Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Buy To Fly

Rent versus own: What’s best for you?

Hello, can I schedule a lesson for Friday afternoon? No? You don’t have an airplane available? How about Saturday? Okay, then how about Sunday? Alright, so exactly when do you have an airplane available for me to take my next lesson?”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Too often, that’s the soundtrack of traditional flight training: You’ve wanted to learn to fly for years and finally have the money to jump into it, but you find you’re dancing to the tune of the flight school’s schedule, not the one that fits yours. Is there an alternative? Some folks think so: They bypass the often-tired rental aircraft and buy one of their own. Then they hire an instructor, sometimes from the local flight school, and then have their own private flight training operation that matches their schedule. However, other than allowing the student to dictate the schedule, do the numbers really work out, and are there other advantages and disadvantages to the concept of owning to learn?

Nothing is perfect and, in exchange for a much looser schedule, the owner/student becomes the captain of their own ship and must take over not only the financial aspects of ownership, but the care and feeding of their new steed, as well. This includes many factors that are totally invisible when going the rental route. As a renter/student, all of the background support expenses are buried in the per-hour cost. A nonowning student isn’t thinking about finding hangar space (often a major ownership obstacle with costs of $200-$500/month), developing a relationship with a trustworthy mechanic or shop to keep their bird healthy ($2,000/year average for annual, plus $200/month for miscellaneous maintenance), or tracking down the best deal in insurance ($1,500-$4,000/year or more depending on airplane). The “normal” student walks in assuming the airplane is ready to go, blissfully unaware of all that has been accomplished to make that aircraft available for them.

One thing that should be mentioned concerning the finances: If a used airplane is bought, used for training, then sold, the acquisition cost of the airplane is almost always completely returned. The costs of learning are then limited to those involved in supporting the airplane during training. Unfortunately, you then don’t have an airplane to fly after you learn. A hard decision!

Owning to fly isn’t for everyone. There’s a carefree convenience attached to renting and being able to concentrate 100% on learning to fly and not giving the airplane a thought once you’ve climbed out of it. However, to certain individuals, owning and caring for an airplane include pluses not available with rental aircraft.

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