How much does an airplane model cost
Your own plane as cheaply as possible
With its own Piper Arrow II is aviator magazine-Editor Christof Brenner has been on the road in Europe for seven years - and has now even flown the machine across the Atlantic. Here is his report on how he can afford an airplane that he actually cannot afford:
If you expect correct business accounting here, it is best to click next. This is not about loss of interest, depreciation or the like. It's about the passion for flying and how you can satisfy it with your own aircraft, even if your wallet doesn't actually allow it.
Perhaps you shouldn't think too long before embarking on the adventure of your own plane. Anyone who begins to weigh up all the pros and cons will quickly reject the purchase.
Let's be honest: A cost saving compared to a charter or club is the very last reason to get a single or twin-engine aircraft. Even with 50 to 100 flight hours per year, renting is the financially better choice. And that's a lot more than the average private pilot writes in his logbook every year.
The reasons for the purchase are completely different, and each owner weighs them differently in terms of their importance. For example, the constant availability of the aircraft. Or the security that all the switches in the cockpit are exactly in the position they were left in on the last flight. And last but not least, the fun of maintaining and maintaining your own machine.
Likewise, every pilot weighs differently what an aircraft can or must have. Some love fabric-covered vintage cars, others modern plastic aircraft. American tin planes from the seventies are my passion. Still with "real" clocks in the panel and with one or two more levers to operate. That it turned out to be a Piper Arrow, of all things, is due to the fact that one was for sale on the doorstep, on Heimatplatz in Landshut.
Buying an airplane on a very manageable budget can be an adventure even when you buy it. You shouldn't be particularly picky and certainly not tied to a particular pattern or model. Especially when only 15,000 euros are available in cash and the object of desire should have retractable landing gear and controllable pitch propellers. Halfway usable machines in this segment cost well twice as much. The fact that the purchase of the N883AC was still successful is thanks to a pilot friend who, before the aircraft was bought, prepaid a three-digit number of charter hours on the Piper and thus secured the financing.
The Piper Arrow is the ideal model for the low-cost pilot: The technology is largely identical to the PA-28 fixed-landing gear models such as the Archer and Warrior, which are widely used as trainers and touring aircraft. Spare parts are readily available. The Lycoming IO-360-C1C is a robust four-cylinder engine known for its reliability. Thanks to the injection system, the 200 hp engine uses less than 38 liters of fuel per hour.
Self-discipline in all investments, no matter how tempting, is the most important thing if you want to operate an aircraft with the lowest possible budget - or rather, have to. The currency that is best used to calculate is flight hours. The cost of any upgrade to the aircraft is converted into this - or its price. It makes little sense to screw the most expensive avionics into the cockpit only to find that there is no longer enough money for refueling and the landing fee.
Would you like an example? Of course, it would be nice to replace the broken landing light on the Arrow with an LED version. However, it costs over 200 euros; the standard General Electric light bulb just eight dollars. Difference: The equivalent of Avgas for at least two hours of flight. Don't let yourself be persuaded that the modern lamps pay for themselves quickly because the old ones burn out all the time anyway. In just under five years, I've replaced exactly two.
It becomes even clearer with the retrofitting of a GPS receiver approved for approaches, which makes sense for IFR flying: Instead of a used Garmin GNS430 - anything even larger and newer would have quickly exceeded the current value of the entire aircraft - a device from the Stone Age of satellite navigation was installed . The Bendix-King KLN89B came on the market in 1995. Today's price on eBay USA: $ 600. Savings: the Avgas equivalent of 60 flight hours, almost the entire budget for one season.
By the way, the American auction site is a treasure trove of spare parts and accessories. Unfortunately, you have to say it: Some new parts are still significantly cheaper from the parts shippers in the USA, including import sales tax and customs, than from us - or only available in America at all. Parcel service providers like »shipito«, to whom you can have your US shipments sent, are of great help. The company collects these, repackages them in a single box and sends them on to Germany. This saves a lot of postage and allows you to shop at US retailers who do not ship internationally. The eight-dollar headlight bulbs mentioned found their way to Europe in packs of ten.
