Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Am I Going To Do?

Be honest; you’ve asked yourself this very question haven’t you? If you have a pilot’s license, own an airplane, or have any interest in aviation what so ever, you know what I’m talking about. There you are just going about your day when BOOM, the thought of seven dollar Avgas, $500 hangar rent, $2500 annuals, registration fees, taxes, and TSA restrictions to liberty flash through your head like that feeling when you realize you’ve left your wallet or purse on the gas station counter. Panic jolts the senses, a sick feeling comes over you, and until you have that wallet in your possession, nothing else matters. You know what I’m talking about. You just haven’t had the nerve to say it out loud because you know that when you say it it takes on substance. Maybe to you it’s like telling your family you lost your job right after getting a mortgage on a new home. Whatever the case, “what am I going to do” is the question that makes everything else irrelevant.
Fortunately, there are things you can to do offset this feeling of hopelessness and despair. Most of them involve accepting reality, banishing irrational beliefs, and making more of your time with flight. If you are willing and able to do these things, life will not be so bad.
First, it is time to accept the reality your airplane is not an investment.  Except for a very few years where things got out of hand with easy mortgages and speculating, aircraft have not made good investments.  Yes they do hold some value over time but the primary value they hold is similar to that of a core exchange.  This may be hard for many people to understand and having lived through the good years of aviation many will dispute this completely.  In the real world though, there is now a much bigger ratio of old planes to people who want them than ever before.  Therefore, the thing you have to decide is if you are in this machine because you love flying.  If not, then you need to get out of the airplane you own and invest those funds somewhere else.  Your conscience will love you for it.  Rules of thumb for this decision:  If you aren’t flying your own plane or a rental at least once every two weeks you aren’t in it for the right reasons or you can’t afford it.  If you aren’t flying it because you truly can’t afford to, you need to sell your plane immediately and let reality come into your life.  If you aren’t flying because you can’t afford a rental, then you need to find additional streams of revenue because have you succeeded beyond your pay grade.
Second, it is time for everyone to banish their irrational beliefs. If you own a Champ that burns five gallons an hour, at $4 per gallon that is twenty dollars. If fuel then goes up to $6 dollars per gallon, that means your fuel costs only ten additional dollars. Now I know every penny counts but if you can afford twenty you can afford thirty. And yeah it’s an old argument but it is also a true argument that you likely waste that much money every other day as it is. If you don’t believe that, then perhaps that is how you ended up in a plane you cannot afford. You must be willing to face reality and you must be able to do the math. Then take those numbers to do battle with the irrational belief the extra ten dollars makes your flying too expensive. If nothing else, find a friend that would like to fly with you for a percentage of the gas expense. This is a great way to get more people involved in flying and it will help you feel better about the money your spending despite the fact you can afford it; right?

Oh wait, there is more to part two. Since I know there will be people who say yeah but what about my plane that burns twelve gallons an hour, I feel I must continue drawing it out. If this person is you, that means you are spending $48 dollars an hours; for all practical purposes $50. With the rise in prices you now have an hourly fuel cost of $72. Yes, I agree, that looks like quite a bit when typed out but it is only $24 additional dollars. Now do not get me wrong, I know every dollar counts. That’s why all our engines are described with two numbers instead of three. But again, if you can afford $50 an hour, you can afford $72. If, like most people, you fly 25 hours a year, that’s only $600 extra dollars. I say “only” because what do you think the average price is of a plane that burns twelve gallons per hour? There is no way of figuring this out for sure but a rough guess, judging by the known values of the cheapest to most expensive planes in this category, would have it somewhere around $75,000. Can you honestly name one person who can afford, truly afford, a $75,000 airplane that can’t afford an extra $24 dollars per hour? This doesn’t mean that I’m not ticked off about high prices. It means your fear of gas prices is irrational unless you are in a plane you cannot truly afford. If that’s the case, see the first topic above. Your conscience will love you for it. Rule of thumb for identifying this issue: If you believe you will not be able to do any flying this Summer or you have already written of flying to some events this year because of fuel prices, you are either being highly irrational or you are in a plane you truly cannot afford to have sitting around. Your conscience is trying to tell you something.
Finally, make the most of your flying. If you have historically gone up and tooled around once a week and felt like nobody else was out flying, then this is your chance to change your flying habits. It could even make your time in the air more fun despite the fuel prices. How do you do this? Well, what you do is save your flying for an event or a trip to a restaurant with other pilots. Do a little basic planning, find an event or a restaurant you would all like to visit, and fly there together. Airplanes, like motorcycles, are infinitely more fun when there are more planes and people involved and by doing this you will find those extra dollars spent are better utilized and possibly not even noticed. A bonus is that you will also be helping out the larger aviation community by supporting the places that support flying. Rule of thumb for this issue: If you find you feel like you are the last person on the planet who flys their airplane, you need to find new friends or put forth the effort to get them together to go flying.

So, let’s review.
A plane is not an investment. You should have a plane and or be a pilot because you love flying. At the point you begin to think of any part of it as an investment, you are heading down the wrong path and you should re-evaluate your priorities.
Rising fuel prices do not devastate the bottom line as your brain would have you believe. If you can afford four dollars a gallon, you can afford six dollars a gallon. If you can’t afford six you can’t afford four and it is time to sell the airplane, find a different hobby, or get someone to share the fuel expenses with you.
Make the most of your flying. Yes it would be nice to fly an hour every day but you might find it is infinitely more fun flying as part of a gaggle to an event where even more fun awaits.
Take these tips to heart and you will find your worries about gas prices are relieved. Yes times are tough and fuel prices are going up. But, if you are in aviation because you love it, there is no reason for you to be losing sleep. Do an honest evaluation of your situation, make rational decisions over emotional, and learn to enjoy what you have.


Tim said...

What a great commentary! Your thoughts are right on target and made me think about my "hobby/obsession". Thanks for the steer !!!

H. Lee Griffin said...

As I used to scribe many a time on Airman Performance Reports (APR's) during my Air Force career, "I wholeheartedly concur with comments..." Yup, the T-28 will 'slurp' 50 gallons of 100LL per hour, but, 'dang it! Hang the expense!!" Flying this wonderful North American creation in the Alaska summertime is more than worth the expense and bother! I certainly may go to my grave broke; but, with a smile on my face...

H. Lee Griffin
T28B, N887N, Bu No 138202
the lonely Alaska T-28 operator

The Roberts Family said...

Great commentary. I do look at the airplane as an investment differently though. I look at it as an investment in sanity. It doesn't matter how bad of a day I have, when I get in the airplane and the wheels leave the ground, my earthly problems are left behind. Makes 6 dollar gas look like a pretty good deal. I don't like $6 gas but it's not going to make me quit loving airplanes or flying.