.
"Most have to make a face," says Doherty, "because to think hard is exhausting and not reliable." Then the program displays commonly used sentences, from which the user selects. Ultimately, the user selects the "talk" button, and the machine makes a phone call using the input information. Doherty has also worked with other bioelectric devices that help severely disabled individuals with a number of tasks, including playing video games.
Following his interest in brain-computer interfaces, Doherty recently wrote a book on telerobotics, "Computer Security and Telerobotics for Everyone." In the book he explains how to create a robotic arm system that can be operated via the Internet from across the country or even the world. He envisions a disabled person using a robotic arm to handle hazardous materials, without having to be on the premises. "You always hear people being angry about globalism," he says, "but it can be a good thing, too. I’m trying to enable the global workforce."
– Michele Alperin
Effective communication is a key to success in business, says Glenn Faulkner, a former officer of the NASDAQ Stock Market. "I’ve heard thousands of business presentations over the years and maybe 10 percent of them were effective."
Faulkner asks the question, "Are You an Effective Communicator?," at the New Jersey Technical Counsel on Wednesday, March 22, at 4:30 p.m. at the Dendrite Corporation, at 1405 Route 206 South in Bedminster. Cost: $110. Call 856-787-9700.
When giving a presentation, the speaker is attempting to influence his audience, to inform, to change their perceptions or opinions about a particular topic, or to encourage them to take an action. "Speaking to influence is a subtle but important skill," says Faulkner. A good tool for anyone to have, it is essential for entrepreneurs who are attempting to bring investors into a new or expanding company.
"It is very important in the pre-public era of a company that people know how to speak to investors," he says.
At NASDAQ, Faulkner’s work as the head of the business development division and customer service operations included "bringing in new listings and nurturing them." In the highly competitive world of the stock market he mentored hundreds of new businesses and helped them find the investors they were seeking. Faulkner now owns his consulting business, the Faulkner Consultancy (www.faulknerconsultancy.com), in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. He works with businesses in three areas – client-centric sales, relationship-based negotiation, and effective presentations.
Faulkner "creates goal centered messaging and trains in its implementation." With the pace of business today, he says, presentations need to be on point, persuasive, and move the audience to take an action. The message needs to be clear, concise, and motivating.
Presentation. One of the first and most basic lessons in public speaking is honing presentation skills. "People think in terms of stories, not in terms of financial information," says Faulkner. "Studies have shown that 93 to 97 percent of what an audience retains at the end of a speech is the style and the delivery."
Unfortunately, he adds, most speakers spend "90 percent of their time working on their content and 10 percent on the delivery. They need to spend more time on delivery."
Practice. Faulkner suggests that if you need to give a public presentation you should make sure that you practice in front of an audience. Hiring a coach is the best way to learn to make more effective presentations, "but if you can’t afford one, find a few trusted friends and make your presentation in front of them."
In addition, videotape your speech and watch yourself. "It is just like being a golfer. Someone can tell you what you are doing wrong, but if you see it yourself, you’ll understand it better," he says. "You may think you are making wild gyrations, but from the audience you look like you barely have a pulse."
A speaker needs to "convey an attitude of enthusiasm" about his subject. Many inexperienced speakers look stiff from a podium, he says. They need to practice to learn how to appear relaxed and enthusiastic, not stiff.
Audience mapping. A good speaker tailors his presentation to the audience, says Faulkner. He calls it "mapping the audience." Research the group you are speaking to and structure the message with that knowledge in mind. "Find out how the people you are talking to will probably react to your information. Are they hostile or neutral or positive?"
"In one presentation a speaker can only hope to move his audience a couple of notches. "If they are hostile he can try to have them leave ambivalent," he says. "If they are ambivalent, he can hope to move them to supportive."
Faulkner suggests asking the organizers of the event about the audience – their backgrounds, their interests, their political leanings. If at all possible, he suggests interviewing someone who will be in the audience ahead of time to find out more about their goals and interests. "Find out if they buy your story."
Minutia. When talking about their businesses, many speakers have a natural tendency to give too much information on financials, says Faulkner, "to tell all the minutia in terms of the financial base. They confuse Sarbanes-Oxley (laws regarding disclosure of accounting information) with being boring."
