Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Co-Own A Plane!


With aircraft ownership costs skyrocketing, finding a partner could keep you flying


Co-ownerships can be priced differently, still with many similarities. In Meredith's case, she paid a modest buy-in, pays her share of the fixed costs each month ($160) and then pays for her own fuel. Each member also pays a $30/hour engine reserve fee for future repairs and overhauls. My case is similar, except all of us pay a fixed per-hour cost of $80 that covers fuel, oil, engine fund, etc. Our group has eight equal members so our buy-in was less, though our airplane costs more. You can see that anything is possible, cost-wise.

AOPA did a recent study and posted some cost-of-ownership comparisons on their partnership website http://ap.aopa.org. Based on a brand-new $140,000 LSA, the cost of ownership for one person flying an average of 50 hours per year was $524 per hour after an initial outlay of $24,500. By comparison, owning the same airplane with four equal co-owners cost each member $164 per hour after a buy-in of $6,125. Increasing the airplane's hours flown each year to 75 brought the per-hour cost down to $121. Remember, that's for a brand-new, upper-tier LSA and not some student-hardened veteran sitting in the sun on an FBO's ramp.

Another enormous benefit is the ability to fly an airplane that would normally be out of reach or unavailable. In my case, it means co-owning an aerobatic biplane that's a hoot to fly for less money than I was paying to rent a 35-year old Skyhawk from an FBO. For Jessica Meredith, it means flying a challenging tailwheel aircraft with plenty of capability to urge her along in her piloting experience, for a fraction of the cost of renting.

The Bad
There are few, if any, negatives in co-ownerships. Nightmare scenarios are rare. One of the keys is choosing the right people. "My advice to anybody looking to get into a partnership is to talk first," says Meredith. Like a marriage, owning an aircraft will be a relationship that must withstand good and bad. Interview prospective members and be candid about your requirements and personalities. Decide upfront what type of pilots you're willing to own with, and stick to those requirements.

The biggest barrier to co-ownership for many pilots is availability. However, both in reality and on paper, that shouldn't be of any concern. AOPA's statistics show most pilots who fly recreationally fly between 50-100 hours per year. However, there are 8,766 hours in the year, so there's plenty to go around.

Experience also shows that availability is simply not an issue. There's a partnership at my home airport that flies a Cessna 172 with 10 members. The airplane flies an average of 80 hours per year. In my ownership situation, the airplane had flown only 32 hours the entire year before I joined. Since the group's inception, the aircraft has flown less than 100 hours most years. In Meredith's case, the airplane would sit for months without being flown. AOPA's numbers show a four-owner aircraft flies an average of 200-300 hours annually at best. That equates to 1.75 to 2.5 hours out of every 100 hours during the year.

Getting Started
AOPA has revamped their partnership site, creating what could arguably be called the best co-ownership resource available. It's called the AOPA Aircraft Partnership Program (http://ap.aopa.org), and it's free. You can list yourself as looking for a co-ownership situation, or as an owner looking for partners. It's a great place to start your search.

There's more to the co-ownership idea, with such details as partnership agreements, methods of scheduling, insurance concerns and more, so there's plenty to learn. But those of us who love to fly will find a way to do it. And if cost is a concern (as it is to most of us), then look no further than co-ownership.



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