Why can’t GA be more like renting a car? Once, it was…

Debates about GA’s practicality are weighty, sometimes bitter, discussions I think often miss the point. But one of the best deals I ever found was “Hertz-like” plane rental at Lease-A-Plane. It opened up lots of possibilities.

A big gripe of renters: The “daily minimum,” a minimum of flight hours to keep the plane all day. It’s often four hours on weekends and three during the week. Another huge downside, if renting out-of-town, is the check-out required by each separate rental operation. Today, that can include written and oral quizzes, as well as dual with a CFI.

Lease-A-Plane International solved some of this by franchising local FBOs/flight schools into a system. You paid a fixed amount to keep the plane all day and then only a low rate per (dry) flight hour. Even better, a check-out at one location was good for a time (and in that aircraft type) at any location.

I flew with them on Dec. 31, 1971 out of Skyport, their franchisee in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Always trying to fly someplace special each New Year’s Eve, that year I would leap a small slice of the Atlantic. Doing what the average Florida tourist couldn’t, I’d pilot myself to the Bahamas. After all, it was only 65 nm to Bimini and 30 more to Grand Bahama Island. Surely an old Lyc would do that much for me!

It was so much fun I kept going. Once you get to West End, GBI’s east-west orientation gives you “feet dry” a long way east. Then only a short over-water jump and you’re on Abaco Island en route to Marsh Harbor. Some 225 miles off Florida, I was cocky when an airliner crew climbed down to ask, “What you doin’ way out here in THAT?”

My little Yankee AA1A two-seater (and Lease-A-Plane’s tab for it) made the day a real bargain at $60.69, including $5 for “collision damage waiver” (how “Hertz-like”), one dollar for a chart and $2.33 tax. Plane rental itself came to $49: $20 for the day, $26.50 for 5.3 flight hours ($5/hour!) and just $2.50 for a half-hour CFI check-ride.

Cost comparisons with today are discouraging, but misleading. Some things then DID hurt much less, however, like fuel for the WTD-FLL return at $3.36 for 7.3 gallons or 46 cents per! And flying WAS cheaper in “the big GA states” like Florida and California, where high activity and keener competition kept prices low.

It was a nice deal – perhaps too nice. Lease-A-Plane faded away in the early ‘70s, perhaps with the 1973 oil crisis. But for one New Year’s Eve, I had the time of my life. From 0830 to 1900 I had a plane all my own, no pressure (except sunset) to get back, and an “international oceanic flight” of uncommon beauty in my logbook.

The worlds of insurance, litigation, and risk acceptance have all changed. Pilot requirements and check-outs are more stringent, not to mention security and theft concerns. Costs are far different. But a chain of retail rental operations in various vacation spots or business hubs sure would be fun again. A “club membership” and “per-day charge” would allow easy, practical GA travel locally after you’ve flown the long-haul portion on the airlines.

Ah, too much to ask for in today’s world, aside from those rare multi-city flying clubs or fractional ownership operations.

© 2011 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved

Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.


  1. Rod Beck says

    The Lease-A-Plane concept, however, may have looked good on paper, but its “demise”, like most GA business failures, was simply a matter of “to much supply, to little demand”.

    If you were to INCEASE the demand for GA products and services by 400% or so, you still would only have 1 in every 350 of the population who NEEDS or wants it.

    Given those odds, the very nature of the BUSINESS does not lend itself to success.

  2. Rod Beck says

    Ah yes, Lease-A-Plane; they had a branch at (TEB) NJ in the early 70’s. At the time, I operated a 7 bird flight school and sales business out of Atlantic Aviation under the “banner” of Eastern Flyers, my second “attempt” at the GA business!

    I recall Gene Bopp getting me “current” in a new 72 Beech Baron. I had an appointment to “waltz” 3 bankers for a business loan of a whopping $25K! The only thing I had in my fleet that would do the job was the under powered Cherokee Arrow 180 hp model, not exactly a performer. I opted for the Baron!

    Needless to say, the bankers, including the President, were impressed with the flight to Orange County (MGJ) NY, and even then in the Baron, it was the “$10 hamburger” at the airport cafe.

    While stting at the lunch table, Mr.Slater, the bank President asked me, “well Rod, how to you plan on paying this loan?”,without hesitation,I responded,”on demand”!

    The next day the $25K was deposited into my account. Moral of the story; when going for the”big one,”go BIG!

  3. CeridianMN says

    Maybe Cessna Pilot Centers could be convinced to start something like that up again. They have similar planes and procedures already. IT shouldn’t take much more than what is already in place to add in some info sharing such that check-rides in one would work for another. I’m not sure how to address the minimum flight time per day issues though. Maybe if there was an ability to take a plane from one and leave it at another there would also be the concept of only paying for the transit, and then maybe having a completely different plane on the way back.

  4. Mcdonald1313 says

    Back even further … at a sleepy little airport in the south bay here in northern calif., I ‘d rent a little Taylorcraft L-2 fo $7.50 / hr WET ! In those days even the smell of the AV gas was exciting. Now it just scares me. As a high time CFII, it’s just difficult enough to stay current, not to speak of being proficient.

  5. Thomas Haines says

    Thanks for the memories! Nice story. Lease a Plane was a little before my time, but I do remember the Hertz Rent a Plane ads in the first issue of “The AOPA Pilot” in March 1958. Wonder what happened to that.

    Another way to accomplish the ability for pilots to “move about the country” and have access to airplanes would be through a network of flying clubs–although you would still likely have to return the aircraft to the location where you borrowed it. The clubs would need a standard set of guidelines and to a certain extend a line of similar aircraft. Not easy, but doable. AOPA, EAA, and others have been discussing such a notion. Perhaps we’ll hear more soon.

    • Drew says

      Delighted YOU liked it. Means something. Yes, I recall those Hertz Rent-A-Plane ads in early AOPA mags. To some degree, inspired the story. I hope AOPA and EAA can get something going on the linked flying club concept.

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