Two weeks from now the US Sport Aviation Expo will be kicking off in Sebring, Florida. Unlike most aviation gatherings, the Expo is not a traditional airshow or fly-in.
It’s more of a product showcase. Visitors get the chance to kick the tires and run a hand over the skin of actual aircraft. You can sit your butt in a machine you’ve been thinking about trying, and maybe even fly it around the neighborhood if you ask nicely.
It’s a good show. I truly enjoy it. And best of all, sales actually occur at the Expo. Some folks buy an instructional book or software package. Some buy a gizmo to put in their plane or on their desk. Some buy a new aircraft straight off the factory floor. It really happens. And that’s encouraging for Sebring, for the Expo, and for general aviation.
It is thanks to this optimistic outlook, along with an unbridled love of GA, that caused me to accept an invitation to present a forum at this year’s Espo on the topic of how we can cut the cost of flying. Let’s consider the options, shall we?
Traditionally there have been four well-recognized methods of gaining access to an aircraft, and one golden wish of an option. They are — in no particular order — renting, owning, partnering, and joining a club. You’ll note I did not say, “or.” I specifically said “and.” That’s not a mistake either. Because there is no reason an individual couldn’t or shouldn’t be a party to more than one of those options at any given time in their life.
The fifth option, which is the least available option, is the wealthy friend who lets us fly their airplane whenever we want to, at no charge. This alternative may be a fable, or it may be real. I have heard many stories of a situation like this, but never from anyone who was personally involved. Consider this the Sasquatch of all aircraft access options. It may be real, but it’s awfully hard to prove its existence. Consider me dubious on this point.
Renting is easy, but it’s expensive. Obviously, the cost per hour is a fixed rate, which means the annual bill can get quite high. This is especially true if you want to put more than a couple dozen hours on the Hobbs over the course of a year.
Ownership can be quite inexpensive, or very costly, depending on whether you buy a new airplane or a used on. The price range is extremely large, running from a few thousand dollars into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And of course the full maintenance and fixed cost burden falls on you and you alone. Even for an inexpensive airplane, those additional costs can be a deterrent for many of us.
Partnerships are a great option for spreading the cost of an airplane across several individuals, including maintenance and fixed costs like hangar space. The key is in finding partners who share similar views on how the aircraft should be used, how it should be maintained, and how they should interact with each other. It’s critical to have a well written agreement in writing for partnerships to have a decent chance of success in the long run. Good partnerships are priceless. Less than desirable partnerships are more common, unfortunately.
The club model presents real benefits to most GA participants. The cost of using the aircraft is reasonably low, the cost of membership can be quite attractive, while maintenance and fixed costs are spread across the full membership. All of which conspires in our favor to bring the cost of flying down to an affordable rate. There is a small price to be paid in terms of accessibility, but in exchange for giving up the 24/7 access a private owner enjoys, club members get to fly an airplane they more than likely could not afford to operate any other way.
This year the four traditional options have been joined by a fifth that shows real promise. The Aviation Access Project is the brainchild and pet project of a small group of long-range thinkers who see a real future for general aviation – provided GA embraces Light Sport Aircraft. The plan is brilliant in its simplicity, even while it is profound in its broad approach. By partnering flight centers with individual users through fractional ownership, the Aviation Access Project allows for shared ownership of new LSA at an affordable cost. Given the chance to train in and enjoy the benefits of new aircraft, the AAP intends to not only make aviation more affordable to those of us who are already involved, they intend to grow the pie by welcoming new aviation enthusiasts into the fold.
As you can imagine, the Aviation Access Project will be at the Expo in Sebring, too. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they found a solid footing and were able to add a fifth option for getting into the air?
It’s a new year, and I see plenty of reason to be optimistic. I hope you do, too.