Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Buying an aircraft

As mentioned yesterday - I bought a share of an aircraft last October. This post will summarize my thinking and approach.

First and most important, when thinking about whether to start flying it would be a Really Good Idea to answer the question "When I get my license, what am I going to do with it?". The answer really doesn't matter, but it is good to understand that you're going to spend about $10,000 getting the license so there really should be some objectives around how you are going to use it.

In my case, I figured that drilling expensive holes in the local atmosphere would be an occasional interesting activity, but what I really wanted to do was to go places.

One can always rent an aircraft - and if you don't fly too often (10-20-30 hours per year) then this is the least expensive option. It is also the least complicated, since (as part of your rental cost) you're paying the club or the company to worry about maintenance, upgrades, administration etc. However, renting gets more expensive quickly as the hours increase, the aircraft will be safe but they will also be somewhat battered, different aircraft will be configured differently. And if you go on an overnight trip, there is often a minimum per-day charge (which addresses the lost opportunity to the club of not having the aircraft available to rent to others).

And so I explored owning a share of an aircraft. My wife and I attended the Ownership Forum, as run by the Rockcliffe Flying Club. RFC gets an income stream from fuel sales and from parking at the airfield, as well as ensuring that the rental fleet does not become either too large or over-taxed, so they like to see their graduates move towards ownership.

Owning an aircraft can be Damn Expensive - and at my level of income and annual flying, owning an aircraft myself is an expensive proposition. Generally, when you sell the aircraft you will more or less get your purchase price back - but the annual costs will be borne by yourself only.

I elected to look for shared ownership, preferably located at Rockcliffe since I like the camaraderie. Shared ownership means I will pay only a portion of the capital costs (the airplane and equipment), the annual costs (annual inspection, parking space, insurance, COPA membership, etc), calendar costs (annual ELT certification, 5-year propeller rebuild, etc), and equipment upgrades (better radio, paint job, etc). There will be several hands to share the workload (cutting the grass, washing the airplane, doing the finances, ...). The operational costs (per-hour, including fuel, oil, etc) would be the same whether I owned the aircraft solely, or was in a shared ownership arrangement.

The downside of a shared arrangement is that other people are involved (that takes effort to manage, I have a responsibility to cooperate, but you "inherit" the existing members of the partnership). And since you have to share the airplane, you have to expect that it will sometimes not be available when you want it.

The last factor was timing - there are hundreds of airplanes available for sale at any one time, so I could have my choice of airplane at whatever time I wanted at pretty much any desired level of equipment. But there are a limited number of partnership groups, and they are further filtered by the type and configuration of the aircraft they own.

Fortunately, there is a group at Rockcliffe which met all my needs....