A presentation is not an annual report. It needs to be an engaging narrative, not a recitation of facts and figures.
The weeds. Faulkner suggests that speakers "find the right level" for their audience. He describes a common phenomenon that he terms "talking down in the weeds." The audience, he explains, "is looking for a few cute, memorable stories about customer service, while the speaker is down hunting in the weeds for all the details on the financials."
"Audiences," he says, "are asking, `What’s in it for me?’" A good speaker will remember that and make sure that he addresses it. "Strategic speaking aligns the goals of the audience with those of the speaker," he says. "A strategic speech is of interest and benefit to both sides."
"What would you like the audience to do as a result of the speech that you are making? Would you like them to contact someone, conduct further research, or forward an idea to others?" asks Faulkner. Decide on a tangible, results-oriented goal.
This becomes the orientation of the entire speech. Speeches need to be given for a specific, measurable goal. This goal needs to be predetermined and woven throughout the presentation.
Says Faulkner, "Remember to begin with the end goal in mind."
– Karen Hodges Miller
Forty percent of businesses that experience a disaster will not recover from it, according to statistics from the New Jersey Small Business Development Center. What can you do to make sure that your business doesn’t become a statistic?
A large part of disaster preparedness is really "just good business practices," says Nat Bender, communications director for the SBDC in Newark. To help businesses be prepared the SBDC, along with the New Jersey Commerce Commission, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission, and the Small Business Continuity Task Force will hold workshops throughout the state to help businesses prepare for disasters.
"Blueprint for Emergency Preparedness" takes place on Wednesday, March 22 at 9 a.m. at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. The program is also scheduled on Friday, May 17, at Kean University SBDC in Union; and on Thursday, September 28, at the Raritan Valley Community College SBDC in North Branch. Cost: $20. Register by E-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 609-989-5232.
Jeff Perlman, principal of Borden Perlman Insurance, with offices at 2850 Brunswick Pike, is one of the guest speakers at the seminars. Perlman is the third generation in his family at the agency, which has been in the insurance business since 1915.
"Typical risks in New Jersey are flood, fire, and wind," he says. But a disaster for a business can range from major natural disasters to seemingly minor incidents such as a computer crash. A minor accident can become a major disaster for an unprepared business."
Since it is impossible to know when a disaster – whether major or minor – will strike, it only makes sense to take precautions ahead of time. Some of the precautions Perlman and Bender suggest include:
Find a back-up location. "The biggest factor in whether a business recovers from a disaster is how quickly they can get back in business," says Perlman. Having a secondary location to move to can be the difference between the ultimate success and failure of the business. For a business that needs only a small space, this may be accomplished quickly and easily. But other businesses, an auto body shop for example, have larger and more specific space and equipment issues to deal with.
Large corporations often have back-up facilities, a luxury that few small businesses can afford. But Perlman says that there are ways that even the smallest company can put a contingency plan for back-up space into effect. He suggests, for example, that a company can develop an agreement with "a friendly competitor" in a nearby town. For some businesses, sharing office space for a time may be possible, for others, the agreement might mean that customers are sent to the competitor’s shop until the business is running again.
Have the proper insurance. When people think about insurance, they think property damage, says Perlman. "They want to be insured in case the roof blows off the building." Property insurance will cover the new roof, but what about the business that is lost while it is being repaired? A second type of insurance, business interruption insurance, will cover the loss of income from a disaster. Business interruption insurance can save the day after a fire or a tornado, but, Perlman warns, "this type of insurance is not readily available in the case of flood damage."
Flood insurance is the third type of insurance a business should consider. Who needs flood insurance? "After that last few years, I’m beginning to think everyone in New Jersey should have it," he says.
If you are in a flood zone, your bank will require that you obtain flood insurance when you purchase your property. Flood insurance is written by private companies, and is guaranteed by the federal government. Costs for flood insurance decrease as a property’s elevation from sea level increases.
Take care of your data. Whether your records are on computer or are in hard copies, keep all of the back-up copies you need to run your business in a safe location, preferably somewhere other than your office, says Bender. "It is unbelievable how many business owners don’t have the foresight to back-up their records," he adds.
