Thursday, April 9, 2015

MIAO: When to Jump

Reader’s Digest version:  There is no good time to buy an airplane.  It is pretty much never a practical decision or purchase to make.

National Geographic version:

To expand upon the Reader’s Digest version above, let’s first consider why you are considering purchasing an airplane.  The obvious answer is travel, either for work or pleasure.  Airplanes can cut travel time drastically, allowing you to hopscotch from business meeting to business meeting and still be home for dinner, or can allow you to pack up your friends or family and slip off to a weekend destination without the traffic and detours.  Other justifications can include convenience (a small airplane can get me closer to my destination than commercial airline travel), adventure (you can only get where I’m going with an airplane), and miscellaneous things like a desire to survey your herd of cattle from the air. 

Let me be clear: There are plenty of situations where you can perform an analysis and find airplane ownership practical and fiscally responsible.  General aviation does a great deal of good in the world, and there are some things you can only do (or only do efficiently) with a general aviation aircraft.

All that said, the majority of people reading this blog are going to be in the same camp as I was.  I just plain like airplanes and like flying, and I wanted a Cub to call my own! 

If you’re from Europe or other areas where flying clubs are alive and well (and the aviation industry isn’t so alive and well), you might scoff at the idea of buying an airplane just because you want to own one.  That’s a completely reasonable argument.  Flying clubs allow you to enjoy flying a familiar airplane at a greatly reduced cost and with other club members to help afford upgrades you might not otherwise be able to consider.  With a flying club, you can either get flying for less, or get a lot more airplane for your money.  They’re a great thing to consider if you want to move beyond renting.  I am a big supporter of flying clubs and think they are an excellent solution for many pilots.

However, it’s tough to find flying clubs with unique airplanes where I am.  They do exist, but can be far-flung and limited by insurance allowances or club policies.

At the end of the day, 90% of you are considering buying an airplane because you want one.  Forget the practical justifications—you just want an airplane.  Don’t get defensive, don’t try to argue or justify your decision.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an airplane, and you should never have to apologize for it.  If all you take away from this post is that, it’s worthwhile.  No matter what you end up buying, you’ll hear from people about how you must make a lot of money, comments about how “the other half lives,” and any manner of allusions to the fact that you must go swimming in a sea of Benjamin Franklins just for fun.  By all means, take these comments as an opportunity to tell the peanut gallery about the fact that many GA aircraft can be purchased for $20,000-$40,000, or the price of that new car your neighbor is leasing.  The reality is that aviation is always going to require a sacrifice of some sort.  For some people, it’s just a monetary contribution, but for many it’s time or effort (building or restoring their own airplane) or other sacrifices (small apartment, no vacations, old car, extra job, old electronics, or anything of the sort).  Don’t apologize for having the passion and dedication to pursue aviation or any thing else.

I will step back off of that soapbox now and return to our regularly scheduled programming.  What should you consider when you want an airplane?

If you’ve read previous Misadventures in Aircraft Ownership posts, you know that you should have your mission defined by this point and have narrowed your aircraft options down to a few to consider.  Now, will you be paying cash or do you plan on financing the purchase?  If you’re planning on the latter, start talking to a bank and/or credit union.  Aircraft lending is comparatively specialized, so you might want to get some recommendations from other owners.  Some banks won’t finance certain types of airplanes or may require an exhaustive prebuy process (for instance, you’re always going to find some surprises in 60-year-old airplanes, whether it’s damage history or missing logbook entries).  I worked with a bank (the Airloan division of Red River State Bank) and also investigated a local credit union (Wings Financial).  Your options will likely vary from mine, but the principle differences are the down payment required, interest rate, and aircraft documentation requirements. 

In my case, the credit union was far more conservative in terms of the amount they were willing to loan me.  This could have been remedied on my behalf by a larger down payment, which was my original plan.  However, the Oklahoma Kid popped up as a good deal (fairly local, too) in a time frame that didn’t allow me to bring enough money to the table for the credit union.  Instead, I worked with Danielle at Red River State Bank.  Danielle was and still is a pleasure to work with and was happy to work around my accelerated schedule.  I had already been in contact with the credit union and RRSB/Airloan as I wanted to investigate my options prior to actually looking at any particular airplanes.  Note: You should absolutely do this.  Don’t wait until you fall in love with the idea of a particular airplane.  On another note, I found RRSB/Airloan to be quite accommodating on the prebuy items.  Danielle flies a Cub and the whole family is involved in aviation, so it isn’t just an add-on to a regular bank to make a little more money. 

So now I knew what I wanted and knew what it was going to cost me in aircraft finance.  The next task was approximating things like hangar rent (I called three or four nearby airports) and insurance (don’t forget your bank will have some requirements on insurance coverage).  One thing I forgot to fully consider was state sales tax.  Not all states collect this, but I was lucky enough that Minnesota does….

Now you’re good and terrified, and you haven’t even considered things like maintenance.  However, you’re still excited and riding the high of dreams so you keep plugging along. 

You casually look at airplanes until one jumps out at you and then all of a sudden things start to get real.  Scary real.  You do things like review 337s and schedule a prebuy.  You confirm hangar availability and solidify insurance quotes.  You stay so busy that you don’t think about what’s happening. 

Then it hits you.  This is a HUGE commitment.  The initial financial outlay is intimidating, and you can expect you’ll get some surprises.  You start to think, “Do I really need an airplane?  Couldn’t I just rent and be happy?  Maybe now’s not the time.  I could wait a little while longer, and then I’d be more ready.”

NEWS FLASH: There is no good time to buy an airplane.  You will probably not ever be sitting at home and suddenly think, “Great Scott!  I need to spend a lot of money, pronto!”*

Now that we’ve got that out of the way….

Go buy the airplane.  Make it the right one, and get ready for the ride of your life.  The Oklahoma Kid has given me my proudest moments along with some of the most, um, exciting ones.  She’s given me great joy and brought face-splitting smiles.  She’s also caused me to lose more than a few hairs, to actually hit my head against a desk repeatedly, and has been the cause of several impressive strings of expletives and obscenities. 

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It’s been the most exhilarating, terrifying, frustrating experience of my life, but my heart still flutters a bit when I open the hangar door and see my magic carpet waiting. 

*If this does happen to you, I’m available for adoption.


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