Finding the Right Wings

Finding the Right Wings

The cost of renting a plane can be as varied as the price of any other consumer product, especially when many smaller and independent FBOs (fixed-base operators) have overhead costs that are lower than municipal airport FBOs. It costs smaller FBOs less to rent airplanes. As a smart sport pilot you can take advantage of the disparity in fees by shopping around for low-cost rentals. Here are some suggestions:

Choose your wings. Decide, either through personal observations or those of other pilots what type of plane you prefer to rent. You have options including whether you prefer to rent a low-and-slow classic plane or an at-the-limit newer aircraft.

Choose your home base. Outline on a sectional chart or road map an area that's within easy driving distance. The farther you have to drive for your wings the less time you have to fly.

Contact rental sources. Call or visit FBOs, new- and used-plane sales offices, leasing offices, and other aircraft rental sources. You can find their locations and phone numbers in the telephone book, classified ads in metropolitan newspapers, airport bulletin boards, or from other pilots.

  • Ask the right questions. There are many questions you need answered before you decide to rent a specific sport plane. Here are some starters:
  • Ask the rental manager about the make, model, year, and equipment of eligible rental planes they offer.
  • Ask the rental price per hour, per day, and minimum charges.
  • Find out what the cost would be if you flew two hours to a destination, kept the plane overnight, and flew it back.
  • Is the plane rented wet or dry?
Flying Words

Renting a plane wet means that the cost of fuel is included in the rental fee. If dry, the pilot pays for the fuel directly and tops off the tanks when done.

  • Is insurance included in the rental fee? If so, what's covered? Is your passenger and luggage covered? Is supplemental rental insurance needed for adequate coverage?
  • How are rental planes reserved and are there alternate aircraft if the specific plane isn't available?

Once you've narrowed down your rental options to a few candidates, you can arrange to see the plane and meet the rental manager. You want to find out whether the plane meets your needs — and the rental manager wants to know if you're a safe pilot.

The rental manager will ask see your sport-pilot certificate, medical certificate, or valid driver's license, and your pilot logbook. For obvious reasons, the rental manager wants to know how many hours you've flown and in what type of equipment, who instructed you, what endorsements you have, how long you've been flying, and where. The manager wants to make sure you'll be a good customer rather than an insurance claim.

Your have similar goals, too. You want to make sure the plane is in good flying condition, that it's adequately maintained, that you're comfortable flying it, and that there will be no surprises at 3,000 ft. AGL.

Toward those goals, you probably will get — and pay for — a checkride in any craft you select. The checkride begins with a thorough preflight inspection. Ask about any problems you see. It's someone else's plane, but it's your safety and your responsibility. As part of the preflight inspection, take a close look at the plane’s operating handbook for stall, best rate of climb, best angle of climb, and cruise speeds. Also ask the manager or a check pilot about any idiosyncrasies the plane might have. It's smarter to learn about them on the ground.

The checkride might be relatively short, depending on how you're planning to use the rental plane. If all you want to do is "fly the patch" (fly near the airport) that's probably all you'll need to do for the check flight, with special emphasis on landings. If, however, you'll be taking the craft on a long cross-country trip your checkride will be more complex. The rental manager just wants to make sure you'll bring the plane — and yourself — back in the same condition you took it.

Fortunately, if you ever rent another aircraft from this rental manager the paperwork and your checkride probably will be much easier. In fact, renting the same craft might require only a phone call to reserve the plane.