There are two kinds of GA pilots in the world. The first group is the experienced pilot who wants to continue flying as often and for as many years as possible. A major deterrent to meeting that goal is cost. Renting an airplane at $100 an hour or more is difficult for many of us. And let’s face it, $100 per hour has become a pretty attractive rate in many parts of the country.
The second group is the wannabe pilots. These are the folks who dream of flying, but are either dissuaded by well intentioned, but ill-informed, friends and family, or by what they perceive as the exorbitant cost of learning to fly.
It doesn’t matter which factor turns them away. This group represents the future of GA in the United States, and if we cannot appeal to them with a legitimate argument that dispels their fears, we will lose the battle for access to the skies. Case closed.
This is important because whether you agree with the idea or not, cost is undoubtedly, inescapably, undeniably a factor of considerable importance in the decisions people make. It matters when they buy a house, or a car, a motorcycle, a boat, or a country-club membership — all of which are purchased in large numbers on a continuing basis across the country.
You’ll notice a unifying thread in that last paragraph, too. I didn’t talk about renting, I suggested people buy, because they do. Yet we still encourage people to rent airplanes as a matter of course.
It’s time for us to wake up, change course and set our sights on success. The key to inexpensive flying is airplane ownership. It’s true. Owning is less expensive than renting. The math bears me out on this, too. Wanna fly for cheap? Buy an airplane. Wanna learn to fly for $5,000 or less? Become an owner.
A good, well maintained, perfectly airworthy Cessna 150/152 can be had in any corner of this country for less than $25,000. It will typically burn something on the order of six gallons of fuel per hour. Insurance is reasonable, parts are plentiful, and it continues to be the enjoyably docile a trainer it was half a century ago. For a slightly higher purchase price you can put a number of Piper, Cessna, or other venerable names on the ramp at your home airport. The fuel burn may be a bit higher, but the utility of the aircraft will be enhanced, too. Take your pick. The options are plentiful.
Now, take that purchase price, the insurance rate, the tie-down or hangar cost, and maintenance expenses. Add them all up, then cut them in half. Heck, cut the big number in quarters, or eighths. It doesn’t matter what percentage you pick. Find a fraction of ownership that works for your wallet, and call that your goal. Then go find partners, a flying club, or a fractional ownership deal that works for you. They’re all available, yet most of us never look for them, or recommend the option to our friends.
Consider the math however, and this less-than-traditional approach starts to make a lot of sense. Let’s say you want to learn to fly, but you can’t part with $10,000 or more for the privilege. So you buy a one-eighth share of a 40-year-old C-152. It’s well maintained with a mid-time engine, less than 5,000 hours on the airframe, and has reasonable radios installed.
Even in a full-equity partnership your share of the purchase price would be only $3,125. Assume $150 per month contributed to a common account for maintenance and fixed costs. You could operate that airplane for less than $50 per hour.
Hire a CFI independently at $35 per hour, which is more than most flight schools pay their CFIs, but less than they would charge the end user for his or her services, and you’re in the ball game. You’re learning to fly in an airplane you know well and feel increasingly comfortable in. Best of all, you can afford it.
The total? You can earn your private pilot certificate for $4,350. That assumes 50 hours of total flight time and 40 hours of dual instruction over a three-month period. Shoot for a sport pilot ticket and you can cut that cost down below $3,000. Those are absolutely achievable goals for most people who are motivated to fly. And best of all, that’s a price a high school kid with a part time job can cover without going into debt. A year of working at the local burger joint will put enough in the bank to learn to fly. Really!
Another tremendous benefit to this method is the new pilot has built-in access to a familiar and affordable airplane. Time building just got cheap.
Of course I left out one important figure in that math. I did not include the value of the equity share in the calculation. In this case, $3,125. And I left that number out for a very important reason. It’s recoupable. If the student quits, or loves flying so much they want to step up to a bigger, faster, more capable aircraft – they can sell their share and get every dollar of their investment back.
Yep, you really can learn to fly, or fly recreationally for a very affordable rate. It’s certainly not as effortless or immediate as walking up to the counter and renting an airplane. But then, did you drive to work this morning in a car you owned or a car you rented?
This discussion will continue. It’s time to change the GA paradigm. Let’s do it together, shall we?