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An expensive lessonAn expensive lesson

A good idea took a turn for the expensive and complicated for San Carlos Flight Center in San Carlos, California—and owner Dan Dyer is sharing the tale so that Flight School Business readers can benefit from his hard-learned lesson.

“Six months ago I had the idea that excess free time of the maintenance staff could be put to better use if I bought used airplanes that needed work and made it an ongoing side project,” Dyer said. A few weeks later, “we stumbled across some Cessna 152s in pieces that seemed to be perfect,” he said. The airplanes were in good condition and still in the shipping container from Japan. He paid $6,000 apiece for two airplanes, “which is cheap for parts—if we’d parted them out it would be more than that.”

Dyer had initially estimated it would take four to five months to reassemble the airplanes. As the process began, the many stumbling blocks revealed themselves.

“Putting an airplane together isn’t like building the Lego Death Star from a kit with instructions,” Dyer said. “Turns out every piece needs to be documented, sourced, tested, and verified to be in compliance with manufacturer’s specifications. Instead of something a couple of guys do over a weekend, it really needs to almost be a legal team researching and documenting the process.”

He said SCFC will press on with the reassembly, even though the project he thought would take four to five months will likely end up being more like 18 months. And, of course, it will end up costing more than anticipated.

Then there’s the matter of the logbooks for the two airplanes. One set is still in Japan. The entries for the other set? They’re in Japanese.

“That’s something else to think about when going through this process,” Dyer said.

The big takeaway, he said, is that “for almost everything in aviation, you should have intelligent, informed, experienced people counsel you.”

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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