By BRENT OWENS
Airplane ownership is one of the best things about flying. The freedom, sense of pride and camaraderie afforded by owning your own airplane is truly a game-changer.
The detractor in all of this is the cost. In the U.S. alone the annual cost to own and fly an average four passenger, non-complex, single can easily be five figures. It’s not an inexpensive endeavor, but I would add that there are lots of folks who spend that much or more on other hobbies, so in the end it’s really about choices.
Since you know going in this won’t be cheap, let’s talk about ways you can potentially curtail some of the costs.
Let’s start with the obvious and work toward the more esoteric.
If you want to know how to reduce the cost of ownership, you only need to look at our friends across the pond in Europe. They have it tough with onerous user fees and generally everything being double the price we pay in the U.S. They have been forced to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation.
Two key things you’ll note is the proliferation of partnerships and flying clubs and the number of less expensive, lower horsepower, Light-Sport Aircraft type aircraft. This is not to say there aren’t individuals who own fire-breathing twins, it’s just not as common as it is here. To be completely fair, we have seen this trend already in the U.S. with the escalation of fuel prices and the post-2008 economic slump.
A partnership (or co-ownership) is one of the best ways to defray the cost of your airplane. It can also allow someone who couldn’t afford that pre-owned Cirrus to be able to acquire it with one or more co-owners. Partnerships are not all roses and bonbons though; personalities can collide with disastrous results. The best advice is to seek out good partners and create an even better written agreement that spells everything out.
The other thing you can do to make ownership more affordable is to buy less airplane — one that is cheaper to acquire and, more importantly, cheaper to operate. Nothing sours the ownership experience more than having an airplane that is a financial hardship.
If you have never owned, my advice is to not overextend, thinking you’ll “grow into it.” If you “need” that Cirrus, try co-ownership or a leaseback, otherwise start modestly and work your way up.
In this economy, the purchase prices are quite reasonable. It’s after the airplane comes home that it gets expensive. To that end, if you are thinking of buying, you need to spend some time understanding the purchasing process or use a trusted agent to help you. Making poor decisions at this stage has the potential of costing big bucks, so make sure you do your homework and proceed with caution.
The other two major cost factors are fuel and maintenance. The good news is you have “some” control over these.
There are a lot of ways to save money on fuel. It won’t make it cheap, but it can take the sting out a little. Some of the strategies you can employ are:
- Buy at cheap locales;
- Lean the engine properly;
- Fly high, when possible;
- Slow down a little (or a lot);
- Seek out incentive programs that give discounts or cash back.
As for maintenance, hopefully you bought a sound airplane, so the maintenance should be reasonable. Some things you can do to help offset these costs are to find a good mechanic. I would canvas the locals at your home airport to see who’s the “top wrench” around your neck of the woods.
Also you can save by helping your mechanic on annual inspections or other maintenance. You get the benefit of defraying some of the labor costs and, as a bonus, a free education on how your airplane works.
Other fixed costs, such as insurance and storage, are really just a matter of shopping around and coming up with the solution that best fits your needs.
NOT SO OBVIOUS
So far we have covered the obvious, even to the non-owner. Now let’s explore concepts used by the more experienced and frugal among us.
One of the best ways to save on ownership is to avoid breaking your airplane. These machines are engineered for performance and safety, not necessarily durability. If you operate your airplane harshly, you can expect to pay more for maintenance than someone who flies it with care.
What do I mean? For example:
- Smooth handling on the ground and in the air;
- Warm it up appropriately before takeoff;
- Don’t overheat it (prolonged steep climbs at full power);
- Make sure you preheat in the winter;
- Keep up on oil changes and other routine maintenance.
Preventative maintenance is another area where experienced owners save. The regulations list items, such as oil changes, that you can do yourself as an owner.
Subscription services and database updates are another cost that adds up. Don’t go overboard signing up for subscriptions and/or updates that you don’t need. Obviously some of these will be required, but if not, scrap it or research less expensive options.
Another alternative to a partnership (or in conjunction with) is the leaseback. Leasing your airplane to an individual or business can be a good financial move. Just make sure everything is well documented in the contract and that you consult proper counsel for the legal and tax implications. Lots of FBOs will lease an airplane to add to their rental fleet and it can be a win-win if structured properly and with the right kind of aircraft.
Experienced owners also know how to leverage the tax benefits of airplane ownership, if they exist. Again, you need to consult someone knowledgeable about taxes specific to aircraft ownership and operation before proceeding.
Finally, networking is another unsung hero of saving money on your airplane. Having a group of folks who can offer help and provide money-saving contacts can really pay off in the end — things like finding the best mechanic, best insurance agent, good sources for inexpensive supplies…the list goes on. Don’t underestimate the power of the knowledge and resourcefulness that exists in our community.
Owning will almost always be more expensive than renting, but there is nothing like cracking open the hangar door to take that pre-dawn flight in your own aerial conveyance. Sometimes the act of owning an aircraft can seem daunting, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll figure out a way and you’ll be glad you did.
For more information: FixedWingBuddha.com