by Dr. Anna Serbinenko
Let’s talk money for a moment. I observe several dozen fresh pilot license holders every year, many of which go the similar path: “got driver’s license, bought a car, got pilot license, have to buy a plane now”. But you also might have heard a saying that there are only two happy days in airplane (or boat, actually) ownership – the day you buy it and the day you sell it. So let’s look at our options.
I base my analysis on current Vancouver prices. Your local numbers might be different, but the ideas remain the same.
Buying Your Own Airplane
There are some advantages in having your own wings. You get the freedom without strings attached – almost.
- You do not report to your flying school or club anymore
- You don’t need to fit with everyone else’s schedule
- It’s especially convenient if you live in a remote location with a nearby airstrip, but no rental aircraft available
- No need to have airplane in maintenance every 50-100 hours, and depending on category, you are even allowed to do some maintenance work on it yourself
- It just sounds so cool in a bar when you mention you own your private airplane!
- All cost is yours too. If you fly or not, put aside $4000 for insurance (if you are lucky – fresh pilots often pay much higher premium), $3000 annual maintenance, $3000 miscellaneous repairs, $2000 parking (if you are lucky to find a spot at all). Financing cost depend on your financial arrangements and may become an issue too.
- Any maintenance and operations issues are fully yours too. Deicing fluid in winter or a tug to tow you off the runway after a flat tire landing will cost you dearly. What the school or club used to fully take care for you, now is completely your own headache.
- Oh yes – you have to buy fuel too! $#&.%@ per gallon!
- By the way, being a pilot does not make you a mechanic. Depending on your aircraft, you may be allowed to do your own maintenance, but can you really do it safely?
- You lose your safety net. No-one is checking the weather with you, double checking the plane, making sure you are back on time, verifying your procedures and goes up with you regularly for a check ride. For a new pilot, it can be too much to handle. The most dangerous is that you would not even know what you are missing!
- And – she is jealous! Many pilots tell themselves that they can always go and rent other planes if they feel like it. Sounds familiar? I don’t see many of those. Once you have an X type of plane, you become the X type of pilot. No big family upgrades, tailwheel modifications, aerobatic downsizes or twin endorsement anymore – it all goes against your idea owning your Cessna 172 that you now have to justify by flying it as much as possible
Pretty much all pros and cons of owning the aircraft are the opposite of pros and cons of renting one. It allows you to carefree go flying when you feel like it, and forget about it when something else more important comes up. Moneywise, my calculation came to about 200 hours per year break-even point owning an airplane and renting it. If you expect to fly less than 200 hours in a year, it is cheaper for you to rent it. If it’s more than 200 hours, it may be cheaper to own.
However, what’s the price of having choices and picking from half a dozen different types of planes and even match the color of the plane to your handbag? What’s the price of the freedom of doing all sorts of training any time or the safety net of someone always watching out for your safety?
There’s a “semi-happy” medium between always renting and fully owning an airplane. It’s fractional ownership. Models vary from half-owners to groups of couple dozen people. You get the advantage of less rigid structure, share overhead cost like insurance and parking, and pay direct cost, i.e. mostly fuel for the hours you fly. Often works beautifully until three partners decide to take their families on vacation with the plane at the same time, some want to spend money on the plane and upgrade avionics, or someone does un-insured damage to aircraft, whose repair has to be paid from the owners’ pockets. These arrangements can also be hard to get out of, if you decide not to continue with it.
So what to do? Only you can answer! Define your needs and wants, and do your math. One thing is sure on today’s market is that it is easier to buy a plane than to sell it. So take your time!
About the author. Anna Serbinenko is class 1 airplane and class 1 aerobatic instructor, and an airshow performer. Anna teaches flying in her school Canadian Flight Centre that was established in 1979. The school prides itself in training “from tailwheel to turbine”, and its graduates leave for their jobs with a variety of training on 10 different types of planes in their logbook. Read more on www.annaserbinenko.com and www.cfc.aero.