Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 26, 2013


If flying yourself in an exotic, far-off land seems unaffordable, perhaps an airplane exchange could make that dream happen.

Almost exactly a year later, we were again bound for Australia, this time drawn by a couple of professional meetings in tropical Queensland. The second of those conferences was in Cairns, only 100 nm from where the Queensland crop duster that had responded to our mass mailing is based. We took this coincidence as a sign that it was time for a return to Aussie airspace and got an encouraging invitation from Don and his wife Bobbie to take their Arrow II on a week-long jaunt around their very big state (it measures 1,300 miles from north to south).

Don had worked hard to lower my expectations of VH-DWG, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a well-preserved and freshly painted Arrow II, albeit with pretty rudimentary avionics. How rudimentary? Don had just the previous week installed a single VHF COM.

Armed again with our trusty iPad, we headed off inland reaching as far north as Thursday Island in the Torres Straight, the narrow body of water that separates Australia from New Guinea. We had a fun time wandering through the aboriginal settlement and yakking with the local pearl and crayfish divers.

Then we flew south along the coast, taking in the vastness of the Great Barrier Reef, stopping in Cooktown—the site where Captain Cook beached H.M.S. Endeavor in 1770 after it was seriously damaged on the nearby reef. After a low- level flyover of the astonishing Daintree rainforest and Atherton Tablelands next day, we returned to the coast, eventually making it as far south as the Whitsunday Islands before turning back.

Swap Success
Perhaps the best surprise from these flying exchanges has been how much we've enjoyed getting to know our new friends. In hindsight, it should have been obvious that bringing together aviation nuts with a love of Piper retractables would almost certainly lead to friendship.

Add to that the droll wit of the rural Aussie, and you've got the makings of good mates for life. Wayne and Faye made it to Los Angeles and after spending three months touring in an RV, they toured the Grand Canyon and Sedona area in our Arrow. We haven't yet reciprocated Don and Bobbie's generosity, but he's talking about flying our Arrow up to the Reno Air Races next year.

Social benefits aside, let's consider the simple economics of plane swapping. Assuming that each party eventually flies an equal number of hours, the cost of flying an Arrow in Australia drops from $300/hour to the price of avgas (about $75/hour). Each additional hour on my engine is exactly compensated for by the time I spend enjoying the Aussie countryside from the air and there's no additional insurance cost. So that 7,000-mile circumnavigation of Australia drops to about $3,000 in fuel.

In essence, every moment your airplane sits unused represents an asset you could leverage to trim 75 cents on the dollar off an overseas caper. And why does it have to be overseas? Why don't we routinely exchange airplanes across the two coasts of North America and points in between?

Mark Harrison is a 1,000-plus-hour pilot based at Santa Monica Airport. He holds private and commercial certificates with instrument and multi-engine ratings.


Add Comment