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Buying an Airplane: Reducing the Cost of Ownership

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For many, purchasing an airplane is thought to be an unattainable dream. Aircraft ownership can become a reality, though, if you do some research and find creative ways to make the cost manageable.

1. Co-Ownership

By far, the biggest cost savings in aircraft ownership come from co-ownership. Co-ownership involves splitting all direct costs and operating costs equally between one or more co-owner. Having just one person to share ownership with will reduce the ownership cost by 50 percent.

Co-ownership can be done with as many people as desired, but a typical co-ownership agreement consists of two to four people.

There are definite advantages to co-ownership besides just the initial cost of the loan. For instance, a second owner would be responsible for paying half of all fixed costs, such as the hangar fee, maintenance fees and their own insurance. Another benefit is that the airplane will be flown more frequently, which is good for the overall condition of the engine.

Co-ownership isn't as popular as other ownership options, though, because it comes with real challenges. When problems arise there is no clear authority on solving them. If one owner thinks another should pay more for maintenance based on their high usage, for example, and the other person does not agree, who decides how to proceed? Owning with other people can be a risky financial endeavor, as well. If one owner decides not to pay the loan, the bank can repossess the airplane, even if the others are paying their share. In a co-ownership, each person is liable for the entire aircraft cost.

2. Leaseback Agreement

Leasebacks are common at airports with flight schools looking to lease airplanes. If you don’t fly often, or otherwise aren't sure if you can afford sole ownership, the a leaseback agreement might make sense.

In a leaseback situation, you agree to let a flight school or other entity lease your airplane from you. They save because they don’t have to make a large down payment to purchase an airplane, and you save because your airplane flies more. The flight school gets to use it as part of their regular fleet, and you pencil yourself into their schedule as you desire.

The advantage for an aircraft owner is that instead of your airplane just sitting there when you aren’t using it (most of the time, for an average owner), it will fly much more often. The flight school charges a rental rate and you’ll get a percentage of it to offset the cost of additional maintenance.

Of course, there are disadvantages: As the owner, you’ll still pay the bills, including maintenance fees, oil and hangar rental. And with so many other people renting your airplane, you can expect wear and tear, both inside and out. Student pilots and renters won’t baby your airplane the way you do, so you can expect to spend more on refurbishments, cleaning and maintenance in general.

Many pilots don’t like to give up control of their airplane to a flight school. Many leaseback contracts stipulate that the flight school chooses the maintenance shop that will do the work, and they get to choose the schedule. A leaseback agreement should thoroughly reviewed beforehand to make sure both the owner and operator are in agreement with all of the details.

See an example of an Aircraft Leaseback Contract

3. Small Savings Add Up

There are other secrets to reducing the cost of aircraft ownership, like manipulating insurance rates and finding the best deal on fuel. Little by little, you can find ways to reduce your ownership costs even more.

  • Reduce the cost of insurance:
    Obtaining an instrument rating and using a hangar will reduce the cost of insurance, according to aircraft-insurance.com, . Participating in the FAA Wings Program or another specific training program might get you a discount with the insurance company. And of course, the more time you have in the specific make and model of airplane you’re buying, the better. Pilots with little or no time in an aircraft they want to purchase will pay a lot for insurance.

  • Find Cheap Fuel:
    Some pilots insist that getting fuel off-airport saves them a lot of money. It’s something to look into. Yes, it’s easier to just fill up at your home airport, but if the airport next door has much cheaper fuel, it might be wise to make an additional stop to fill up where the gas is cheap.

  • Smart Maintenance:

    Maintenance is another area where money can be saved. Of course, you never want to cut corners when it comes to maintenance, but there are things you can do to lessen the financial burden.

    Take care of your airplane from the beginning. Get to know it inside and out. Perhaps you can even take on some of the pilot-authorized preventative maintenance tasks like changing tires and cleaning spark plugs.

    Find a maintenance shop you can trust. You aren't required to use the maintenance shop at your home airport. Shop around and ask around until you find someone you’re comfortable with. When repairs are needed, order your own parts online to avoid the markup that some maintenance facilities add. Be involved in the process so that you know exactly what is going on with your airplane.

  • Get Discounts:
    Lastly, always be on the look-out for discounts. Some FBOs will offer you a substantial discount if you utilize multiple services, such as hangar rental, fuel and service. Professional organizations may provide discounts to members for various things like insurance, hangar rental or aircraft accessories.
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