The Renter’s Code

Don’t you just hate it when you show up to fly your rental airplane, and it’s not there? Or you’ve loaded the airplane for your trip, only to find the last renter left the master switch on and the battery’s dead? How about when you show up to find the airplane loaded with garbage … or you have to play ‘find the incorrectly set enunciator panel switch’?

Few private pilots have the luxury of owning their own airplane. Most of us have to share airplanes with others, or rent them from an FBO, and frankly, very few of us like the experience. The economic necessity of flying rental or club airplanes would be a whole lot easier to swallow if instances like the above were the exception, not the rule.

Maybe we all need to dedicate ourselves to following a “Rental Pilot’s Code of Ethics,” so we all get the maximum enjoyment out of flying. Our code might include:

  1. Always treat the airplane like it’s your own. Don’t cut corners or leave things out of place just because “it’s the FBO’s airplane.” No matter what you do, treat the airplane with respect. The aircraft deserves it. The owners deserve it and your fellow renter-pilots deserve it, too.
  2. Fly the airplane according to the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH). There’s a tendency to abuse an engine, lean the mixture too aggressively, extend the flaps or landing gear at too great a speed, or otherwise violate good operating practice — because you won’t have to pay for the result. Remember, you may need to rent airplanes for a long, long time. Tranlsation: Treat this one with respect (see #1 above) to ensure it’ll last long enough for you to fly it for years.
  3. Use the airplane for approved purposes only. Violating the rules of operation (i.e. using a rental airplane for commercial purposes, like aerial photography or instruction, when it’s not approved — or landing on a private airstrip) may invalidate the FBO’s insurance … even if it is legal.
  4. Use checklists. Even if you fly a lot, or fly a number of different airplanes, always use checklists. They will help you prevent a “missed item” from hurting someone or damaging the airplane.
  5. Properly secure the airplane when away from home. If it’s hangared at home, hangar it away from home — at your own expense. If possible, put it inside if severe weather threatens, regardless of how it’s stored at home base. Aviators form a tight community and asking for hangar space when confronted with severe weather can turn up a surprising amount of assistance. Install gust locks if the airplane will be outside.
  6. Make every effort to get the airplane back on schedule — even if it means cutting your own trip short to get back ahead of weather. However, do not push your own limits or the airplane’s capabilities to try to get back. A good FBO will encourage you to delay if the weather worsens unexpectedly or if the airplane has a mechanical problem.
  7. If you’re NOT going to get back on schedule, tell the FBO as soon as you know. The FBO will be able to tell the next pilot when the airplane is due back, why it’s delayed and when it’s expected home. The next pilot can then decide to make alternate plans.
  8. Call the FBO before authorizing any off-site maintenance. As operator of the airplane, the FBO should have a say in repairs. Get their approval before getting anything fixed off the home airfield. Do not let a questionable FBO talk you into flying an unairworthy airplane home. However, if you’re not comfortable with the FBO’s decision, tell them so, and why. They have responsibility to authorize repairs, but you have responsibility to fly the airplane. If they leave you stranded, you should leave the airplane.
  9. If you have to leave the airplane behind, arrange to get it back home as soon as possible. Barring a disagreement about repairing airworthiness items, if weather or other reasons require you to abandon the airplane off-site, you’re still financially responsible for getting it back as soon as practical. If you can’t go back to it yourself, pay a CFI to retrieve it — they’ll thank you for the cross-country time!
  10. Use a “ turn-in” checklist. After you land at the home field, give the airplane another walk-around inspection. Record and verbally report any squawks, so they can be fixed now, before the next pilot flies it. Fill the fuel tanks, unless local procedure dictates otherwise. Use the airplane’s securing checklist to make sure you remember to raise flaps, open cowl flaps, put fuel selectors where they belong, install gust locks, and turn off all electrical switches. Clean the windows, wipe oil and bugs off the airplane, and clean trash from the interior. Leave the airplane in better condition than it was when you picked it up.
  11. Offer to wash the airplane every now and then. Everyone likes to arrive in a clean airplane. Bonus: You might even negotiate some free flight time for your effort, but simply asking to help might also prompt the FBO to wash it themselves.
  12. Gladly accept the FBO’s checkout requirements and restrictions for use of the airplane. Remember, they’re entrusting you, someone they hardly know, with a five- or six-figure investment and have no control over what you do with it. They’re betting their licenses, futures, and in many cases their entire livelihood, on your ability as a pilot. Respect their wishes for use of the airplane.

BOTTOM LINE: Economics may dictate that most of us rent airplanes for much — or all — of our flying careers. Make the best of it by sticking with a “Rental Pilot’s Code of Ethics” which improves things for all of us. Just think, if every rental pilot followed these guidelines, we’d all have a much-improved experience in rental airplanes.