News flash: I have just finished eating a $16 bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. That’s nothing. Last night I feasted on a $25 hamburger. Neither meal was unique, memorable, or impressive in any way other than the price.
I feel an analogy coming on.
With the price of a single engine Cessna creeping up into the $400,000 range and Light-Sport Aircraft well over the $100,000 threshold, it would appear that aviation really is too expensive for the average man, woman, or child. It would appear that way, but it’s not.
A quick look through the classifieds at GeneralAviationNews.com will expose the great secret of general aviation. New airplanes are expensive. Old airplanes are not.
How not? How about a C-152 for $25,000? How about an Aeronca Champ for a similar amount or less? Wanna go bigger? You say you need four seats, a higher cruise speed and some creature comforts? No problem. May I point you in the direction of the classic four-seat Stinson, with an interior that reminds me of my grandfather’s old Cadillac. You can grab a Stinson for less that $30,000.
The point is simple. If you want to spend stupid money on a hamburger, or a bowl of oatmeal, or an airplane, you can certainly do that. There are waiters and salespeople who will take your money. Then again, you can get out of the trendy neighborhood and buy a substantially similar burger for less than two bucks. And yes, you can buy an airplane that will serve you well for years to come for less than the cost of the average new car.
The key to that sentence is “serve you well.” Because you have to know what you want that airplane to do in order to get a truly good deal.
If you want to go high and fast and far, then a Piper Cub is a lousy pick, even if you do find one at a good price. Then again, if you intend to stay within a 100 mile radius of home, burn minimal fuel, and watch the scenery, the Cub is an outstanding choice. And the Cub will hold its value. It might even appreciate in value over the years.
Hey wait! That’s true of the Luscombe, the Cessna 152, the 172, and the Stinson, too. If you grab an airplane with some time on it, you just might be able to fly for years, get exactly what you want out of it, and sell it down the road for more money than you paid for it in the first place. Wow!
Right about now the financially astute will point out that you actually lose money on the deal. There’s hangar rent (or tie downs) to consider, maintenance, fuel, insurance, etc. And they’re right. You’ll pay.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather live a life filled with adventurous merriment and deeply rooted friendships than one that’s based largely on the financial security I might find if I just don’t do anything stupid. Sometimes stupid is good. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Never discount the innate awesomeness of doing something absolutely, unabashedly stupid. John Lennon’s aunt Mimi famously said, “The guitar’s all right, John. But you’ll never earn a living with it.” Several billion people disagree.
I’ll tell you something stupid. I once took my son flying in a C-152 after a maintenance crew rebuilt the engine. I was an instructor at the school that managed the airplane and as a matter of policy we would burn the engine in for 10 hours before letting a paying customer take it following a rebuild.
So being a shockingly cheap consumer, as I am, I chose that airplane to introduce my son to aviation as seen from the front seat. He was 8 years old.
We flew all over the Connecticut River Valley. We headed out for Long Island Sound then turned to fly up the coast to Rhode Island. My boy had the controls the whole time, I just sat there marveling at how cute the little rascal was with my headset and sunglasses on. We talked. It was magical. We flew for quite a while and it didn’t cost me a dime.
How much do you suppose that memory is worth today? If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, and have to pay $100 for that flight, or $500, or $1,000 — would I do it? Oh yeah. I’d do it. That memory is fixed in my head as one of the great moments of my life.
Better yet, it’s fixed in my son’s head as one of his great shared experiences with the old man. It was a time when I trusted him enough to know that I’d let him take the controls of the airplane and fly across three states. He noticed. That flight made an impression.
When you consider how that flight enriched the lives of two generations, helped cement a bond between father and son, and opened a boy’s mind to the possibility that he can do anything he puts his mind to – well that’s a damn good bang for the buck no matter what the price tag might be.
But in all honesty, that flight at today’s rates would fall somewhere between $100 and $200. Cheap for what I got in return. Yep, that’s a deal if you ask me.
But then, why would you ask me? I just paid $16 for a bowl of oatmeal.