Creative Aircraft Ownership
By Terri Sipantzi
I think fixed-wing pilots have become a lot more creative about owning aircraft than ultralight and light-sport pilots. They’ve needed to because general aviation aircraft have been incredibly expensive for a very long time. But ultralights had been relatively affordable once, inviting individual ownership. When my wife and I first got into ultralight aviation, we had “his and her” trikes – nice.
Unfortunately those days are over. First the economy continues to struggle, hurting all of us. Then the light-sport rule has made aircraft more expensive because of all the overhead associated with meeting government regulation (and the government is convinced that more regulations are required, which will add to aircraft costs). Add to that the decline of the dollar (most light-sport aircraft are made overseas), and the cost factor gets even worse. So if you dream of owning a trike or powered parachute (PPC), how do you make that happen without breaking the bank? Here are some suggestions borrowed from the fixed-wing world along with some ideas of my own.
Individual Ownership Options
First of all, take another look at two-stroke aircraft. In the six years I’ve been selling trikes, over 90 percent of my sales are four-stroke aircraft. Obviously I love it when I make a four-stroke sale, but when I hear people complain about how expensive flying has become I wonder why they won’t look at the two-strokes. For all but the last two years of the ultralight days, two-strokes were the only engines available. The Rotax 2-strokes have developed a well-earned reputation for reliability, provided that owners didn’t start tweaking them; Rotax has already tweaked them, so owners should leave them alone. And a two-stroke is at least $10,000 less than a comparatively equipped four-stroke. While I prefer a four-stroke over a two-stroke, if the only way I could fly was to buy the latter, I’d be flying a two-stroke.
Look at Part 103 aircraft. Right now I only know of two manufacturers that are making Part 103 ultralights, but I think that’s going to change. Part 103 aircraft are absolutely the most affordable aircraft to fly and maintain. While you would be a fool to fly them without training, the amount of training is significantly reduced and the aircraft isn’t overregulated by the FAA, saving you money. You can maintain the aircraft yourself, saving even more money. Hopefully I’ll have some good news about Part 103 models from Airborne this year.
If you have your heart set on a four-stroke and can afford it, the good news is that, while prices have gone up, so have the hours between time before overhaul (TBO). All-new four-stroke aircraft now come with 2,000-hour, 15-year TBOs versus 1,500 hours and 10 years. That means you’re getting 25 percent more life out of the engine for your money – a pretty significant offset to the higher cost of today’s aircraft.
Multiple-person ownership of airplanes is very common. A significant number of the small planes at my airport are owned by two or more people. (Most that I know of are owned by four.) Another common ownership model is club ownership where every member of the club owns a piece of the plane. The one I know of here at home is a 10-person club with each member owning a tenth of the plane. But in the six years I’ve been selling trikes, I’ve only sold one partner-owned plane.
Partner or club ownership can really open up aviation to the average aviation enthusiast. You do the math. If there are two of you, the cost of the airplanes (initial purchase, maintenance, hanger, etc.) just got divided in half. If two or more of you are sharing the cost, you can get an awfully nice plane for the price of an entry-level model.
How do you find others interested in ownership? Now this is a good question. I have a few ideas.
Search for any aviation-related clubs in your area. If you find any, then talk to the club members and let them know that you’re interested in co-owning a light-sport aircraft with someone else. They may know of someone else that is interested and/or let others know that you’re interested.
Get in touch with light-sport aircraft dealers, and let them know you would like to explore co-ownership. I keep a database organized by model and location of folks interested in trikes, so I can at least put you in touch with others in your area who are also interested and put your name on the list. I suspect other dealers have similar lists. A good place to look for dealers (and instructors) is to go to either www.ByDanJohnson.com or www.SportPilot.org.
Get in touch with sport pilot flight instructors. They may be able to put you in contact with other students in your area who you could talk to. See my article “Finding a Sport Pilot Instructor” for tips on seeking these rare birds.
Another way to get into shared ownership is to make the initial investment yourself and then advertise “shares for sale” at local airports, trade publications, and websites such as www.Barnstormers.com.
Aviation has always been a pursuit that requires diligence and creativity. For those of you who really want to fly your own plane but just can’t see your way to buying one, some of the above ideas might be the difference between flying and being grounded.
Terri Sipantzi is the owner/operator of Precision Windsports Inc., a full-service weight-shift light-sport aircraft dealer based in Lynchburg, Virginia, and specializing in Airborne trikes. Terri’s qualifications include commercial/instrument single-engine land, sport pilot certificated flight instructor weight-shift control (WSC), FAA designated pilot and instructor examiner WSC, light-sport repairman with maintenance rating (airplane, WSC, and PPC), and FAA designated airworthiness representative WSC. He’s a frequent contributor to EAA Sport Aviation magazine.