How a Malibu saves the day for an entrepreneur
--By Bill Stephens
General Aviation News
May 19, 2006
Al Adler recently got a call from two brothers possibly ready to sign a natural gas drilling lease for their farmland near Sacramento. The catch--one of the farmers was leaving shortly on a trip.
No problem. Adler gathered up one of his landmen, hurried to the Bakersfield airport, and flew his Malibu Jet Prop to Sacramento in one hour. Minutes later he sat at a kitchen table with the two farmers who signed the lease.
Just one of many Adler stories about how his plane saves the day for his Bakersfield, California independent natural gas exploration and production firm.
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"How's it going?" Adler says in a friendly, extroverted voice, leading me into his office. Adler says with today's robust natural gas prices he's busy with two rigs drilling a series of wells. A compact, powerfully built 44-year-old, he laughs a lot and crackles with entrepreneurial energy.
After studying petroleum engineering and working for a big oil firm in Bakersfield, the New York native launched a one-person firm in 1991. Today, nine person ABA Energy’s an aggressive player in California's Sacramento Valley gas province. Apart from finding natural gas, his passions are family, tournament poker, and flying.
Adler spreads a California map on his desk. Though he lives in Bakersfield, his producing fields and exploration prospects are from 220 to 300 nautical miles north. Adler became a recreational pilot in 1984, and in the early days of his business, drove to Sacramento Valley. But he became serious about flying after he realized its business value. Now he flies once or twice weekly--visiting his rigs and wells, and meeting with landowners, partners, investors, and officials.
"A plane fits the independent oil and gas wildcatter's nimble, entrepreneurial style. Being Johnny-on-the-spot is our game.
"We need to keep finding prospects and drilling successful exploration wells. The competition is intense, drilling costs steep, risks high. You line up investors, sign a lease with a farmer, and can drill a $1 million exploration well with no guarantee of success.”
When it comes to finding prospects, speed helps. “Often, our geologists find a great prospect where many are prospecting. Our land people find the landowner. If we don’t move quickly, somebody else could be in his kitchen when we arrive. Getting there face-to-face before the landowner changes his mind is crucial. The plane helps us beat competitors."
Adler's plane is also valuable during drilling.
Adler likes being there when a well is declared a discovery or a dry hole. "And if something goes wrong during drilling, you may have to start all over. So it’s important to get there quickly to help."
Not long ago a part broke during drilling. Faced with expensive downtime and shipment costs, Adler found a replacement part locally and flew it quickly to the site.
A few years ago Adler flew a potential investor over his operations, landing at small airports for mini-tours. The man became one of ABA's solid investors. “People are intrigued by flying. It sets me apart.”
Adler flies often to Sacramento, Stockton, or Chico, but also to smaller airports. Some trips last days, but he often makes daytrips. "I can fly up in the morning, meet, have lunch, and be back at my desk by 3 pm. Instead of driving and getting back late and tired, I'm doing business."
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At Bakersfield's airport, Adler does a pre-flight inspection of his Malibu Jet Prop, which looks sleek and solid. Adler is taking me along on a routine maintenance flight.
We climb aboard. Four comfortable seats in back, two in front. Adler often packs just a laptop, change of clothes, and toiletry kit. After Adler does a systems check, we roll onto the runway guided by ATC. We take off smoothly and climb to 13,000 feet. With mountains to the east, the Pacific to the west, and Bakersfield beneath, we travel at 240 knots accompanied by a quiet engine purr. Instrument rated since 1997, Adler says he has 2,700 flying hours, 1,000 in this plane.
In 2001, Adler converted his Malibu Mirage to a jet prop for speed, reliability, and cost effectiveness. His 950 horsepower craft (flat rated at 560 horsepower) now has a range of 950 nautical miles, can travel 270 knots, can carry a useful load of 1150 pounds, and flies to 27,000 feet.
“This plane is perfect for my business. It’s economical, covers ground, and can land at small airstrips.”
He points out his two Global Positioning Systems, collision avoidance system, radar, de-icing systems, radios, MFD, and stormscope. "I fly to Sacramento at about 20,00 feet where it's smooth and fuel efficient.”
Adler begins his descent. “My plane’s a business tool, but I also have a flying passion. It’s a great release. Even if I have a dry hole, when I get into the cockpit, I focus on flying. It's fun."
After a smooth landing Adler taxis to the FBO ramp where he meets mechanic Mark Wiebe.
"How's she doing?" Wiebe asks.
Adler asks Wiebe to check a visor and landing gear light.
"Okay," says the mechanic, who tells me the plane's Pratt & Whitney engine is very reliable.
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Back at the office I ask Adler about flying economics.
"The main costs are fuel, maintenance, and insurance. One flight that makes a deal because we got there fast pays for the plane. But even on a cost basis, it makes more sense than driving or flying commercial. Because I travel on short notice with co-workers, flying commercial would be expensive, plus slower and unreliable. Many places I fly aren't commercially served."
Safety is a priority. "I'm a drilling and poker risk-taker, but a cautious flyer. I won’t fly if I'm tired, the plane’s not right, or there’s extreme weather. I always file an instrument flight plan, attend annual flight training at Flight Safety International, and get 50 and 100 hour maintenance inspections. Also, as an engineer, I understand how the engine and instruments work."
Adler says flying has changed his business and his life. "It helps my business succeed and gives me more time with my family."
“It’s a liberating tool that lets me take matters into my own hands and go. I’ve always been impatient to get places fast. The plane suits my personality."
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