More affordable rentals
Reduce your flying costs
Many of you have—or are well on your way toward—an FAA pilot certificate. Congratulations! Some day soon you may face one of life’s really tough decisions: Continue renting aircraft or take the ownership plunge?
There are good arguments both ways. During my early flying years I struggled with this decision, as many pilots do. Building a career, raising children, and the accompanying economics can make it difficult just to fly regularly. When you commit to flight training, you know what you’re in for in terms of cost—and most student pilots build the cost of rental into the total package. After you get your ticket, every flight is a trade-off. Do we spend the dollars to go out to dinner, attend a sporting event, or pay for an hour of flight time?
As you no doubt already know, and contrary to popular belief, most pilots are not aircraft owners. In fact, AOPA statistics show that only about one-third of all active pilots are owners, many as a co-owner of an aircraft or as a member of a flying club. As it was for me during my first decade of flying, rental is the main way to slip the surly bonds of Earth. Especially for pilots who don’t fly very often, renting an aircraft from your local fixed-base operator (FBO) or flight school makes sense. The break-even point for aircraft ownership averages about 100 to 150 flight hours per year. Many new pilots in the financial and family situation I described will fly fewer than 50 hours a year.
So, if you are in the majority and have decided that renting is the way to go, AOPA has assembled dozens of ideas for making the most of rental hours. They’re detailed in AOPA’s Guide to Reducing the Cost of Flying, available free to members online. Some its ideas mirror my personal experience. For instance, be aware that when scheduling aircraft they are busier on weekends, so some FBOs or flight schools are willing to give renters a price break during the week. One thing I did even as a student pilot was to buy block time. Buying rental time in blocks can save significant cash. Ten hours is often the point at which savings become worthwhile, and I recall that if I paid in advance for 10 hours’ rental of a Cessna 150, I got the eleventh hour free. Take a friend—or two, as long as it’s not in a 150. FAA regulations allow pilots to share operating expenses with passengers. Seek out those FBOs that rent airplanes dry—while most rent aircraft wet (including fuel in the rental cost), they are compensating for pilots who won’t learn to use the mixture control. Willingness to learn proper use of the red knob and renting dry (paying for fuel separately) can reduce your hourly cost.
Every time I had to relocate because of my job, I almost always sought out a flying club, immediately. A club normally offers lower rental rates than those of a typical FBO, because a club’s overhead is significantly less and there is usually no profit motive. A good rule of thumb is that a flying club breaks even compared to rental at three to four flight hours a month. Some clubs require a deposit, and when I moved, I was always able to sell that share to another new pilot. Also, make sure the club uses the 10-to-1 rule: 10 members for every airplane, allowing more flexibility in scheduling.
Several times I found myself in the right seat, accompanying pilots on some pretty luxurious trips, as their second set of eyes and backup. Such was the case when an older pilot and his wife were taking a trip to Mexico in a brand-new Beech Bonanza with a flying group. My wife and I longed to go, but we couldn’t afford to rent an airplane. He invited us along with me as both a safety pilot and to handle the radio, with which he was uncomfortable. Most important he satisfied his nonflying spouse that all would be safe with two pilots up front. Thank goodness she never asked for my flying hours or how many times I had made a trip of this duration!
Since those early rental-cost-reducing days there is now a more obvious way to save 5 percent: Use the AOPA MasterCard or Visa. AOPA Member Products partner MBNA America bank offers a 5-percent rebate for any purchases (including rental) made from more than 4,000 participating FBOs, putting up to $250 per year back in your pocket. AOPA’s Guide to Reducing the Cost of Flying has many more suggestions, as well as caveats for renters, born of AOPA’s long practical experience in helping our more than 400,000 members get the most fun from their flying at the least cost.
AOPA was founded in 1939 to help keep private flying “fun, safe, and affordable.” We continue to do that today, and we will continue into the future. Often new pilots look at our name, the “Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association,” and think that it isn’t for the renter pilot. How I wish there were more ways to emphasize that an AOPA membership is a key to getting the most out of flying regardless of aircraft ownership—after all, the majority of our pilot members rent.
*Phil Boyer is the former president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).
As originally published in August 2008 edition of Flight Training magazine.