Sharing your wings

For many frugal pilots, sharing their wings makes a lot of sense. Most private pilots fly less than 1% of the available hours in a year, often not enough time to keep their aircraft from suffering from inactivity. Add another pilot or two and the plane actually stays in better condition —and the costs go down.

But the big question isn’t so much should you share your wings, but how?

Obviously, it’s not a thorough analogy, but sharing wings is somewhat like sharing a life in marriage: The partnership can either be twice as good or twice as bad as going it alone.

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The simplest way to share wings

You’ve decided to consider sharing your wings. Good for you! Like sharing a life, sharing an asset can benefit numerous people and allow them to potentially do more than going it alone.

But it also can complicate life. Making a logical decision about co-ownership can help you get more for your flying investment.

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Renting vs. owning

For many private pilots, renting makes more sense than buying an airplane. The ongoing costs of compliance, maintenance, and storage — added to the rising costs of fuel — can bring the hourly cost of flying your own aircraft within the range of renting one.

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The Frugal Pilot: Multitask flying

The retail price of avgas continues to climb with fewer refineries supplying it. Aircraft parts, never cheap, increase in cost each year. Smaller airports close and larger airports raise hangar rents. Fewer private pilots are flying today than 10years ago, reducing economy of scale. Flying is getting too dang expensive.

However, flying remains an unrivaled pastime. It literally offers a third dimension over two-dimensional recreation, such as boating, motorcycling, and RVing.

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The Frugal Pilot: Barter and trade

If your flying budget is tight — like mine — there are many ways to cut your flying costs without spending a lot of money. You can borrow, rent, trade or barter for some of the things you need.

Not everything aviation can be exchanged this way, but there are some — and each can save you money to buy more fun-fuel.

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Learn from smarter pilots

We pilots typically don’t like to admit it, but some pilots are smarter than we are — at least on some topics. The aim of the frugal pilot is to learn something useful from more experienced pilots and aircraft owners.

Here are some suggestions on how to get good answers:

Ask Good Questions

Sometimes the most difficult part of getting a good answer is figuring out what the best question is. Rather than “What oil should I buy?” a better question may be “How would you advise me to select the best quality oil and filter for my high-time Piper Arrow?” Ask a specific rather than an open-ended question for best results.

Once you’ve framed the question, consider how to approach another pilot with it. If you want a variety of opinions, offer the clarified question to pilots at your next hangar flying event, social get-together, or weekend congregation.

For better results, select one or two pilots (see below) and ask for their valuable counsel by prefacing your question with something like “I need some help with an aviation question and would really appreciate your advice.” That approach shows appreciation for the listener’s experience and asks him or her to treat your question with an open mind and best knowledge.

Listen Well

You’ve framed a great question and asked it of a knowledgeable person. But maybe the answer isn’t coming out clearly. The question wasn’t heard the way you thought it would be. Or maybe the listener didn’t understand the terms you used. Time to clarify. “Sorry, but what I meant to say was…” Carefully, you can guide the conversation toward an answer that better fits what you need to know.

Once you have a practical answer from your resource, write it in your Frugal Notebook. As you do so, additional questions may crop up and you can get answers or clarifications while you still have your resource nearby. And remember to thank your advisor for helping you.

Be Selective

As your flying experience expands, you learn to recognize the better pilots. It may be found in what they say, but more often in what they do. Many pilots talk a good flying experience, but flying with them can tell more than any conversation.

Do you seem to have the same approach to flying? Would you invite one pilot-friend over another on a cross-country with you? These are the pilots whose knowledge and skills you most respect. These are the pilots who are as smart — maybe even smarter on some subjects — than yourself. And they have different experiences from which they have learned. They have something to teach you.

If you’re an aircraft owner, you’ve met others who have more experience with aircraft ownership, maintenance, and repairs than you. Maybe you envy their aircraft and the condition they keep it in.

Or they have experience in one or two areas where you could use their advice: Upgrading instruments, selecting a STOL aircraft or kit, or finding a good mechanic who encourages owner-assisted annual inspections. Identify and note these owner-pilots and their expertise in your Frugal Notebook.

Most pilots join several different aviation clubs and associations over the years, but soon find one or two that focus on their type of flying and approach to aviation. These are the groups in which you would consider a lifetime membership. Maybe it’s a brand or model club, a state or regional group, or an association that focuses on pleasure or business aviation.

These are your sources of knowledge — the pilots and advisors who have their own unique experiences from which they have learned valuable lessons.

What does all this have to do with being a frugal pilot?

A frugal pilot is one who makes common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar. Some of those decisions are based on what you’ve learned about flying. They can be enhanced by learning valuable lessons from the experiences of other pilots. The bottom line is: To get a valuable answer, ask a good question of someone who knows.

One more tip: Be a valuable resource to other pilots. Answer questions with as much helpful guidance as you would like other pilots to offer you. Clearly differentiate between what you know as fact and what your experience has developed as opinion.

And don’t be concerned if the listener doesn’t take your advice. Frugal pilots recognize that there are many ways of doing the same thing well.

In the next column of The Frugal Pilot, I’ll cover how to shop smarter for your aviation needs. See you in the pattern!

The Frugal Notebook

Every owner-pilot should have a Frugal Notebook. It’s a blank book you can keep in the glove box or your flight bag to record things about your airplane. If you are a renter, it’s a handy place to record your experiences with specific aircraft and flying conditions.

Let’s take a look at a few of the things your Frugal Notebook can help with:

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The Frugal Pilot: Get more than you pay for

What’s the difference between a need and a want? At the grocery store, a need is buying milk, bread and other food staples. A want is getting soda, corn chips and snack cakes. In recreational aviation, a need is something required to meet your flying goals and your budget. A want is not required, but desired.

For most of us recreational pilots, airplanes really aren’t needs. They are wants. But one benefit to working hard through life is to be able to afford some of the things we want. However, once we own a plane, we cannot skimp on its needs.

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The Frugal Pilot: Plan to keep it simple

In the first installment of The Frugal Pilot, we covered defining your flying mission: why you fly. The reason for starting there is because of Frugal Fact #1: Complexity increases costs exponentially.

Each layer of complexity you add to flying — or just about anything — increases the costs of ownership, maintenance and other expenses. Instead of you owning it, it begins to own you. Soon, what started out as a fun pastime can become a stealer of time and money. Analyzing why you fly can help keep the costs on the ground.

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