By: William Egart
Atlanta General Aviation Examiner
It was not until the economic downturn over the past three years, did generations of flyers stop using a personal, or rented, airplane to fly to another airport for the sake of grabbing a bite to eat at a modest, airport -based, restaurant. This activity was known as a “$100.00 Hamburger”. Is this Saturday afternoon joyride gone forever?
Until 2000, that moniker was always considered a slight exaggeration. As recently as the mid-nineties, two Metro Atlanta aviators in a Cessna 172, for example, could fly up to PDK’s Downwind restaurant or south to Peach State’s Barnstormer’s grill, eat a burger, and fly home for less than $30.00 in fuel or on a rental tab of around $50.00. Add fifteen dollars for a couple of cheeseburgers and “$100.00 Hamburger” was nothing more than a slight exaggeration, something most aviators are known for anyway.
Since 2000, however, the expression has become less of an exaggeration, more literal and, now maybe, even nostalgic. The “$100.00 Hamburger” now may be just a symbol of a relatively simpler time in General Aviation, an era that might be gone forever. High fuel costs and rental rates, landing fees, restrictive legislation and the threat of user fees have conspired to effectively shut down the aircraft rental industry and all but hangered a growing segment of beleaguered aircraft owners who have endured the merciless tumble of their aircrafts marketable value. To say that today’s aircraft owners are not in the mood for a Saturday afternoon joyride might be putting it mildly.
The restaurants, however, are still there. Adventurepilot.com is a website that caters to, at least, the idea of the $100.00 Hamburger. Adventurepilot.com lists nine airport-based restaurants within a 50 mile radius of Atlanta’s Peachtree-DeKalb Airport. Among others; The Downwind at PDK, Barnstormer’s Grill at Williamson’s Peach State Airport, Lawrenceville’s Flying Machine and Kennesaw’s McCollum Field’s Elevation Chophouse all claim average to robust business in these very difficult times.
David Bromwich, manager of the Elevation Chophouse concedes that more of his traffic than ever drives up instead of taxiing up. “Ninety percent of our business is now coming from drive up traffic, outside the gate” says Mr. Bromwich, “We don’t expect an appreciable amount of $100.00 Hamburger traffic, and most of our business from inside the fence is either catering orders or walk over traffic from the FBO and the airport’s flight schools.”
With the possible exception of Peach State’s Barnstormer Grill, where flyers on the Southside are attracted to the grass field’s rustic collection of still airworthy, antique aircraft and an impressive Historic Candler Field museum, all of the other Metro’s listed airport restaurants agreed with Elevation Chophouse’s Mr. Bromwich; more pilots are driving through the gate than taxiing onto the ramp.
What might be a positive impact of the disappearance of the $100.00 Hamburger?
Because the restaurants are catering more to the drive-up or FBO walk over and not the cash strapped pilot, the restaurants have evolved from the red checkered table cloth diner like the modest Prop Stop Café in Rome, where the Tuna fish sandwich and bag of potato chips satisfied the Saturday crowds, to today’s relatively upscale airport restaurants, like PDK’s 57th fighter group or McCollum’s Elevation Chop House, an upgrade that appears to be popular, even in tough times.
By the way, how much does that “$100.00 Hamburger” cost in 2010? A round trip from Carroll County’s West Georgia Regional to Barnstormer’s at Peach State in a Cessna 172 might burn 12 gallons of fuel after playing a bit in the pattern at Peach State. At today’s price of $4.80 per gallon, the trip would cost a minimum of $60.00 in fuel to the owner and would result in an invoice to the renter of well over $200.00! And you haven’t even seen the menu yet! You get the picture.
Is there a fix down the road? Will the declining prices in aircraft result in a downward adjustment of aircraft rentals? Will fuel prices settle back to their pre-2000 levels? Will user fees go the way of the metric system? Any of these fixes might restore the $100.00 Hamburger back into prominence among restless weekend warriors, but until then, it’s a nice day for a drive and we, as airport bums, still have a nice collection of Metro area airport eateries to choose from, just trade that Atlanta sectional for a trusty Tom Tom.