Share a plane, without all the hassle

There comes a time when rental airplanes no longer satisfy your needs. You’d like to buy something, but since the cost of a well-equipped new airplane is about the same as a three-bedroom house, you just can’t afford both. Finding partners to go in on a plane can be tricky. Then there are the challenges of insurance, scheduling and maintenance.

Now consider fractional ownership. You own a share of the aircraft, but in most cases someone else takes care of the details.

There are several companies that offer GA pilots a shot at fractional ownership. Here’s a look at just a few:

LetsFly Inc.

With LetsFly Inc., for as little as $2,900 down, $175 a month and $28 an hour you can own a share of an airplane. Founded in Idaho in 1999 by Eldon Corry, LetsFly Inc. is a cooperative ownership program. It provides a turnkey operation for pilots who want to become aircraft owners but don’t have a fortune to spend on aircraft acquisition and legal fees to set up a partnership.

“We can help them find an airplane and get the best financing and the best insurance,” Corry said. “Because we are a co-op and so large, we get good pricing. We can also supply a software package that enables the new owners to do online scheduling.”

The scheduling software costs $4,700, which is factored into the cost of the airplane. LetsFly has arrangements with several manufacturers, ranging from Light Sport Aircraft models, such as the Thorpedo T211 or the Allegro 2000, to normal category airplanes, such as the Tiger and Symphony line.

For more information: 208-523-3073 or Letsfly.org.

AirShares Elite, Inc.

In 1990 David Lee was a businessman and a pilot sharing a Malibu Mirage with five other pilots. Lee reasoned there were other pilot/businessmen out there who would use an airplane for work if they could afford it. Lee, familiar with the NetJets concept where the well-heeled buy shares of corporate jets, wondered if that concept could work for the GA pilot.

“I thought there must be a way to scale that idea down,” he said. “We knew that owning and operating an airplane can be expensive, as well as frustrating, so we wanted to open the door of aircraft ownership to new owners and take away the hassles and leave the fun part.”

With the help of 10 investors, the money was raised to start AirShares Elite, Inc., in Atlanta. In 1999 Lee quit his day job to become CEO of the company. By 2000 the company had its first customers and a fleet comprising two Cessna 172s, a 182 and a 206.

“Our customers enjoyed the six seats in the 206 and the 182 is basically Cessna’s sports car,” said Lee. “Then one day one of our board members, who is also on the board of Cirrus, asked if we wanted one for the fleet. Then suddenly 100% of the people who had been flying the Cessnas migrated to the Cirrus and never looked back!”

Now the entire AirShares fleet is Cirrus.

For more information: 800-482-5411 or AirShareElite.com.

OurPlane Inc.

Cirrus also makes up a substantial chunk of the OurPlane Inc. fleet. The company has both a GA and corporate side. The GA division was established in 1998 in Toronto.

“Our second location was in San Francisco,” said Graham Casson, president and CEO. “Now we have 22 new aircraft at 15 locations across North America. Our program is designed for the pilot who wants to take that next step toward aircraft ownership after they’ve earned their license.”

OurPlane offers Cessna 182s, Cirrus SR20s, SR22s and Beech Bonanzas. Pilots are screened for experience before they can buy a share to prevent non-qualified pilots from getting into an aircraft they don’t have the training or experience to handle.

“The minimum hourly requirement for the Cessna 182 is 100 hours,” Casson said. “If you want to buy a share of the SR22, we require you to have an instrument rating and at least 350 hours total time. Each pilot goes through the full Cirrus factory-training course, which we provide. There is a mandatory six-month recurrency flight review.”

Casson noted that the company is accident free after six years in operation.

All airplanes are kept in hangars and arrangements are made for maintenance to be done by companies carefully screened by OurPlane.

“It is seamless for our customers,” Casson said.

OurPlane continues to grow. “We have had lots of demand in Seattle,” he said. “We plan to be there by the end of 2006.”

Interested, but not close to an OurPlanes location? According to Casson, if someone contacts them and expresses an interest and OurPlane isn’t in that part of the world yet, they take the person’s name and contact info. When enough interest is generated the company will locate there.

For more information: 877-RPLANE-1 (775-2631) or OurPlane.com.

Easy AirShares

The Cirrus SR22 also is the aircraft of choice for EasyAirShares Inc., which also is based in Toronto.

Bassam Al-Sarraj founded the company when his plans to buy an SR22 went awry.

“I was ready to put down a deposit, then someone mentioned the insurance cost,” the 1,000-hour pilot recalled. “I checked and found it to be incredibly high! I might fly 50 hours a year and it didn’t make sense to pay that much for an airplane and insurance.”

He looked at other GA fractional programs and decided they were not for him. “The way it was set up with the scheduling and availability, it was more like renting an aircraft,” he said. “So I decided to set up a program of my own.”

With the help of nine other pilots, he created Easy AirShares Inc.

“We use points like a cellphone plan,” he explained. “You buy into the airplane and have X number of points. A one-eighth share, for example, gets 100 points. When you book a flight it is billed at tenths of an hour and points are deducted. An overnight trip is billed higher, like a roaming charge on a cell phone.”

Easy Air Shares has SR22s on order for placement in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, British Columbia and the New York area. Al-Sarraj notes the insurance is affordable too. “We were able to get a deal on insurance that allows our clients to start flying the SR22 with just 250 hours total time. If they wanted to buy one on their own they would not be able to get an insurance break like this unless they had at least 500 hours and an instrument rating.” The company takes care of all maintenance, navigation updates and other necessary items.

Cost varies on how much of a share is purchased. A 5% share requires an initial investment of $26,000, plus $300 a month.

“At the end of three years we sell those airplanes and you get your money back. You can buy up to a 50% share which will increase your monthly fee by $125, but you will have more points. We don’t make more money if you fly more,” he continued. “It costs $65 per flight hour and you pay for your own fuel. The costs paid contribute to a maintenance fund, which is held in reserve. If it is not used up within three years for maintenance or overhaul, what is left of that money is refunded back to the owners.”

For more information: 416-907-9443 or EasyAirshare.com.

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