As a student pilot I’m learning new things everyday, feeling sufficiently overwhelmed, and still finding roadblocks at every turn. The most significant of which is acquiring a plane to do my flight training. I have secured an instructor, begun reading everything I can get my hands on about aviation, taken a few online lessons and joined a few aviation organizations. But I have fizzled out in the way of actually leaving the surface of the earth outside of the charity of some local pilots that let me go up with them.
My first plan was to rent a plane from a local flight school. I have not yet heard the end of “what a stupid idea” that was. To date, eight pilots have told me the rates the flight schools charge to rent is outrageous and inexcusable. With that idea out, I asked my pilot friends what they would recommend. They all said if I was serious about getting my license, the most economical way to go was to buy my own plane, or join a partnership in a plane. The theory goes something like this: planes do not depreciate in value. The price is driven by the technology inside each plane. A basic plane to train on would run me about the cost of a new car. When I was ready, I could sell the plane for what I bought it for provided it was still sound. For the next few weeks I spent all of my spare time looking at planes online and posted to local message boards. Indeed, I found lots of planes from 1945-1990s with varying equipment inside all somewhere between $17k-22k. Some of them even had wings still attached to the fuselage (many, oh so many did not). I wasn’t planning on owning a plane anytime soon, it would mean taking out a loan, but it made financial sense if I could make my money back.
Then I learned the cost of buying a plane is the least expensive part of plane ownership. Once you have the plane you have to put it somewhere and hangar space is not cheap (some T hangars cost more than my house). Plus there’s the maintenance, also not cheap. This is not to mention the insurance on the plane which, as a student, can get pricey. Then there are the taxes, the engine rebuilds, the annuals and so forth. I did a lot of research and I still don’t feel like I know the half of it when it comes to plane ownership. That option was out.
Next I turned my sights to joining a partnership in a plane. Long story short, lots of people are looking for partners…provided the new partner already has a license. I can’t say I blame them. If I had a plane I wouldn’t let a student take it up and practice landings in it. To be fair, I would feel a little uncomfortable being that student that is practicing my landings on a plane multiple other people own and depend on using later that day. Not to mention the insurance rate changes when you bring on a student. That doesn’t seem fair to the others.
So, I mentioned my quest for a training plane at lunch one day with some pilots and they said “why don’t you join the local club?” Club? What club? There’s a club? Indeed. Many airports have flying clubs that rent planes out to members upon request. The membership and rental rates are reasonable (especially considering they are often cut in half for student pilots) and as long as I schedule a plane before someone else does, I can have it to train on when I need. It just so happened the director of the local flying club was eating lunch in that same cafe that day, so I had a chance to meet him and interroga…..ahem…..ask him some questions. Here’s the catch: there are already sixteen members, and they have only two planes. It gets better. Next month, the owner of one of the planes is taking it out. If you’re doing the math, once I join that’ll be seventeen members and one plane. Can it get more disheartening, you ask? It can! Apparently there are no rules within the club about keeping the plane overnight or taking it for a weekend. There is no maximum hourly rental, so in theory someone could rent the plane from the club and have it all weekend, or for a week, or for a month. Better yet, if the plane needs maintenance, too bad everybody. It’s not the best option, but it is currently my only option. I checked around. The other airports near my house are more selective in their club members. A random student pilot not enrolled in any formal training program is riff raff to them. So, I’m joining this less snobby flying club in hopes of ever having access to their one plane to train on…unless a better option comes along.