Why does the Arrow have an "N" on the fuselage instead of an EASA registration? The N883AC was a Swiss HB-OLH in her previous life. A re-registration was therefore inevitable. The regulations of the American aviation authority FAA offer many advantages for the cost-conscious and technically experienced pilot: Part 43 regulates the maintenance of aircraft there, and its Appendix A lists exactly what a private pilot can do himself without a certified aircraft mechanic.
This preventive maintenance covers a lot. In the case of the Arrow, the fact that the oil change can also be carried out by yourself reduces its costs to seven cans of oil, a filter and 20 centimeters of safety wire - a total of less than 100 euros. This means that even the tightest holder budget enables the lubricant to be changed every 50 flight hours or four months, as recommended by engine manufacturer Lycoming in its Service Bulletin 480. Adhering to it is one of the most favorable measures to protect the engine from corrosion damage.
But the owner can also help with work that goes beyond preventive maintenance. This form of maintenance, which is widespread under the US flag, is called Owner Assisted Maintenance and means that you can also carry out major maintenance work on your own aircraft - as long as it is monitored by a licensed mechanic. The cooperation with a shipyard or an Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic with Inspection Authorization (A & P / IA), i.e. a mechanic with an examiner license, who not only tolerates this type of maintenance, but supports it, is essential for cost savings.
So that we don't misunderstand each other: Pure "saving away" at every opportunity is not the best tactic. There are numerous cases where saving in the wrong place causes significantly higher costs in the long term. Under German climatic conditions, this applies to the hall area - as long as the hangar costs are manageable. Storing the N883AC costs just under 3000 euros per year, for example: an amount that can quickly become due for repairs if the Arrow were exposed to moisture and rain on the apron. Like all PA-28s, the Arrow only has a single door, but it's better not to talk about its tightness.
And then there are the weaknesses that every aircraft has and that need to be fixed before they expand into major damage. In the case of the Arrow, for example, it is the tendency of the wing ribs to develop cracks over time on the mounting of the main landing gear. The Service Bulletin 1161 published by Piper requires the installation of aluminum sheet doublings in the critical area. In contrast to an Airworthiness Directive (AD), the implementation of this SB for American-certified aircraft is only a recommendation - you should still comply with it if you want to avoid having to open the entire wing at some point and replace torn ribs.
There is also a lot that can be done on the income side to reduce annual burdens.
The N883AC is not rented to anyone; Anyone who starts this will find that the benefits that one hoped for from owning an airplane are quickly gone. Nevertheless, the Arrow occasionally gets to know other pilots: A few selected friends borrow it for 100 euros per hour for longer trips. This only minimally restricts your own availability and, in contrast to a community of owners, gives the owner the power to decide on the aircraft. Even if business economists feel cold: Of course, this hourly rate has never been calculated in any way. But for my friends the total price is attractive, and my cash register for the company pours around 3,000 euros a year. Another advantage: a limited number of pilots makes the insurance premium cheaper. Incidentally, the N883AC has no comprehensive insurance: If it were destroyed in a crash, it would be with your own aircraft. Liability costs 460 euros a year.
Did I miss any long-term costs in the Arrow project that will catch up with me in the future? Maybe. There are no reserves to carry out an engine overhaul in the five-digit range, for example. With the current frequency of use, however, there are still around ten years until the TBO is reached after 2000 operating hours. In the non-commercial enterprise, however, nothing speaks against exceeding it; The engine has long since passed the twelve-year limit specified by the manufacturer.
But let's not fool ourselves: Of course, there could be costs tomorrow, which many aircraft owners told me about again and again before buying the N883AC: be it an unforeseen damage or some airworthiness directive, a mandatory maintenance instruction issued by the aviation authority. Not to mention a self-inflicted gear-up landing or a propstrike. What will i do then? I admit I don't know. In the worst case, the adventure of owning an airplane will come to an end.
There's no question about it: operating an aircraft on a tight budget involves such risks. This is certainly not for people with the faint of heart or with a fully comprehensive mentality. In the past five years, however, my concept with the N883AC has worked wonderfully. And it's been a lot of fun so far.
This article first appeared in aviator magazine #11.2016
Born in Munich in 1970, Christof Brenner entered journalism with an internship at Münchner Merkur. After that he worked at the Bild company, among others. In 1996 he acquired his PPL in Landshut; IFR, MEL and CPL later followed in the USA. Brenner owns a Piper Arrow II PA-28R-200 currently based in Florida.
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