Airplane Ownership Can be a Roller Coaster Ride

10:34 AM

(Ed. note: This is the first of a Guest Blogger series I will be running. Learn more about Jonathan Katz here.)

I looked at the calendar and noted it had been two and a half years since I began training for my private pilot certificate. I passed my written exam four months earlier in a flourish to finish my ticket before our second child was born, but due to other financial constraints, that was as far as I got in the spring of 2007. It was hard to believe I even started as far back as early 2006 and now 2007 was coming to an end.

When trying to analyze why I wasn't flying I realized hourly rental and instructor fees were costing as much if not more than a monthly car payment! I felt as though I was throwing away money on my FBO's sexy glass panel aircraft, which due to their higher hourly fees I never even flew. Alternately, two of their other aircraft were complex beasts that student pilots weren't allowed to cast a shadow on.

After examining my family's finances and a lot of lobbying of my spouse I went ahead and bought a Grumman Yankee, a 1969 AA1. An airplane designed to be simple to maintain and something that could work as trainer and time-builder. I found the plane on e-Bay. The pictures of it sitting alone on a ramp, like an abandoned puppy needing a home, spoke to me. Although I had heard from many people to go with a pre-buy inspection I figured for the deal I was getting that if there was anything major that needed to be fixed the cost would be negligible. Additionally, the aircraft was a few hundred miles away. Even if I wanted a pre-buy inspection who would I call? My friends who flew were all local to the Indianapolis area, as were the AP/IAs.

The owner's son flew the airplane to me. A CFI, he took me around the pattern a few times and I felt comfortable with it. Funds were exchanged and papers were signed and I owned an aircraft. A few moments later I put a phone call through to an insurance agency and the aircraft was insured, too.

Everything seemed good. The logbooks were good, the instruments worked. The paint was faded, but flying is more important than faded paint. And then the airplane sat.

First the FBO at the airport where I kept the airplane couldn't instruct me in it. It's not that they weren't CFIs or weren't Grumman savvy. Far from it. Simply put, the baby weight I put on during my wife's pregnancies, a full load of fuel, plus a CFI would put the aircraft well over its 1500lbs MTOW. I had to hunt around for a svelte CFI. The Grumman Type Club, the AYA put me in touch with a great CFI.

Then a voluntary change in jobs meant I was working longer hours. And then that change in jobs turned into a job that wasn't there which was followed by three months of unemployment. Sure, I could have used my weekly unemployment check for flight lessons but that idea landed me on the couch for a few nights.

Finally, things started coming together in March of 2008. I finally received a job offer and was able to set aside time with a Grumman-club CFI. I was flying again. The new job had me traveling and the next thing I knew it was May, time for my airplane's first annual under my care. I took the airplane to an IA across the field from my hangar; an IA that came highly recommended to me by several aircraft owners locally.

After a few days, I found out about the corrosion buried in the airframe. Corrosion that could be fixed, but something that my local AP was not comfortable working on due to the Grumman's composite and honeycomb construction. In fact, my local IA was not comfortable providing a the paperwork for a ferry permit to take my aircraft a measly 103nm away.

I consulted with my CFI and several knowledgeable people from the AYA. After much deliberation, and heartbreak I decided the best way to recoup my investment in the aircraft would be to part it out. Sure, I could have had it repaired, but by the time the repairs were complete, which would require the aircraft to be repainted, I would have far more invested in the aircraft than what it was worth.

I started taking offers and even found a few people interested in the aircraft whole, although for much less than what I paid for it. I looked at my time constraints and found that I didn't have the time or facilities to start to unbolt and unscrew every last piece of my airplane. It simply made more sense to eat a financial loss and part with the bird as a whole.

She's gone now. The ferry pilot picked up the airplane and took off into gorgeous midwestern sky. I have a check in my pocket, part of which will go into some items required for our house, and the rest may go as a down payment for another aircraft. But for right now I'm back renting aircraft again.

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