My airplane is in for annual. It’s my first annual with it. A new plane (new to me), a new shop, and a history that I’m only getting to know bit by bit. I was texting with a friend the other day whose airplane is also in for annual. He said his thoughts and prayers were with me. He was joking of course, but I returned the wish. There was more than a little truth to the joke.
We often talk about an airplane being a big purchase, and it is. For many airplane owners it’s the biggest purchase we’ll ever make outside of a house. For some of us, it can be even bigger than that. My plane cost a lot less than my house, but it’s still got a hold on my wallet and my emotions. There’s nothing, in fact, in my life that generates as much financial anxiety as my old Cessna. Don’t get me wrong. A house can be a total pain in the foundation. In the best of times, they require a lot of TLC. In the worst of times, they require big outlays of cash. That said, there are two things about airplanes that elicit dread in ways my house doesn’t.
If my house were to have something really wrong with it—let’s say the foundation needed a lot of unexpected work, that cost would be something that would represent maybe one-twentieth of the value of the structure. And that would be for a big job, not the most expensive imaginable but big.
With my airplane, I wish that were the case. My 53-year-old airplane is way more susceptible to economically horrific maintenance events than my abode. And I worry about these things. Let’s say, for instance, that my engine breaks and needs to be overhauled or swapped out. In my airplane that would be a $25,000 bill. That represents not one twentieth of the value of the thing but very nearly half its value. Add the prop to that and you’re pushing the entire value in a single maintenance event.
Another friend who has an old Cessna too has paid more than $10,000 for annuals each of the last three years. That’s not the value of their airplane…but it’s not far from it. Are they better off now that it’s gotten all that work done to it? Sure are. But they would have been WAY better off if none of it had been needed doing in the first place.
What would I do if it were determined that my plane needed that kind of work done to it? That’s where the anxiety comes in. What would I do? I’d pay for it, of course. I’d pay for it if it were easy and I pay for it if it were hard. Is there a limit to how much I’d put into it before I put it out to pasture? Yes. Any owner who answers no to that question is fooling themselves. The only thing we don’t know is how large a figure that would be before we’d decline to write the check.
Up until that point, we await fate’s verdict, knowing that the bill is coming. It might be today or it might be next year, but it’s coming. For those who don’t have the nerve for such high wire financial uncertainty, I’d advise renting. I did it for years and never once worried about what would happen if that old bird needed a new engine.
And I never once went to sleep dreaming about one of those rental planes either.