It’s not always easy to get into an advanced / well equipped airplane when your experience is minimal, but there are ways within your power. Often, if we’re going to require retractable gear (or especially multiengine) airplanes for our edification or our career aspirations, we’ll have to go to the major aviation schools and log much or all of our time with one of their instructors. But that’s not the only way, and after already having spent thousands on flight training, that’s a pricey way.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks to buy your own airplane, though. There are a few ways of flying faster or better equipped airplanes than those commonly available for rent — and there are certainly some ways to reduce the costs of faster, more capable aircraft:
- New, “old” airplanes. If equipment or airframe time is more important than sheer speed, you might find what you want in a new-production (since it resumed in the late 1990s) Cessna 172. Expect to pay no less than $90 per flight hour, depending on your location and the FBO’s overhead. For $120 – $150 per hour you might find a new-production Cessna 182 Skylane… and cruise at 135 – 140 knots with four persons aboard.
- New, “new” airplanes. Want avionics Space Shuttle pilots envy, in a fixed-gear single capable of piston-twin speeds? New designs like the Cirrus SR20, SR22, and the Columbia 300 provide you with this. (Notice I didn’t say “give” — the SR20 a hundred miles from my home rents for $150 per hour.) These new airplanes are far less expensive to maintain than older retractable-gear airplanes and twins, and negate the possibility of a gear-up landing mishap, and may find a niche in the high-end rental market. Figure on a lot of transition time to get used to the aircraft — even if that applies mostly to the unconventional cockpit layouts, and advanced avionics.
- Clubs. An age-old way to reduce the costs of airplane ownership is a flying club. For an entry fee and a (usually monthly) payment, you can get reduced hourly rental rates on a higher-performance airplane. For instance, a club in my area offers a new-production Cessna 172. The initial entry fee is $400, it costs $100 per month to remain a member, and the rental fee is $70 per flight hour. You might even find (or organize) a club with a retractable-gear airplane — but expect a corresponding price increase. Clubs often make financial sense if you fly more than five hours or so every month.
Insider’s Tip: Clubs usually offer another big plus — the cost of flying rentals cross-country is reduced drastically, and the aircraft’s utility is greatly increased. This is because the overnight fee for “lost business” charged by most FBOs when the airplane is away from home usually does not exist for a club member. A typical FBO overnight fee is the equivalent of three hours’ worth of rental for every 24 hours the airplane is away from home base.
- Partnerships. The next step up, often seen with retractable-gear and multiengine airplanes, is co-ownership, or an airplane partnership. Costs depend entirely on the type of airplane your group buys, how well it’s equipped, how often (and well) it is flown, and the maintenance state of the airplane at purchase and during your ownership. Airplane partnership can be very rewarding, but it sometimes turns very sour if one or more partners find disagreement with the group, are uncooperative on scheduling, or veto that modification or additional equipment you just have to have. See the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s web site for information about organizing aircraft partnerships, and a sample partnership agreement.
- Fractional Ownership. Fractional, or shared ownership, is a super-partnership, or an airplane club on steroids. Buying into a “fractional” is like buying a time-share condominium. You’re buying into a large association often owning several airplanes, so (in theory) you won’t ever have a scheduling conflict with other owners — you take whichever airplane is available. Fractionals aren’t cheap (usually costing tens of thousands down and a thousand or more a month, with high hourly rental rates), but they’re cheaper than trying to buy one of the high-end airplanes by yourself. Fractionals usually provide other amenities as well, like air chart services, headsets, meeting rooms, aircraft care and other niceties for the well-heeled renter. One example of a successful lightplane fractional ownership program is outlined at www.airshareselite.com.
BOTTOM LINE: Many of us are forced to rent — not own — airplanes, and it’s the uncommon rental that’s low-time, well equipped or flies much faster than the airplane in which you first soloed. The economics of advanced airplane ownership make it unlikely we’ll see a big influx of these aircraft into the rental airplane fleet, but there are some strategies that will get you into one. Most of these options will cost you more money than renting an average trainer, but they’ll provide you with more, too.