Plane & Pilot
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cessna Skyhawk: Four-Seat Trainer?


When does it make sense to train in a $220,000, four-seater when you could use a $140,000, two-place model instead?


cessnaI have a friend who recently began flight training in a Skyhawk. Pete is one of those future pilots you just know won’t have any problems with the private-pilot course. He knows cars, drives a Porsche, understands things mechanical and doesn’t have any inherent fear of attitudes more complicated than vertical (standing up) and horizontal (lying down).
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cessnaI have a friend who recently began flight training in a Skyhawk. Pete is one of those future pilots you just know won’t have any problems with the private-pilot course. He knows cars, drives a Porsche, understands things mechanical and doesn’t have any inherent fear of attitudes more complicated than vertical (standing up) and horizontal (lying down).

Money isn’t a problem for Pete, but like any successful professional, he didn’t get where he is today by throwing it away. He wants to learn as quickly and efficiently as possible without spending an inordinate amount of money. For Pete and thousands of other pilots, the bottom line is the wet rental rate.

At this writing, Pete has about 20 hours, and he probably has 30 to 40 hours to go before he receives his private ticket. He asked me the other day whether he’d be better served to switch to a two-place single or stay with the larger, more powerful Cessna Skyhawk. (Pete and I are involved in AOPA’s Project Pilot mentor program, so I try to take special care in advising him on things aeronautical.)

Dedicated trainer or basic four-seater? That’s today’s question. It’s a common enigma, if only because the Skyhawk has practically become the trainer of choice in most flight schools since the permanent demise of the Cessna 152.

In Pete’s case, he’s hoping to purchase a Saratoga TC as soon as he’s licensed and insurable. Partially for that reason, I suggested he stay with the slightly heavier, four-seat Hawk until he’s earned the private. Another good reason is that it’s rarely a good idea to switch horses midcurriculum.

One obvious benefit of the Skyhawk, over virtually everything else, is simple availability. With something like 38,000 built so far, there’s a veritable plethora of used 172s available, and they’re perhaps the most popular—i.e., “inexpensive”—one-size-fits-all flight-school airplanes.

Through the lean years of the ’80s and ’90s, Skyhawks were near-perfect candidates for cash-strapped flight schools trying to turn a profit while keeping inventory and payments to a minimum. The type is as talented at training new pilots as it is at transporting more experienced, licensed aviators. That alone imparts an economic viability and flexibility uncommon to other types.

Refine the question to “Which new airplane makes a better trainer?”—especially for a private buyer rather than a flight school—and the answer becomes a little fuzzier. The higher price of admission, more significant insurance considerations and higher operating costs make the buying decision more difficult.




Labels: Piston Singles

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