For many frugal pilots, sharing their wings makes lots of sense. Most private pilots fly less than 1% of the available hours in a year, often not enough time to keep their aircraft from suffering from inactivity. Add another pilot or two and the plane actually stays in better condition – and the costs go down.
But the big question isn't so much should you share your wings, but how. Obviously, it's not a thorough analogy, but sharing wings is something like sharing a life in marriage: the partnership can either be twice as good or twice as bad as going it alone.
Making the Decision
Sharing your wings – or not – is an important decision. Your answers to these and related questions are dynamic and may change over the next few years as your flying goals, resources, and friendships change. So, it's best to take a long-term look at your flying world before making a decision that will impact many aspects of your life, ideally for the better.
Making a decision to share your wings requires answering a few important questions:
- Why should I share? (reduce costs, aircraft utilization, friendship, tax advantages)
- What should I share? (two-seat simple aircraft, four-seat aircraft with luggage capacity, IFR aircraft, an LSA, a variety of airplanes)
- How should I share? (simple agreement with a friend, formal partnership contract, form a non-profit corporation)
- Who should I share with? (best friends, thousand-hour pilots, other students)
- What are my flying resources? (how much money can I invest, what is my monthly budget, what other resources can I draw on?)
Sharing wings works best if all partners agree on common flying goals, the WHY. The answer dictates what type of aircraft will be shared, how it will be used, and how happy the members potentially will be with the partnership.
For example, four pilots all with similar flying goals and experiences can probably develop a mutually-satisfying long-term flying relationship. But if two of the pilots immediately want to start upgrading avionics and the two others don't, there could be immediate conflict and problems. An honest discussion among potential partners before anything is agreed to or purchased, can make the partnership stronger. Think of this period as the courtship.
An aviation partnership requires four elements:
- Compatible members
- Appropriate aircraft
- Workable structure
- Responsible management
Even before selecting an airplane, a critical question to sharing wings is: With who? Again, like a marriage, the right partnership can make aviation more enjoyable. Compatibility is the key. Not only do your partners need to have similar flying goals, but also well-matched personalities. You don't have to all be brothers/sisters from another mother, but you do need to agree on how to disagree. The WHO leads to the HOW and WHAT.
There are many ways of structuring a relationship around aircraft owning and flying. As summarized in my last column – and developed in future columns – the most common structures include:
- Flying clubs
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, to be discussed along with options and recommended terms of agreement. Depending on group size, flying goals, and assets, a simple agreement may be sufficient. Flying clubs may prefer to have a non-profit charter of incorporation or other structure that fits the flying goals of its members.
Aviation insurance is a component of sharing wings that often doesn't get discussed until the relationship is formed. Sometimes that's too late. Talk over your aircraft sharing arrangement ideas with an experienced aviation insurance broker before making a decision.
Why? Because aviation insurers will base your group premiums on factors that you should know about before you get too serious. For example, aviation insurance premiums often are based on the least experienced member of the group, such as a student or newly-minted pilot. The rates may not go up very much, but the partnership should be aware of higher premiums and plan accordingly. Maybe the student must pay a little more for group membership until hours are built.
Another insurance issue is based on the number of pilots in your group. Some insurers consider a partnership of six or more pilots a commercial flying club (higher rates) than a partnership or co-ownership. This condition may suggest that you limit your group's size – or shop for another insurer with broader definitions of what a commercial policy requires. These and other insurance questions will be discussed further in future columns, but it's a good idea to be thinking about them now as you first consider sharing your wings.