Most aviators have, at some point in their lives, looked at the cloud-like contrails behind high-flying jets, and ultimately yearned to one day be flying in the flight levels. In the last 10 years, the number of owner-pilots making the transition has increased, but why?
While generally more expensive to purchase or operate, turbine aircraft are more reliable than piston-powered aircraft, and offer significant increases in performance, safety and general peace of mind. TBO times are longer for turbines, which also offer increased payload, range and speed. With the advancements in technology and increased efficiency garnered from new turbine-engine technologies and avionics automation, pilots are finding it easier to make the transition. Subsequently, a new market landscape exists for pilots who have exhausted the operational envelope of their piston-powered aircraft.
For many, the thought of making “the leap” to turbine-powered aircraft may be overwhelming, both financially and operationally. As president and cofounder of jetAVIVA (www.jetAVIVA.com), a company that has helped several hundred owner-pilots make the leap, I’ve compiled the following top 10 tips to help untangle the mystery of making the transition.
1. Join An Owner group
As you make the journey down the path of turbine ownership, owner groups for turbine-powered planes can be a great resource. Most have hundreds of members who participate in annual conventions, online forums, training seminars, safety meetings, technical conferences and social gatherings. The sidebar lists some of the most active groups.
Prospective owners are encouraged to join and interact with current owners and operators, since they’re typically the most effective and valuable salespeople. Sifting through the online message boards also can be a valuable investment, as many of the technical and operational considerations for each of the aircraft types have likely been discussed at length at some point during the groups’ existence. You’ll quickly be able to isolate the subject-matter experts on each aircraft through these organizations. Most, if not all, of the owner groups have at least one annual conference, which are typically held over a three- to four-day period at a five-star resort.
The few hundred dollars that you spend to join these groups will be one of the best investments you can make along your journey to burning kerosene.
2. Make A Budget
Stepping up to a turbine-powered aircraft requires a considerable investment of not only money, but also of time and emotion. While making a budget for emotional expense may be challenging, creating a budget and schedule for making the transition to flying single pilot is a little more quantifiable.
The expense will certainly be affected by the aircraft-type choice, method of training/operation and the specific pedigree and maintenance status of the aircraft purchased. Again, the best source for getting credible cost-of-ownership information will be discussions with current owners of each aircÂraft type.
3. Evaluate Service And Support
When buying a turbine-powered aircraft, understanding reliability, service and support for each aircraft type/manufacturer is a mandatory step in the process of making the leap.
Each manufacturer has pros and cons with regard to service and support. For instance, someone stepping into a Citation Mustang will benefit from a factory-owned and operated service network that supports over 6,000 total Citation jets.
4. Meet With The Factory
Give your local factory representative a call and ask for the dog-and-pony show. In today’s economy, factory representatives will fall over themselves for the opportunity to pitch you on their products. Even if you’re thinking it’s unlikely to buy brand-new, factory representatives will jump at the opportunity to present you with some options. Be open and upfront about your capabilities and range of options.
|Robert Luketic (below right) flies an Embraer Phenom 100 (above). The Hollywood film director and avid pilot stepped up to the light jet from a Cirrus SR22.
5. Be Thoughtful About How You Might Use The Plane
Think long and hard about how you plan to use your first turbine. Will you be flying over mountains or water at night in weather on a regular basis to meet with clients? Will you need all-weather capability? Will you be flying out of hot and high conditions? One of the best tools for understanding how your candidate airplanes stack up against one another is through the use of accurate performance models for most turbine aircraft on www.fltplan.com. You can create a profile for free, and run flight plans to compare and contrast various aircraft with respect to speed, fuel consumption and range performance.
6. Insurance—It’s Not That Bad
There’s a common belief that buying insurance for single-pilot-flown turbine-powered aircraft by owner-pilots is cost prohibitive. That’s just not true. The current landscape of the insurance market for such activities is quite competitive, with approximately 10 underwriters writing policies for owner-pilots of turbine-flown aircraft. Chappell, Smith & Associates (www.aviationinsurance.com) is one firm that has had a lot of success in placing owners of turbine-flown aircraft with acceptable insurance. Another experienced broker is Willis (www.willis.com).
One of the best ways to attain a favorable quote with the underwriters is to be proactive about your training program. Work with your underwriter and mentor to develop a comprehensive training program that you’ll present to underwriters.
7. Do Some Training/Flying In Each Plane
Don’t underestimate the value of getting behind the controls of your prospective aircraft type. There are a few options for acquiring stick time before getting your own airplane:
1) Factory demo. The factory will likely bring an aircraft to you for a free demonstration flight. Take advantage of the opportunity, but keep in mind that factory-demo pilots are paid to make you look good.
2) Get a flight lesson. While doing a demonstration flight with the factory is likely the least expensive option, it isn’t always the best way to see the full range of capabilities and, more importantly, the limitations of the airplanes you’re considering. While renting a high-performance turbine aircraft isn’t as easy as renting a Cessna 172 from your local flight school, there are a few reputable providers. For more, see Tip 9.
8. Get Proficient
Do an honest assessment of your proficiency and comfort with checklist-based operations, procedures-focused flying and instrument proficiency. Knowing that you must perform at the highest level, put the necessary time and work into fully preparing for what may be the greatest accomplishment of your aviation journey: flying a personal jet or turboprop.
