January 1, 2011
I signed off the e-mail by writing, “I have never regretted buying a Bonanza. It’s been a joy to own.” The comments were in response to a member’s question about Bonanzas. His wife is the pilot, although he says he plans to get his certificate soon. They were debating between a Bonanza and a Columbia 300. Knowing of my long ownership of a Bonanza, he was looking for insights.
The e-mail arrived in my inbox a few days after I returned from AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, California. There I presented a forum titled, “Buying Your First Airplane.” The 100 or so people in the room had numerous questions after the hour-long presentation. How refreshing to see such enthusiasm among pilots considering the purchase of an airplane.
During the presentation I like to talk about the emotional side of aircraft ownership. Too often people only focus on the ledger—variable and fixed costs; financing; insurance; taxes; and building reserve funds for avionics, engine, and airframe updates. Important considerations when buying an airplane, but unless the emotional side of ownership is also acknowledged, buyers can be turned off by the process and by the promise of years of monthly payments.
The truth is that few of us can financially justify aircraft ownership, and even fewer of us can justify whole-aircraft ownership. Heresy, I know. But weave the emotional rewards of ownership into the equation, and the financial cost diminishes. Who feels obligated to justify the cost of their boat, beach house, or motor home? People buy those things because they derive pleasure from owning and using them. I’ve never owned any of those things—probably because aircraft ownership sucks up all the disposable income that might otherwise fund a boat, beach house, or motor home. (I do have a weird fascination with motor homes, but I have no idea how we could possibly weave ownership into our lifestyle and certainly not into the budget.)
I often remind people that owning an airplane is like owning a second home—both from a cost standpoint and from a commitment standpoint. Like the second home, the airplane demands attention, maintenance, and TLC. I know people who own second homes, and I often wonder how much joy they actually get from them.
A second home can be a welcome retreat, but an airplane can take you to any number of welcome retreats—on or off the beaten path. We use our airplane to explore all sorts of places in the East—places that can’t be considered for long weekends by those without access to an airplane. From here in Maryland, the remoteness of a small strip in the New York Finger Lakes region is 90 minutes away by airplane or many hours in a car. Need a shopping fix? Manhattan is just a brief cab ride from Teterboro Airport after an hour flight—or you can drive four hours in traffic each way. Boston? We’ll be there for lunch. Or how about a round of golf in Hilton Head, South Carolina, this afternoon?
And it’s not just about the transportation. Getting there is truly more than half the fun. It sounds trite, but I do pat the airplane on the spinner after every flight because it’s such a pleasure to fly. I find flying in and of itself simply rewarding. Flying someplace that matters to others who matter to me—well, hard to top that. And I am fortunate in that I have a business reason to use an airplane—and other AOPA staff often use my airplane, further justifying it. Even then, the airplane sometimes sits for a couple of weeks at a time without a flight. I could cut my expenses in half with a partner, which I sometimes consider.
I do get annoyed by those who use the “high cost of ownership” as an excuse to martyr themselves into not flying at all. Don’t accuse me of being out of touch. Especially during these unusually difficult economic times, there are people for whom ownership is simply not an option. I understand that. But for most employed people, some form of ownership is achievable. As fellow columnist Rod Machado recently discovered, a really fine Cessna 150 can be had for the price of used car. Still too much for you? Find a partner or two through the Aircraft Partnership Association or the bulletin board at your local FBO. Need to further lower your costs? Join a flying club. Depending on the club, you may have access to a variety of aircraft at a really affordable cost, and you’ll enjoy the social benefits of being part of the club.
It’s true—life isn’t a dress rehearsal. You only get to do this once. If owning an airplane is on your bucket list, get started—whether it’s saving for that goal or buying now. Few things in life will bring you as much joy as aircraft ownership.
Editor in Chief Tom Haines bought his first airplane, a 1977 Cessna 172, in 1997. He has owned a 1972 Beechcraft Bonanza A36 since 1999. E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow at twitter.com/tomhaines29.
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