Many companies are totally dependent on computers. For these companies, a "disaster" doesn’t have to be a fire or flood. Instead, it can be a server or hard drive crash.
For a small business, with fewer than ten computers, protection from crucial data loss can be as simple as backing up to a read/write DVD once a week, then storing that DVD at home, or in some location far away from the computers themselves. Larger companies, with more computers, may need to take greater measures, such as a backing up to a different server that is in another location.
If a company has not kept back-ups, it is still possible that all has not been lost. There are companies that specialize in data recovery. They can often find the data on a damaged hard drive and restore it. However, says Bender, this method takes time and costs money – and does not always work. It is cheaper, by far, to make those back-up copies.
Document your physical assets. Just as many prudent homeowners do, it’s a good idea for a business owner to make a list of all of his business equipment and of any inventory. Even better than a list is a videotape, which provides a visual record of hard assets.
Keep insurance records safe. In case of a disaster, you will want to get in touch with your insurance companies quickly. Keep copies of contracts – and of agents contact information – at an offsite location.
Pinpoint employees. In a disaster, it is possible that employees will have to scatter. Make sure to keep a list of emergency contacts, including the home and cell phone numbers of all employees and of their back-up contacts.
After you have completed your disaster preparation plans, call around and make sure that the people you do business with are also prepared for disaster. If your key vendor has a disaster, will you be able to get the supplies you need? "After 9/11 I dealt with a lot of small companies that were in trouble because they had vendors in New York that could no longer supply them," says Bender. "If it is something need, make sure you have another source for it."
One of hundreds of 9/11 supply disruption stories involved Carvel. It turns out that the company imports the signature chocolate crunchies that separate the layers of its ice cream cakes from Canada. With border traffic halted, its crunchie supply was cut off.
"Most of the things a business should do for disaster preparedness are just good principles," Bender says. "It makes sense to take them into consideration. The problem is that most people think, `It’s not going to happen to me.’"
– Karen Hodges Miller
Back in the days when all stewardesses were beautiful and all captains invited youngsters up into the cockpit, nine-year-old Christopher Wilson watched agape. Staring right over the pilot’s shoulder, he saw the lumbering four-engine propeller craft burst through the surly bonds of earth, and he was hooked. "I was one of those kids who not only dreamed of flying, but knew I just had to," Wilson says.
Wilson’s father was an aeronautical engineer, and his grandfather was a pilot. He jokes that the love of flying merely skipped a generation in his bloodline. Whatever role genetics played in his career choice, by age 15 he was training on single engine
Cessnas and Pipers at the Chandler Township Airport in Arizona.
In an ideal world, Wilson’s journey into aviation would have soared steadily upward with his skills and experience. Instead, his own career in the air has paralleled the unpredictable roller coaster of the U.S. aviation industry.
Starting small, Wilson gained more flight experience and hours, and as he did, he moved into larger and larger planes, flying more and more people. Then it all came crashing down, and he has had to craft a niche in the aviation industry that he can live with and enjoy.
Just after his 18th birthday, Wilson proudly displayed his newly earned pilot’s license at Chandler Airport. In addition to his flight training, he had spent three years washing down planes, cleaning cabins, and apprenticing with the mechanics to pay for his 40 hours of required air time.
While attending Arizona State University, Wilson kept flying small planes and working at the airport. He just couldn’t stay away from the cockpit. By l992 he graduated with a B.A. in geography. "It’s a study that really helps a flyer know the capital of the state he is waking up in," Wilson jokes. It proved to be knowledge he would use.
Soon after college, Wilson followed aviation opportunities down to Florida, where he took on a job as flight instructor. By then he had obtained both his instructor’s and his small engine commercial licenses, with training and air time far in excess of the 250 hours required. Wilson was settling into his instruction job when his airline was sold to a larger midwest firm. With scarcely enough time to pack, he found himself in a 182 Cessna flying wildlife patrol over the Oklahoma pipeline. He was realizing that his chosen trade was one that would compel him to go where the work was.