If you go down the path of flying a jet versus a turboprop, you’ll be required to complete a type-rating course plus an FAA checkride. Two instrument-flying challenges conspire against pilots when it comes time to train and test for the type rating in a jet: First, most pilots have become accustomed to heavy use of the autopilot, especially at time of high workload. This is, of course, a sound and appropriate practice, but to earn a jet type rating, pilots must demonstrate the ability to hand-fly maneuvers and approaches, and to do so with equipment that has partially failed or while handling a simulated emergency.
|Visit a website like www.controller.com, the largest online marketplace for aircraft, and you’ll quickly find a glut of older (20-plus-year-old) turbine aircraft for sale. Due to the high supply of such aircraft, prices have fallen dramatically, where in some cases, you literally can’t give an airplane away. Why are so many highly capable aircraft coming up for sale? The principal reason: cost of ownership. With fuel prices hitting upward of $7 per gallon in some locations, fuel efficiency is becoming more and more of a factor when people decide to buy and/or keep an airplane. Couple that with the increasing expenses associated with maintaining and operating an aging aircraft, we’re seeing more and more people stepping out of older/larger aircraft into smaller, more efficient ones.
The second challenge is that the type-rating checkride will be conducted to the highest FAA pilot skill standards, the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) practical test standards (PTS). It doesn’t matter if you hold a Private Pilot Certificate or you’re an ATP, your checkride will be to ATP PTS standards. So, the new jet pilot is faced with the challenge of turning off the beloved autopilot and polishing up some little-used instrument skills, all the while learning a new, fast, complex airplane and flying to a higher standard than he or she has ever had to meet. Get serious about your instrument skills as you prepare for the leap. Wean off the autopilot and start hand-flying your airplane to ATP PTS standards before you start the jet-training process, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of an enjoyable experience and a successful outcome.
9. Consider Hiring A Professional To Help
The majority of the population will choose to hire an experienced CPA to do their taxes to avoid costly and painful mistakes. Likewise, when it comes to buying a multimillion-dollar turbine aircraft, an experienced agent can help lead you through the path of least resistance, from helping select the right aircraft at the right price to avoiding costly mistakes in selection and process. The team at my firm, jetAVIVA, includes industry-recognized operational and market experts on just about every model of owner-flown turbine aircraft. Among many benefits, we offer access to a fleet of jets that can be placed in the customers’ disposal for training prior to selection of a specific aircraft type. Be it jetAVIVA or another firm, enlisting the help of an expert can be money well spent.
10. Have Fun
Remember, this process should be fun and exciting. Making the leap to flying a turbine-powered aircraft is likely going to be one of the biggest steps you’ll make in your aviation career. The increase in safety, performance, reliability and technology is just the beginning. The sound and sense of accomplishment associated with hitting the starter button on your own turbine for the first time is a memory few jet pilots ever forget.
Making The Leap
| Allen Wolpert began flying in 1972. In 1991, he acquired a 1984 B36TC Bonanza, followed by a Cessna 425 Conquest twin turboprop in 2001. Currently, he co-owns a 2002 Citation CJ2 and a 2008 Citation CJ2+ with a charter company in Danbury, Conn.
Why did you make “the leap”?
How has your flying mission changedwith the jet?
Meridian (450 in service)
Piper’s Meridian continues to get better and better. Now offered with G1000 avionics, this single-engine turboprop performer has a great panel, too.
TBM 850 (580 in service)
Winner of the single-engine turboprop speed race, the 320-knot aircraft remains on pace for about 30 deliveries per year. The $3.2M aircraft is priced similarly to many of the entry-level light jets, but has slightly better range and a reversible pitch propeller.
Pilatus PC-12 (1,300 in service)
The Big Daddy of them all, the PC-12 can haul eight of your closest friends, motorcycles, Sea-Doos, and just about anything else you can pack into a 52×53-inch cargo door. It takes off on grass, too!
King Air C90GTi (3,100 in service)
With its new makeover, the C90GTi compares well with its light-jet counterparts, and with 270 knots’ cruise and a wider cabin, it’s worth a look for short- to medium-distance missions.
Eclipse 500 (260 in service)
Eclipse Aerospace is now partially owned by Sikorsky, the company that builds military and executive helicopters. The Total Eclipse refurbishment program provides a like-new Eclipse 500 with all available upgrades for $2.15 million.
Citation Mustang (360 in service)
Cessna has now delivered approximately 350 Citation Mustangs, making it the most delivered new-generation entry-level jet. The latest version, the High Sierra Edition, offers updated interior and exterior styling, lots of standard avionics equipment and includes prepaid maintenance for three years.
Embraer Phenom 100 (230 in service)
The Phenom 100 was the most-delivered jet in 2010, and continues to be widely acclaimed by owner-pilots and commercial operators alike.
| Extra 500
Walter Extra, the designer from Germany famous for his unlimited aerobatic machines, is now delivering a single-engine 226-knot turboprop.
Cirrus Vision Jet
Cyrus Sigari is Plane & Pilot’s Turbine Editor and president of jetAVIVA, a light jet sales, delivery and training firm based in Santa Monica, Calif.