While listening to the inimitable Clark Howard, a popular radio personality who offers financial advice, I learned an interesting tidbit of information. It seems auto loans are being taken out for longer and longer periods of time. The average auto loan is now in the five and a half year range, but some extend for as many as seven years. Seven years! For a car loan. Consider me amazed.
Of course the allure of the long term loan is its ability to lower the monthly payment to the point where a potential buyer can afford a car they otherwise could not possibly squeeze into their budget. The downside is less apparent. By extending the length of the loan the buyer increases the amount of interest paid. Rather than paying the agreed upon price for the vehicle, they pay thousands more in additional interest payments.
You see the hook, I’m sure. The dealership offers $1,000 cash back on the purchase. The buyer salivates. They sign on the dotted line and pay back the finance company several times the cash back value in interest. Everybody’s happy, except the buyer, who may one day figure out how they hoodwinked themselves by doing what everyone else does.
Following the crowd is seldom a good idea in the long run.
Now let’s take that same purchasing quandary and move it into the realm of aviation. We could follow the crowd here, too. We could accept the common perception that flying is too expensive. And why not? With new aircraft costing six figures, it can be difficult to justify the purchase of an item that may well cost more than your home.
But is it really necessary to spend that much to fly? No, no it’s not. It’s conventional, but it’s not mandatory.
Like the individual looking at the purchase of a new car, we have to get outside the standard thought patterns to find real value and real opportunity in aviation.
If the average pilot flies approximately 100 hours a year, that equates to slightly less than two hours a week. Logic suggests that if 10 pilots operated the same airplane over the course of a week, it would still only add up to 20 hours of actual flying. For the sake of practicality, let’s say the pre-flight, post-flight, fueling, and maintenance take an equivalent amount of time. That runs us up to 40 hours per week invested in an airplane being flown by 10 different people.
How expensive is the purchase of that airplane when the costs are shared by 10 people? If you run the numbers, you will see flying starts to become fairly affordable. Not cheap. No, certainly not cheap. But affordable for a wide percentage of the larger population.
It’s not just the purchase price that becomes more affordable in a partnership or a club setting. Hangar or tie-down costs are reduced. If your hangar costs $275 per month and you have nine partners, your share is reduced to an economical $27.50 per month. The same is true for insurance, maintenance costs, annual inspections, and even the dreaded engine rebuild or replacement. The cost of almost everything is reduced to the extent that you can move the decimal point one place to the left.
Fuel is the exception. Fuel costs what fuel costs. But even that cost can be cut if we’re creative.
One of the benefits of a good partnership, or a club, is that it embraces the social aspects of an aeronautical life. Partners or club members may find it enjoyable to come out to the airport just to meet with their fellow fliers. They may even fly together sometimes, for fun or for proficiency or to visit a destination that interests each of them. This also offers a cost cutting opportunity. Because if the operational cost to the partnership or club allows the aircraft to go out at, let’s say, $100 per hour, flying together cuts that cost in half.
Perhaps one pilot flies under the hood to tweak their instrument skills while the other acts as safety pilot. Or maybe one flies the outbound leg and the other flies the return. It makes no difference. You’re now flying an aircraft you like and feel comfortable in, with a person you enjoy being with, and you’re doing it for half price.
It’s true, aviation is expensive. It’s also true the average new car costs the buyer thousands of dollars in interest payments. But neither of those things is compulsory. They are often true, but they do not have to be true.
If we choose to take the bull by the horns, work the numbers, and make good decisions that are to our benefit in the long run, our experience and our costs can be very different from those borne by the average individual who simply goes with the flow and does what everyone else does.
As pilots, we are anything but average. And there really is a bright, strong future for general aviation lurking out there, just behind the status quo. Let’s go find that future. Let’s make it happen.