Ignorance is a universal condition. We’re all ignorant of something or other. More than likely, we’re ignorant of a great many things.
Even brilliant minds like the one Neil deGrasse Tyson carries around is unaware of entire subject areas. And why wouldn’t he be? The world is big and complex. There are far too many details pertaining to far too many technologies, systems, programs, and issues for any one of us to know them all.
And yet humans have a curious aversion to admitting our lack of expertise on virtually all topics under the sun.
Ignorance is the natural state of humanity. Overcoming ignorance is the mission of those who do well in life.
This is undeniably true when the subject of aircraft ownership comes up.
Let’s look at some numbers: Pilots in the United States number in the neighborhood of 600,000 more or less. That equates to less than 0.2% of the overall population. We’re not just the 1%, we’re literally in the upper reaches of the 1%. The math proves it.
Despite that, and in contradiction to what our initial beliefs might be, aircraft ownership in the U.S. has been increasing in recent years.
There are approximately 212,000 airplanes in the U.S. All of them are owned by somebody. In more cases than you might think, a single individual may own multiple airplanes. I myself have owned as many as three at one time.
That suggests no more than 0.07% of the U.S. population own an airplane. That’s a small sliver of folks. So, it’s no wonder that many first-time aircraft owners don’t have the experience or networking connections to find, buy, and operate their aircraft with confidence and economic efficiency.
Let’s focus on the economic efficiency aspect. Airplanes can be expensive. Yet, they don’t have to be prohibitively expensive. There are a variety of ownership options that can cut the cost significantly. Included are co-ownerships (often referred to as partnerships) and flying clubs. Both those alternatives allow multiple individuals to share the cost of ownership.
Keep in mind, ownership costs aren’t limited to the purchase price. There’s also storage, maintenance, insurance, and actual operating costs to consider. Even with a single additional person added to the registration paperwork, an aspiring aircraft owner can cut their projected costs in half. That’s a pretty steep discount. Expand that number to three or four owners and the price of entry to the aircraft owners market gets darned attractive.
Still, even with costs reduced by having additional owners to work with, a bad decision made through ignorance can cost the entire group. And as we all know, when someone makes a mistake that costs us money, there can be rancor in the ranks.
So, it is with the greatest respect and sympathy I say do your research first. Take the time to make an educated decision about all aspects of aircraft ownership.
Any aircraft owner can tell you to get a pre-buy inspection prior to making a purchase. What many won’t tell you, perhaps because they don’t know, is that you should never use the seller’s mechanic to perform that inspection. Hire someone independently. The expense will be cheap insurance against buying a bad airplane for a premium price — and yes, that happens more often than one might wish to believe possible.
I recently spoke to a gentleman who is an active member of a flying club. The full membership of the club is very happy with their airplane, but they are not so happy with the expenses they see it dumping in their laps. In truth, the excessive cost of their aircraft is not due to the aircraft itself, but rather to their decisions about how and when and where to maintain it. By guessing rather than researching, in effect making knee-jerk decisions without benefit of real insight, they’ve spent thousands of dollars unnecessarily.
One group I spoke with spent a ludicrous amount of money on an annual inspection, working with a mechanic none of them wanted to work with, because the aircraft’s annual inspection had timed out and they were under the impression they had no choice but to use the local shop that charged high rates. They could easily obtain a ferry permit to move the aircraft to another airport where the far less expensive mechanic they preferred was based. But nobody thought to ask about options.
Not long ago I spoke with an owner who hired a local shop he wasn’t comfortable working with to rebuild his engine. He hired the shop based on the recommendation of an acquaintance, not a long-time friend or a trusted colleague. The price he was quoted to have the overhaul done in a local shop with no particular expertise in the work was in the ballpark of what he would have spent on a factory rebuild, which would come with a superior warranty, no doubt.
A casual conversation with a few knowledgeable folks might have saved the owner a bundle of cash, or conversely, gotten him a much better product for an equivalent amount of money.
We all have gaps in our knowledge base. And while I’ve had some experience owning and operating aircraft, I still seek out insight from others with even more experience whenever the least bit of doubt creeps into my mind.
As boat owners have known for hundreds of years, knowing what your options are and making good decisions about maintenance and operational costs can be the difference between being a miserable owner and a happy owner. The same goes for aircraft owners.
A few phone calls or a conversation over a cup of coffee can provide a great, inexpensive opportunity to educate ourselves on almost any topic. Consider them both when you’ve got decisions to make. You’ll be glad you did.