Far from a dull milk run, wildlife patrol demanded the reactions and skill of a finely-tuned athlete. "We’d take the naturalists and gas company reps up a mere 50 feet above the ground," says Wilson. "Of course we had to obtain a low altitude waiver from the FAA. And we’d stretch out a map, look down below, and follow the pipeline looking for leaks. There was nobody – I mean nobody – out there, and the only way to cover a distance this great was by air."
Like most pilots – and a good many airlines – Wilson soon wearied of this routine, despite its challenges, and sought new areas. He bounced back to Florida, then up to Princeton. But by the late l990s the airline industry, even with record numbers of customers, had been managing to lose money. This put a crunch on new pilot wannabes and Wilson found himself at Princeton Airport as a woefully overqualified line worker.
Line workers are the equivalent of a roustabout with the circus. They are the anything and everything workers who, as Wilson describes it, "do the mechanics, wash the planes, clean the toilets. I chose to just get myself on the property and wait it out."
This is a time-proven strategy. World famous paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, for example, spent his youthful years mopping the floors of the New York Natural History Museum before he was invited on his first dig. So with Wilson. As spots opened, he was on the spot and often got the nod, becoming a flight instructor and eventually the chief pilot at Princeton Airport.
Located just west of routes 206 and 518 in Montgomery Township, Princeton Airport (609-921-3100) provides a small plane charter and helicopter service along with East Coast transport for business flyers. But its real bread and butter comes from its school for those, like Wilson, who have the urge to fly small private planes.
Princeton Airport, in coordination with the Raritan Valley Flight School, offers a full flight course providing ground instruction, air instruction, solo time, and exams. The airport provides 20-minute sample lessons for $59. The full course costs between $7,000 and $8,000. It consists of a $300 ground schooling course, and about 60 air hours, both solo ($91 per hour) and instructed flight hours ($125 per hour). The length of the course depends very much on the weather, and on each pilot’s learning curve.
In the middle of his flight career, Wilson was largely happy instructing new pilots, but he was beginning to grow restless. He was yearning for larger craft. With far more than the 1,500 air hours demanded for the large plane commercial license, Wilson left Princeton and shifted his base to Chicago, where he flew 86-passenger planes for CanadAir Airlines. This regional line flew a chain of north/south routes for USAir, American West, and other major lines.
For five years Wilson was the captain in the impressive dark suit in whom all passengers put their trust. But it came with a price.
"Honey, I’m in Guadalajara…some motel. No I won’t be back tomorrow. Kiss the kids for me. Honey, I’m in some burg in Canada…" Five days at a stretch, never quite knowing where you and your suitcase will end up tomorrow. Two days hopefully near home, then off again.
But it was more than the schedule that began to grind Wilson down. The attacks of 9/11 brought problems in the commercial aviation industry to it to a head, but they had begun long before.
"They simply didn’t make the job fun anymore," says Wilson. By entering into a unending, protracted price war, the airlines, Wilson says, made flying all about money – not about the service or experience. "They’ve pulled every kind of stunt to get passengers aboard with giveaway and free credit card-mile flights. Then they insist that the entire staff take a 50 percent pay cut," he says. "Imagine the kind of kind of service I will want to give you if I am working at half-pay so you can fly free."
While aviation is a modern industry containing many huge corporations, it lacks the sprawling diversification that many other mega-firms have. Airlines have one basic product. And because of this single line of business, their responsibility must remain first with the customer if they are to survive. Service and making that passenger feel good about his buying experience will indeed triumph over price.
Wilson, who began his flight career when traveling at 30,000 feet was an event – something you got dressed up for and were excited about – became increasingly disillusioned as pay rates declined, schedules became more impossible, and grumpy passengers began boarding in torn t-shirts and flip-flops.
Flying a big commercial jet had long been the most glamorous, prestigious job in aviation – rivaling any of the best jobs in any industry. But Wilson, who had longed for the job ever since he first saw a cockpit as a nine-year-old boy, finally walked away.
But he has stayed with aviation. He is once again Princeton Airport’s chief pilot. He goes home to his wife and children in Pinewood, Pennsylvania, at the end of each evening. He wouldn’t call himself a professional, but rather a true amateur pilot – one who, according to the definition, flies purely for the love of it. As he always has.
– Bart Jackson
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