William Ringler general manager of Bauer Springs Inc. in Pittsburgh, maintains good customer relations through personal visits with clients nationwide, without the expense of commercial travel. Ringler, whose company sells disk springs used in manufacturing, has saved thousands of dollars in air fare by traveling with private pilots.

When planning a business trip, Ringler checks with local flying clubs, and with corporations that have planes, to see what pilots are scheduled for flight time. He schedules a trip with a pilot and pays only for the cost of the gas and the airport landing fees. According to Ringler, the arrangement works well not only for him, but also for the pilot who wants to add the air miles to his flying record.

Round trips between Pittsburgh and Atlanta have cost Ringler $70, compared with the average commercial price of $260. A round trip between San Diego and Mexico City cost him $75, plus dinner for the pilot.

The arrangement also saves time, since the private planes can land in the smaller towns in which Ringler does business. There is no need to wait for a connection or wait for a rental car.

For those who want to try his method, Ringler suggests asking the local airport manager for the list of commercial flying clubs that use the facility. Call the clubs and ask what pilots will be available for flights, and make arrangements with the pilot.

Not every company is able to use this method, though, Ringler says. Business trips must be flexible, since specific flight times are almost impossible to schedule. "It's a nonscheduled situation -- that's the key."

Federal Aviation Administration officials are not quick to promote this business, however. Anyone flying with a commercial pilot for shared expenses, they suggest, should consider liability factors, the competence of the pilot, and the safety of the airplane.