Don’t fly your aircraft enough?

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!

For more information on Flying Clubs, click here.  For questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter @AOPAEastern.

The Red Sox & the Yankees; American East – Aviation – Division

As I sit typing this blog on the day of the Red Sox season opener against the Baltimore Orioles—Eastern Region HQ (me) Vs AOPA HQ (colleagues)—I am reminded that competition is indeed a celebrated characteristic of American culture. By the very nature of our nation’s humble beginnings competition is, like in sports, ever present in business and in life.

New York’s aviation industry is credited with an annual economic impact of $4.5 Billion in state and local revenue and the source of 500,000 direct and indirect jobs (or 4.7% of the state’s workforce).  While these numbers are certainly eye catching, as an athlete and competitor, success is less about what is achieved and more about the relationship between ones achievements relative to one’s potential for an interval of time.

There’s an old adage that reigns particularly so for aviation industries in the Northeast where competition between states is compounded by our relatively small geography. That is, “If you are not taking steps to move forward, you are moving backwards.”  In other words, to simply maintain the status quo one must change and adapt.

I recently participated in a phone interview with an NBC news affiliate out of Buffalo regarding the New York Aviation Jobs Act (AJA – A.3677-B/S.273-B)—which is the industry’s sound bite to create jobs and boost revenues through the targeted elimination of a significant financial barrier to the purchase and operation of aircraft in New York.  A respected journalist in his region, I was unable to determine if he harbors personal angst with the legislation or if he is in fact an exceptionally talented devil’s advocate.  I would prefer the latter and of course offer him the benefit of any doubt.    One of his arguments opposing the AJA was a question of Northeastern state’s efforts to repeal targeted sales & use taxes as “a race to the bottom.”  If by bottom he meant the elimination of the associated tax, then I would issue an emphatic “YES!”  His angle (as I understood it) offers the cushy scenario in which the elimination of these exemptions would place states on an even keel and ultimately generate a guaranteed revenue stream for a state.  Within this conjured world I would again reply with an emphatic “YES”, followed by an even more emphatic BUT that world doesn’t exist..”  As some might view this parallel universe a stroke of genius in which big corporations continue to pay government large sums of money with no loopholes to line their deep pockets with additional dollar-signs, reality knows not all things are created equal.  The list of examples is endless so I’ll spare you my own interpretation and point to the first and most obvious of them; differing tax rates.

For fear it isn’t obvious, I’ll jump back to the blog’s title for a moment as I infused a historic Major League Baseball rivalry as a metaphor for competition among the states.  While my intent is always crystal clear in my mind, I am aware that the rhythmic ramble with which I preach results in an uncanny knack for skewing even the most focused minds.  I thank my Nanna for that talent! 😉

Not long after accepting this position I realized politics boils down to a matter of perception.  In New York, our plight has less to do with the economic importance of General Aviation as much as it does its economic potential.  With the annual economic figures as I previously tossed out, no one really disputes GA’s importance to New York—but—with any tax legislation there is a financial value attributed to revenue generated from a given proposal.  We tend to think of this value in terms of a “price tag”, and the value associated with the AJA is $13.4 Million.  Legislators must then weigh the value of these presumed guaranteed revenues against the economic potential, or opportunity for increased (or decreased) revenues.  In other words, an exemption like this one is really an investment and so becomes a case of getting legislators to “see the forest through the trees.”  AND while we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support our case, the dynamics from upstate to downstate make for a unique challenge gaining support from the Assembly.

Basis for Change: Since 2002, NY has lost approximately 700 income generating aircraft.  Courtesy of our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), we know the average business aircraft generates $1 Million in annual economic activity and 5 jobs.  So where did they all go? I should first point out for those of us who grew up in parts of New England outside of Massachusetts; the Boston Red Sox is considered New England’s baseball team; hence the fan-handle Red Sox Nation.  With the advance of targeted sales tax exemptions throughout Red Sox Nation, many of New York’s aircraft popped-out to airports just over the border.  Why you ask?  It is the generally accepted notion that corporations (as well as individuals) are in business to make money and so the competition of a free market society presents opportunity in the form of reduced expenses.  GA is by its very nature a mobile industry.  Given the simple reality that owner/operators can save hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) basing their aircraft in neighboring states, they did just that.

The net result:If you build it, he will come” – Field of Dreams

Red Sox Nation realized that by creating a competitive financial atmosphere for aircraft, we would not only maintain those aircraft currently based here but pick up additional aircraft, each of which needs to bed-down (hangar/tie-down), purchase fuel, and requires various other services all of which—and most importantly—employs people.  These people earn salaries, their income is taxed and then whatever remains is spent on homes, groceries, entertainment, and so forth.  Over any interval of time, the potential for revenue generating transactions increases exponentially, which is all made possible (in this scenario) because of the economic engines that are state airport systems.

Comparison of Success:  Without breaking into the weeds, New York’s GA industry generates its $4.5billion & 500,000 jobs from its system of 130 public use airports.  Comparatively, the seat of Red Sox nation (Massachusetts) is credited with $4.3billion and 400,000 jobs from only 40 public use airports.  Now while the direct comparison of these states treads on apples and oranges, I am required to remind you that not all aircraft were created equal.  Instead let us consider another viewpoint.  According to the FAA, New York is currently host to 7,455 (based) aircraft at its airports.  Massachusetts, with one-third as many airports, is host to 3,664 aircraft.  The simple law of averages indicates the Red Sox’s have a batting average almost twice that (based on raw numbers alone) of its longtime rival.  So again, it is fair to conclude there is a correlation between the number of based aircraft and the associated success of a state’s aviation industry.

The Yankees are and continue to be a historically successful team, however, (as some fans like to gripe about an unlimited payroll) two-times as many airports offer considerably more economic potential than the neighboring system.  As such, my Red Sox continue to dominate the American East—Aviation—Division.  As we say in sports, there’s always tomorrow so fear not my Yankee friends and colleagues.  The Aviation Jobs Act is alive and well despite the final budget resolution released today (Monday, March 31st).  As the AJA awaits consideration in the Assembly Ways & Means Committee, your industry representatives (AOPA, NBAA, & NYAMA) are hard at work educating lawmakers and changing perceptions.  The opportunity to turn the tide is  ever only one-swing away and no fans know this better than those tuned into the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS between none other than the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Keep GA’s voice strong and join or renew today: