If you are like most pilots whom own an aircraft purely for recreation, you also probably do not get to fly it as often as you should, or would otherwise like to. What is worse is that you still have to pay 110% of the costs of owning it.
I know what you are thinking—how does one pay 110% of costs when 100% covers everything? While insurance and tie-down expenses remain steady regardless of use, the added cost of not flying creeps in with unintended maintenance costs—YIKES!!! As engines set, oil pools and water infiltrates. Corrosion can set into various engine components and the airframe. Over time seals can harden and become brittle resulting in pesky hard to identify leaks and spark plugs are more likely to retain lead fouling. Additionally, failure to rotate tires can cause warping; “thud, thud, thud, thud.” Not unlike the human body, aircraft need be exercised or the unused parts can break down and often with greater consequence than those used regularly. Even those of you who hangar your aircraft are not immune to the threat of water vapor unless you happen to also provide a climate controlled environment OR a giant plastic bag. In which case, I’d surely like to see both!
Now as I am not a mechanic, this is in fact not a self-help guide to owner maintenance despite the path my opening has lead you down. Thanks to AOPA, however, I can offer a potential solution to some of these problems and more!
We have all heard the statistics. There is no denying that we are an aging pilot population and given the current rate of decline, us recreational types are a “dying breed”. This strikes a sentimental chord for some and the hymn of a battle cry for others. For better or for worse, life’s inevitable conclusion presents many of you with the difficult choice of whether to sell your airplane or leave it for relatives to deal with. Of course as you retell your story, it may seem like this long-held chapter comes to an abrupt end. In truth, the graveyard spiral of aircraft ownership started long ago as regular weekend flying was traded for holidays and special occasions which gradually turned into the Monday breakfasts at the airport restaurant until at last the only tangible connection to your plane is the wonderful memories you share and the annual hangar bill, courtesy of airport management [que the Debbie Downer music]. But what if ownership’s inevitable decline doesn’t have to be so painful and lonely? What if it never really has to end (so to speak)?? What if there were an opportunity to keep involved, stay engaged, and maintain an ownership stake in your aircraft in a way that sees new blood into the industry and helps to turn the tide against our declining population??? And what if that opportunity also spared you from having to pay 100% of ownership costs? Sounds like a deal that is too good to pass up, right!?
The answer my friends is in Flying Clubs.
Before you shake your head and laugh, there are a number of different ways to structure this. The first and most obvious would be to join a Flying Club and then sell your aircraft to it. While some active clubs do turn over aircraft and others seek to expand their fleet, the majority of active clubs are stable. Thanks to AOPA’s You Can Fly initiative, there are many hopeful clubs in formation but many struggle to acquire enough cash to buy an aircraft outright but also lack the stable history required by financing institutions to acquire a loan. Opportunity exists in the form of “leasing” or a “lease to own” arrangements.
As a full time Regional Manager, I am fortunate to be able to moonlight as a part-time Ambassador for the You Can Fly Initiative. These roles allow me to travel through New England promoting the industry and helping potential clubs learn the “How to’s” of generating interest and getting it done. It is hard work (for a new club) but mostly due to the time and attention necessary to go through the motions. The key is having a core person or group of people whom desire to make it happen and as it does, others will flock to it. These are the folks that as Ambassadors, we try to key-in on. I see the disappointment in their faces when they tell me they had interest from a number of people but when it came out that the forming club does not yet have an aircraft, the enthusiasm from potential members quickly fades. This is where finding YOU can turn their world around.
Everywhere I go I meet pilots in need of aircraft and owners with aircraft that don’t fly enough. I can’t tell you how many airport managers I have met across the northeast whom like to point out the many aircraft on their ramps that keep paying their fees but never go anywhere. There is opportunity here for clubs and owners alike and AOPA can help you find it.
I am working with a Club in formation at the Middlebury State Airport in Vermont—a great little, picturesque place with a friendly maintenance shop that is more than willing to help you in a pinch! The leader of the club (as I’ve deemed him) has confirmed interest from 9 others desiring to join the club. As they go through the process, it was apparent to me their biggest hurdle was eliminated from the outset when they decided they were going to lease one of two aircraft offered. Having the actual aircraft in hand so to speak, allowed the leader to accurately plan their expenses and draft a real budget. This in turn has brought them to that pivotal moment where they will decide if they can a) afford to be a club and b) are they willing to go for it? Now I can’t tell you what happened because that meeting is scheduled for the week after this post was published. But I can tell you that for 10 members on an older Skyhawk, their costs are low and their prospects are high!