The Limits of Shared Ownership

It’s logical that flying costs can be cut through shared ownership of an airplane. A partnership, a flying club, or even renting spread the fixed costs of flying over many so each individual’s costs are reduced. The problem is that for many us flying isn’t logical.

By that I mean we fly because we love it. And you don’t need me to tell you that love is hardly logical. Have you ever heard a hit song or read a poem rhapsodizing the logic of love? Me either.

Of course we can use an airplane for efficient transportation but that’s secondary for most of us. We fly because we want to, and then we figure out where and when to fly. The $100 hamburger didn’t become legendary because most airplanes are used for efficient transportation.

The problem is it’s really hard to share something you love. Doting on, fiddling with, polishing, modifying and just plain taking pride in are the key factors in airplane ownership. Just having all the switches in the same place you left them is a big deal. Keeping charts, headsets, all the stuff that goes with flying in its spot where nobody else touches it is invaluable. In other words, that’s why we own instead of rent.

When flying has a specific purpose then the ownership question is different. For example, nearly all of us are content to rent a trainer to learn to fly. The trainer has a specific mission and it’s a temporary one to get us to our goal. We don’t often develop deep affection for a trainer, anymore than we take a rental car through the car wash, or park it way out back so others don’t ding it with their doors.

If transportation is the fundamental mission for an airplane we are also perfectly happy to share it with other crews. I don’t know of any professional pilots who intentionally abuse their employers airplane, but they don’t pat it on the nose and look over their shoulder when they walk away at the end of a flight either.

Some people who see shared airplane ownership as a way to revive private flying have pointed out to me how young people in many big cities now buy small shares in cars, or even in bicycles. They see that as evidence that shared ownership is on the rise and that it can work for airplanes.

I see just the opposite. When young people are unwilling the bear the cost and inconvenience of owning their own car it tells me they don’t enjoy driving, or any other aspect of cars. Fewer American teenagers have a driver’s license than at any time in the modern era. And those who get a license do so at a much older age. Compare that to my generation–and probably yours–when we all got our driver’s license on the first birthday that was allowed. We loved cars and driving, young people today don’t, at least not at the same level.

Don’t get me wrong. There is an important role for shared ownership and renting in private flying but it is not the same as owning your own airplane. We use other people’s airplanes to accomplish a task. We use our own airplanes to satisfy a desire that really can’t be explained to those who don’t share it.

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30 Responses to The Limits of Shared Ownership

  1. Glade Montgomery says:

    Well said, Mac.

  2. Glenn Darr says:

    Well stated. I have owned my own airplane(s) 100% for the last 26 yrs. I just don’t know how I would feel with other folks as partners in my “baby”. I would, at least for a while, be looking over my shoulder at what is going on with it. Maybe I could get used to it. The idea of splitting costs is something to really consider, though.

  3. phil g says:

    It’s really a case of embracing sharing or not flying. Sharing allows access to a wider variety of aircraft than most people could ever imagine buying

  4. Bill Tomlinson says:

    Much depends on your reason for flying: your niche interest. If it’s aerobatics, then sharing will work much better than if you want to go on long cross-countries, for weekends away.

    One tip: try, if possible, to organise the mix of sharers to include some people who want to fly mid-week and some who want to fly at weekends.

  5. Kayak Jack says:

    A very good standard answer to many questions is, “Well – it all depends.” As we age and (hopefully) gain some wisdom, we begin to realize that rules are better used as guidelines, because Life is situational. What works in situation “A”, doesn’t do so well in situation “B”.

    I think that your parting shot: “We use other people’s airplanes to accomplish a task. We use our own airplanes to satisfy a desire that really can’t be explained to those who don’t share it.” explains a lot of personal choices. And, not just with airplanes.

  6. I can understand shared ownership to let one fly for the joy, or love of flying, but I owned the Deb for about 25 years 100%. That airplane was like part of the family to me and it was almost like parting with a loved on when I could no longer fly.

    How would you share a loved one? I couldn’t, but I could no longer rationalize the cost when I couldn’t fly it. Its sale has left a hole in my life.

  7. phil g says:

    Shared experiences are the basis of most relationships.

  8. Scott Powell says:

    I wonder if it isn’t time to look over FAA mandated safety items added to airplanes and figure out if the benefit is justified by the cost. Cost of planes has gone up way more than inflation would dictate. Based on 1970 prices and inflation, a new C172 is about four times more expensive now than it was. Wondering if more people would own planes if the cost 1/4th the price.

