Mac, a private pilot in California, asks: With the cost of airplane rentals so high, do you have any tips on the best way to maximize hours to keep current?
Absolutely. Plane sharing.
I saw ears perk up over at the FAA. Not to worry friends and enemies, I’ve got something fully legal in mind.
Here’s the deal: When it comes to maximizing flight skill currency while minimizing green currency, I like flying with two pilots. It is the best way, by far, to get the most flying bang for your buck.
It has other benefits, too, because watching other people fly is a great way to improve your own flying — through either good, or bad, example.
But you need to do it in a way that ensures that both pilots get what they primarily need. To do that, plan a flight that ensures both you and your flying buddy are PIC for about half the total time.
Depending on right seat-flying comfort level, you can even pass PIC duties back and forth with the flight controls, without even trading seats. Call it positive exchange of Command & Control:
“You have the plane and are pilot in command.”
“I have the plane and am PIC.”
“You have the plane and are PIC.”
How much fun is that?
Design the two-pilot sortie so that each of you gets what you most need, proficiency-wise.
For instance, if one pilot is feeling cross-county rusty, and the other needs pattern work, plan to fly somewhere to practice takeoffs and landings.
And like I said above, the pilot riding shotgun for each phase is more than just along for the ride — that part of the flight is a learning experience for the pax-pilot, too.
What I love about plane sharing is that it essentially doubles the flight fix for the outlay. I swear this is true: The next best thing to flying is sitting shotgun on a flight.
If most of your flying has been solo or pilot-solo (meaning flying with non-aviator passengers) then you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Riding shotgun provides almost the same level of endorphins as the left seat does.
This kind of plane sharing is fully legal… in an indirect way. And I say that because you won’t really find any guidance from the FAA on pilots sharing expenses with other pilots.
There is, however, quite a lot of guidance on non-commercial pilots sharing expenses with their passengers, both in the regulations and in AC 61-142. If you think about it, in a small GA airplane that doesn’t require a second crew member — which is pretty much all of them — anyone who’s not PIC is technically a passenger.
The regulation that powers this for private pilots is 14 CFR 61.113 (c), and there is a virtually identical reg for all the sport pilots, and another reg for the two of you out there who have recreational certificates. All three regs basically say it’s OK for a non-commercial pilot to share a specific list of expenses among the folks in the airplane, with some provisos.
The first of these is that the PIC must pick up his or her fair and full share, called pro rata — Latin for proportional.
Warning: If you pick up the tab for the rental on your Discover Card and your buddy writes you a check for half, and then picks up the lunch tab to boot, the proportional balance just became unbalanced and you have — in the FAA’s view — just been compensated for flying someone, a Cardinal Sin under your certificate.
Another proviso that’s gotten a lot of folks into trouble recently is what the FAA calls “holding out,” which has nothing to do with sex. It’s legal talk for advertising.
So if you put up a note on the FBO bulletin board, post to Facebook, or even announce at a WINGS seminar that you’re flying somewhere and are looking for cost-sharing buddies, you just advertised an illegal charter operation.
Related to this is the Common Purpose Test, which pretty much says everyone in the airplane must have their own individual reason for being there. That can get complicated with folks along for the ride, but for our purposes of two pilots sharing flight costs to retain their individual proficiency and improve their individual mastery, nothing could be a more common purpose.
The allowable shares — according to the FAA — are fuel, oil, airport fees, aircraft rental fees, and nothing else.
For renter-pilots this is pretty straight forward, but if you are an airplane owner, or sharing with an airplane owner, know that sharing maintenance costs, pro rata insurance, or aircraft depreciation is strictly verboten. (Note, however, that a properly chartered flying club can allow members to share these costs.)
There’s a few other oddities that the FAA felt necessary to point out. Sharing the cost of a navigational chart is “prohibited” (who cares?), but so, too, is the cost of refilling oxygen used on the flight (which seems unjust).
The reason for this is that the regs spell out the fuel-oil-fees-rental as the only allowable expenses — recall that 61.113 (c) is listing an exception to the prohibition on private pilots carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire.
The AC also specifically calls out training flights as excluded in private pilot cost sharing, but this is for CFI work, not two certificated pilots saving money on keeping sharp by sharing costs.
Birds of a Feather
Now, beyond the regs, but equally (if not more) important, you need to pick your flying partner like you’d pick your spouse. Wait a sec… A lot of people do a poor job of that. Pick your flying partner like you’d pick a… uh… well, what do people choose well? Suddenly, I’m drawing a blank.
But what I’m trying to say is to find someone who you get along with. Someone who has your same level of risk tolerance/avoidance. A bird of your feather. Find someone who clicks with you on both the aviator and human levels.
Age, gender, hours, ratings, and all the rest don’t matter. You just need someone flight compatible. Someone who you respect and who respects you. You won’t need to hang out at the airport for long to find that person.
Then go double your fun — and flight skill currency — for half the price.