Flight schools that operate close to the financial bone can be hyper-sensitive to increases in fuel cost, as well as other aircraft-centric operating expenses. One school in central Florida found a solution to the problem and has been thriving since embracing the use of Breezer light sport aircraft in 2010.
“I like the quality of the airplane,” says owner Mike Zidziunas, known by customers and peers as Mike Z. “I like the fact that it was built in Germany.” A number of factors led him to take the plunge and embrace the idea of building his school’s fleet around a handful of sleek, all-metal, Rotax-powered light sport aircraft. The outcome of the experiment has been an undeniable success.
“There’s just no comparison,” said Zidziunas as he contrasted the benefits of the Breezers he operates to the venerable Cessna 150s and 152s that have been the mainstay of the U.S. training fleet for so many decades. “We can use automotive fuel. It burns less gas. It pretty much does everything better than a 152.”
Zidziunas pointed out the Breezers also sport a higher demonstrated crosswind component and a higher cruise speed than the traditional trainer. He also added with a bit of pride, “It looks like a fighter.” Certainly putting a new, sexy-looking airplane on the line has its advantages when the alternative is a 50-year-old machine that looks as if it’s seen better days.
Even when matched against a relatively inexpensive legacy LSA like the Taylorcraft, the Breezer’s operating costs are less. “I own a Taylorcraft,” Zidziunas admitted. “I love old airplanes.” Yet his business sense tells him the benefits of running an engine that requires spark plugs available for as little as $1.57 apiece provides a real advantage over an engine with spark plugs that can cost $35 a pop.
Zidziunas put his finger directly on the greatest obstacle to flight schools making the switch, even as he provided the rationale that proves his decision to be a viable one. “The initial cost is higher,” he admitted. “But the operating cost is dramatically lower.” Take note of the adverb in that statement. The operating cost isn’t lower, it’s dramatically lower. And dramatically lower operating cost can be the difference between seeing a profit and closing the doors on an otherwise successful business.
How committed has Zidziunas become to the Breezer? “We ended up becoming the distributor for it.”
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, Mike Z’s experiment in flight school economics might be one worth taking a look. Cutting operating costs dramatically by investing in new aircraft may not seem practical at first blush, but the numbers bear out Mike’s claim. And unless you foresee a day when avgas prices sink into the basement again, this is one experiment you may want to research for yourself.