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PALM LATITUDES

ON RAMP : Commuters on High

April 18, 1993|Gordon Dillow

Steven Hughes of Ontario has a 40-mile commute, but he never gets frustrated. New Age relaxation tapes? Illegal substances? Nah, a plane-pool.

Hughes, 31, is one of dozens of commuters who leave their homes in Redlands or Norco or Lake Elsinore and fly into Hawthorne Municipal Airport every day. For about $50 a week, paid to the owner and pilot of the plane, Hughes and his fellow plane-poolers get a seat on a small, usually single-engine plane. They also cut their commuting time from two hours to about 20 minutes.

"I used to ride in a van pool, but it took about two hours," says Hughes, a security specialist at Northrop Corp. who, for the past six months, has been flying with pilot Don Hanson of Norco, a Hughes Corp. executive. "Then somebody told me about the plane-pool. I was reluctant at first, because I'd never been in a small plane before. But once I got airborne I wasn't nervous at all."

From the airport, some of the commuters walk to work at nearby aerospace plants; others keep cars--usually clunkers--at the airport.

"The best thing for me is the time-saving," says Donna Scharff, 35, a Hughes executive who plane-pools every day. A Lake Elsinore resident, Scharff used to get up at 3:30 every morning to make the 100-mile commute and sometimes wouldn't get home until 8 p.m. "This is an opportunity to get home at a regular hour and spend time with my children."

Plane-pooling isn't for everyone. The seats are small, the planes cramped. But for many far-flung commuters, it's the only way to go.

"I feel sorry for anyone who drives," says pilot and plane-pooler Paul Rost, a Northrop executive. "We are probably the only commuters in Los Angeles who actually enjoy getting to and from work."

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