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I have written about this before and thought I had covered every aspect of the ongoing debate of flying twin engine airplanes versus single engine aircraft over large expanses of water.  That was until this morning while reading an article in the AOPA Pilot magazine.  I have been a member of AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) since I started flying in 1977.  Anyone that would like to read the entire article that I am referring to can go to www.aopa.org/pilot and find the June 2013 edition of the magazine.  The article is titled Dogfight: Twin Versus Single.  This article can be found beginning on page 89.


From that article I quote, “In normal operations, a twin spends only a few seconds of every flight in that critical regime from liftoff to about 400 feet agl (above ground level) where an engine failure is a serious problem.  The entire flight in a single is critical.”  The article goes on to say, “There’s no denying the fact that flying over vast expanses of trees, mountains, and water-especially at night-is basically a no brainer for a twin.  Any pilot of a single who isn’t worried when flying over such terrain is delusional or still possesses the mind of a teenager.”  These are not my words but those of an experienced well known pilot journalist who also flies for a major airline.


When I decided to come to The Bay Islands and formed Island Air the one thing we knew for sure was that we would be flying a twin engine aircraft.  I knew the costs to operate would be almost double that of a single engine airplane but since every flight is over open ocean immediately after take off I felt the extra safety was worth the extra cost.  Mary asked me one day what would be the perfect airplane for Island Air and I told her the Britten Norman Islander.  The problem was that there are not many Islanders for sale.  The reason being, they are the perfect airplane for the type of missions we fly and owners don’t sell them.  They are operated all over the world flying from island to island.  We were fortunate to have found our Islander.  How we found her is a long story but just let me say it was a God thing.


All airplanes attempt their landings at the slowest possible speed by reducing throttle and extending flaps which help in creating additional lift that allows the airplane to safely fly at a slower speed. An emergency landing, like a water landing in a fixed gear airplane, will attempt to touch down in the water at the slowest possible speed to increase the chance of survival.  Therefore, flaps must be down.  Did you know that most, not all, of the single engine airplanes that fly from Utila cannot open their side doors if the flaps are extended before the door is opened?  Did you know that an airplane with fixed gear (non retractable) will flip over violently when landing on water?  Yes, the Islander has fixed gear.  The difference is that the Islander has two engines and that second engine will safely fly you to either the point of departure, the destination or the nearest suitable runway/landing site.  Have you ever wondered why commercial operators do not fly single engine airplanes?  Have you noticed that the largest airline in Honduras also flies a Britten Norman Islander?


The United States FAA has the toughest and most comprehensive regulations on aircraft maintenance.  Most countries fashion their regulations on those established by the FAA. Unfortunately they do not have the same enforcement procedures.   That does not mean the airplane you may fly in is not safe.  What it does mean is that who does the maintenance and to what standards is that airplane maintained is of utmost importance.  Your life may depend on that.  We do occasionally fly with single engine airplanes but the airplanes we fly are maintained to FAA standards accomplished by what I feel is the best maintenance shop in Honduras, not the cheapest.  Yes, it costs us more to operate, just about double to operate an airplane with two engines but what price do you put on safety?  On a flight from Utila to Roatan we charge $30 more than the single engine competition.  Would you pay the extra $30 if you knew you were going to need that second engine to keep you from getting wet or worse?


How about the ability to carry a load?  I will refer back to that same AOPA article.  “Where true twins…really shine is in takeoff/climb performance and load carrying ability.”  Just about every single engine piston aircraft manufactured is not capable of filling all the seats plus full luggage and enough fuel for a full day of flying.  What does that mean to you the passenger?  How many times have you been stuffed into a single engine airplane with a full passenger load and all the bags that divers carry with them?  Chances are that airplane was over its maximum allowable gross weight for takeoff (MGTOW).  That doesn’t mean the airplanes won’t takeoff and fly.  What it does mean is pray that there are no engine hiccups.  While most people think the landing is the most dangerous segment of a flight the reality is the takeoff is much more dangerous than the landing.  I am in no way trying to malign those single engine operators but like Sergeant Friday of the TV show Dragnet would say, “Just the facts, m’am.”  I’m showing my age now.


In summary, the next time you want to book a flight anywhere in Honduras or Belize and would like to enjoy the safety and comfort of a twin engine airplane call us.  We are delighted to work with all travel agents but if when you ask to fly with Island Air you are told that we are not flying that day or have no seats available please call us directly to confirm.  I know it is hard to believe but on more than one occasion passengers have told me that when they requested to specifically fly with us they were told we were not available or had no seats available when that was not the case.  Just call me direct if you have any questions.