Gas prices pinch wings and water, too

SANDUSKY When the price of gas rises, motorists are not the only ones groaning. Boat
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



When the price of gas rises, motorists are not the only ones groaning.

Boat operators and pilots do a fair amount of grumbling.

Joe Lamb, owner of Lake Erie Island Cruises, said he had to tack a fuel surcharge onto ticket prices for the Goodtime I.

That was necessary, he said, because he estimates his company will have to spend $30,000 more on gas this summer than last year.

"We're not trying to gouge our consumers, by any means, but at the same time we can't afford to keep it the same," he said.

Goodtime I uses about 175 gallons of fuel a day.

Rising fuel costs translate into a 6-percent increase to ticket prices. That means that the $25 round trip to the islands will be $26.50.

The Friday night Booze Cruise will climb from $18 to just a shade over $19.

These are not dramatic changes in price, but Lamb said he fears summer will bring even higher diesel costs, and his prices will have to reflect that.

Other managers are finding themselves in the same boat.

"We're thinking about (raising prices) -- most definitely," Sassy Sal Manager Jan Czerwinski said. "My individual ticket prices will probably go up $3 on weekends, but we haven't made a decision yet."

Sassy Sal, which operates head boats to take up to 49 people at one time to on Lake Erie, remains an inexpensive alternative to charter boats, she said.

Fisherman's Wharf employee Brian Wears said the ticket price for his head boats are the same as they were last year -- $34 during the week, and $37 on weekends.

But they might not stay there for long.

"It's up in the wind right now," Wears said of the decision to raise prices. "The increases are affecting us a little bit, but you gotta deal with it."

Diesel prices have ascended to new heights, but compared to aviation gas and jet fuel, they still look like a bargain.

Since Jan. 1, Avgas -- a high-octane fuel used by aircraft -- has climbed 60 cents from $4.29 to $4.89, said Sandy Gordley, airport manager at the Norwalk-Huron County Airport. And Jet A fuel, used in turbine aircrafts and jets, has risen from $3.89 to $4.79 in the same time period.

Money-strapped motorists often choose to take fewer trips in their vehicles to dodge being drained at the pumps. But Gordley said she has seen nothing to indicate local pilots are soaring in the sky any less as the price of fuel does its own heavenward-ascent.

"The only thing I have to go on is fuel sales ... We have a self-serving fueling station, where pilots can come in, fuel and leave, and the only way I know they've been here is to look at the sales record. That has not decreased," Gordley said.

Gordley said she can only speculate why the number of customers continues to hold steady in these expensive times. Her best guess is that flying costs are substantially more money to begin with, and that rising fuel prices are minimal compared to the overall cost.

"The cost of operating an aircraft is a lot more than operating a car. The bite with the fuel hurts, of course, but it probably doesn't hurt as much as it does for individuals driving a car. In aircraft, with 40 gallons they can go 400 miles. You can't do that in a car," Gordley said.

The Norwalk-Huron airport has about 1,200 takeoff and landing operations each year.

Nationally, airliners have had to take some serious measures to deal with the record-high prices. At the end of last month, Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Richard Anderson said domestic airlines would have to hike fares by as much as 20 percent simply to break even, national news outlets reported.

Many carriers have had to slash their flight schedules to deal with fuel expenses.

But the larger carriers' grief is the charter-plane business' gain.

"Crazily, our business is actually better," said Seth Spitale, general manager for Fly Northeast Ohio, which operates three turbo-propeller planes out of the Griffing-Sandusky Airport. "In the last two years, business has been extremely steady, and that's at the same time the fuel prices really started to escalate. We're getting a lot of business from the airlines, because their fuel prices rise, and they're now raising their rates and cutting back on their scheduled routes ... When you start cutting flights, you start cutting availability."

It may be the customer base of small aircraft are those at the high end of the economy. At $1,450 an hour, not everyone has pockets deep enough to afford charter service.