Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting Creative: 10 Ways To Fly For Less

Flying doesn’t have to leave your wallet empty

7. Leaseback
The leaseback idea is simple: A typical owner-flown airplane flies less than 100 hours per year, and thus the fixed costs of ownership are insanely high. In a leaseback, you allow an FBO, charter operator or flight school to rent out your personally owned airplane. In return, they do the maintenance and repairs, clean the airplane, and handle the scheduling. The owner gets tax breaks and gets to offset the high cost of ownership through the leaseback operator, via having the airplane flown well over those 100 hours.

Marc Lee has a five-way partnership in this classic Great Lakes biplane. Partnerships allow pilots to fly at a fraction of what it would cost them as sole owners.
Airshares Elite is a company specializing in Cirrus aircraft, including fractional ownership and leaseback. The program for leaseback owners places airplanes in a "low-impact" environment (read "gentle use") with highly trained pilots. With a fleet of aircraft nationwide, Airshares Elite gives leaseback owners increased access to their or other airplanes since, even while their plane is out earning revenue, owners can fly other similar airplanes in cities around the country. The company maintains the leaseback aircraft, and represents an advanced approach to leaseback.
Some things to consider in leaseback arrangements include true costs, insurance, finding the right FBO, cash-flow projections, tax implications and contract negotiation.

Leasebacks allow FBOs to offer nicer, higher-performance aircraft without
the financial outlay of an outright purchase. Owners get to have an airplane at their disposal for less money each month (and theoretically let the airplane earn them a profit). Leasebacks should be researched, and AOPA offers a great primer for members at

8. Owner-Assisted Maintenance
Helping your mechanic swing the wrenches is a big money saver. Most maintenance facilities and independent mechanics will give a discount for owner-assisted maintenance. Things like 100-hour inspections and annuals are perfect opportunities for owners to get more involved with their airplane. My partners and I discovered we could shave nearly $1,000 off our annuals by doing all the basic work ourselves. This includes removing (and later replacing) all the inspection panels, cleaning and greasing the wheel bearings, servicing struts, replacing light bulbs, cleaning spark plugs and even doing all the oil changes (with a mechanic inspecting). We save a bundle, and it's a fantastic way to get intimate with the aircraft.

9. Fractional Ownership
Fractional ownership is different from partnerships and flying clubs in that you own "shares" in an aircraft (usually an expensive aircraft, but not always). It's geared toward business aviation, and includes some form of "aircraft management" service. Typically, a fractional ownership starts at a minimum 1⁄16 share of an aircraft, and includes some specific number of hours of use (starting usually at 50 hours per year). Owners pay a fraction of the original price of the aircraft, a usage fee per hour and a management fee.

Lately, a company called has begun offering "cooperative" ownership in small piston aircraft (for example, a Cessna 162 Skycatcher) for affordable prices (the Skycatcher will require an initial investment of $2,900, a monthly investment of $307 per month and an hourly fee of $38.00 per hour). Combining the best of partnerships and flying clubs, it's an idea worth looking into.
Although flying may never be considered cheap,
it can still be affordable for those with
the passion to seek it out.
10. Small Changes Add Up
There are minor things that, when done together, add up to considerable savings. Changing exterior aircraft lights to the new-generation LEDs saves money in the long run. LEDs last up to 60,000 hours and pay for themselves in a few years. They also run cooler and take less current. Using vinyl graphics instead of new paint will save you thousands. If you have the space, sharing your hangar with another owner makes great dollar sense.

Some owners have installed lifts in their hangar to accommodate a second airplane—an idea that pays for itself quickly. And what about consistently flying at higher altitudes to enable greater fuel economy? There are many simple ideas that yield big results.

While flying is never really going to be "cheap," there are things we can do to make it less extravagant. From partnerships to trading, creativity and ingenuity (and patience) are key skills. For students, there even still exists the time-honored practice of working at an FBO in exchange for flying time, or washing airplanes for instruction. There are pilots out there doing things like this every day. Get creative, get your hands dirty and start thinking. You'll be amazed at what you can come up with if you really try.


Add Comment