For many private pilots, renting makes more sense than buying an airplane. The ongoing costs of compliance, maintenance, and storage added to the rising costs of fuel can bring the hourly cost of flying your own aircraft within the range of renting one.
Rent to Fly
In some cases, it works; in others, not. The availability of well-maintained rental aircraft in your area may be extensive, limited, or even non-existent. You may discover your near-perfect wings at a nearby airport and buy a discounted block of rental time to save money. Or you may have to drive an hour each way just to fly for an hour. Or local FBOs may not rent the type of aircraft you want to fly.
Or you may just decide that renting someone else's wings doesn't make flying as much fun for you. Maybe you'll decide to pay a premium to fly your own aircraft over one that is rented to every Orville and Wilbur with a license to fly.
One of the problems faced by aircraft renters is that they typically have to get a checkride with the FBO before scheduling their first rental. Depending on the renter, the pilot may need a checkride in each plane that the pilot wants to rent, especially if the pilot has under 300 hours on the log. It makes sense as the renter is giving keys to a large investment for a relatively small fee.
OpenAirplane.com (not an endorsement) serve as a middle-man between renters and rentees, prequalifying the rental aircraft and potential renters. A renter can earn a Universal Pilot Checkout to make credential verification easier and either reduce or eliminate the need for a checkride before rental at airports throughout the country.
On the other side of the transaction, owners of rental aircraft can list their inventory as available and include costs and requirements. Rental aircraft can be owned by individuals, partnerships, FBOs, flight schools, or flying clubs. The service brings the renter and rentee together as well as manages the liability insurance. Their fee is paid by the renter.
Renting vs. owning is a Frugal Pilot Decision that only you can make as your situation is relatively unique. You may only want to fly high-performance aircraft on long trips, or ultralights above the tree-tops, or a classic light-sport aircraft to regional fly-ins, or an experimental aircraft that you built. In all cases, you can apply the principles of Frugal Flying to your decisions. As outlined in the past nine columns of The Frugal Pilot, they include: remember why you fly, keep it simple, manage your needs and wants, learn from your experiences, learn from smarter pilots, shop smarter, barter and trade, and multitask your flying.
The most important takeaway is that a Frugal Pilot is not a cheap pilot. Nor is a Frugal Pilot unsafe. A Frugal Pilot is one who makes common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar. Fly more and spend less as a Frugal Pilot.
Advanced Frugal Flying
Frugal Pilots have additional options for funding their fun. It makes good sense for many pilots who fly less than a 100 hours a year to consider what are broadly known as partnerships or flying clubs. The fixed costs of aircraft, maintenance, and storage are reduced. Only the cost of fuel burned remains the same. Let's get more specific.
Co-ownership typically includes two or three pilots who all have their names on an aircraft registration. Obviously, co-owners are selected for their personal and aviation compatibility, an option not typically available to FBO aircraft renters. Co-ownerships make sense for pilots of less-expensive simpler aircraft.
Partnerships can be of any number, but practically have three to five members. The legal structure is a little more complex than a co-ownership, as it should be with more folks involved. The insurance policy is more expensive than for a single pilot, but not prohibitive. For a majority of pilots who want to fly a more expensive aircraft, a partnership makes good sense.
Flying Clubs can be of any size, but usually involve two or more aircraft and six or more members. As you can imagine, aviation liability insurance at this level becomes much more complex and expensive. With opportunities come intricacies and smart flying clubs have worked out all the bugs over the years so that members can focus on what they love the most: frugal flying.
Are one of these options right for you? Maybe. In the next few chapters, I'll include articles on how you can partner with other pilots to dramatically reduce the costs of flying with co-ownerships, partnerships, and flying clubs.