    Simple case in point, ELTs. I don’t own a federally mandated emergency beacon in my car, or a boat, or a motorcycle…why am I forced to in a plane?

    I understand lower sales volume is also responsible, I just wonder how much of this is, like 3rd class medical for recreational flying, an outdated set of rules that adds cost without significantly improving safety.

    Last point, look at the insanely high percentage of deaths in VFR into IMC flight. That seems to speak to me that the safety features of the plane, which in theory should still be working when you crash into terrain, really isn’t helping much if at all. If it were, the percentage of deaths in such cases would be much lower. This tells me that it is pilot training and avoiding things like VFR into IMC that prevents deaths, not all the safety equipment.


    • Mike F. says:

      Scott: I guess you have not purchased a car recently. The amount of federally mandated garbage has driven up the costs quite significantly. ABS, TPMS, VSS, TCS, Airbags, and on and on. All things which were not in cars 20 years ago and which are now required. While some of these things are helpful, I’d much prefer if they were optional. For example TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), which is fine for lazy people who can’t be bothered to check their tires every so often, is costing me a fortune. It runs up the price of new wheels and tires by hundreds of dollars, and every time I swap from summer tires to snow tires I have to pay my dealer to reprogram the system. Worse, after only 3 years the sensor batteries inside the wheels died and they cost a fortune to replace too. It’s all a huge waste, and I wouldn’t pay ten cents for it as an option. Who knows, maybe the ELT will be next…. Oh wait, GPS positioning is already mandated in your cell phone for 911 calls, so that’s about the same thing, and inter-car telemetery is right around the corner to make you “safer”.

      I’d love it if the government would outline and rate these systems, and educate people on their various value, but then let people decide where to spend their money. In both my plane and my car, I’d leave a lot of that stuff behind. (I admit it – I drive a stick shift too.)

      • Jeff Boatright says:

        New car prices, corrected for inflation and real buying power, are lower now, so I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from. A late 60s VW cost the equivalent of what an entry-level Nissan Versa costs today – about $11,000. The Versa, of course, has many, many more features (e.g., A/C, good heater, good stereo, and all the safety features that some people don’t like).

        Now, what all this has to do with shared ownership of aircraft seems to be a bit of a stretch, but we all have axes to grind…

  9. Thomas says:

    I’ve owned five aircraft at various times. I got along really well with three, and when we parted it was a little sad, but our destinies took us in different directions. There was one I liked a lot right off the bat – but in the end it was a relief to part ways. And one was a soulmate, the one I still miss.

  10. Jim Williams says:

    Very we’ll said, Mac. I have a very fortunate situation in that I share two airplanes with my two brothers. I don’t think I could share the same airplanes with someone who didn’t share our care and love for flying.

  11. Lutorm says:

    Thus speaks the privileged. I guess you also don’t understand why someone would rent a place to live? Is it because they “don’t enjoy having a nice place to live”, or could it be that buying their own home is outside the financial reach for a huge fraction of the population? Having the attitude that people should own their own airplane or else they “don’t really love flying” isn’t exactly helping expand the ranks of pilots.

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking.

      • Thomas says:

        When I was a kid, people in the neighborhood thought we must be privileged because we owned a sailboat. They pictured a 50ft yacht, I suppose. That sailboat was 10′ 10″ long, and constructed of plywood sheets. But, it was mine.

        I’ve owned 5 aircraft. All of them were gliders. 3 of them were hang gliders. I bought one of those – granted, a long time ago – for $300, which seemed like a lot to a student. You’d probably pay $500-700 for the equivalent today.

        Mac routinely writes about aircraft I can only dream of having the money to own. But I can recognize, and share, his feelings about ownership.

  12. Tom Hall says:

    Right on, Mac! Yes, it is a love affair, an emotional relationship, like family. 46 years of great memories with Ole C-170 Charlie, and still counting. I had two partners early on, and I would go out just to check that they had put everything back in order the way I had left it, -and of course they hadn’t! So, eventually I bought it back entirely. Like bringing home an improperly cared for child!
    We have pictures of our little boys sitting on the tires; now at 45 our elder son, whom I taught, is in charge, and Dad who doesn’t fly it anymore, still goes out to clean off the bugs, and pat it on the spinner! Extreme TLC! You could never justify it nor explain it. Never just a transportation machine! Know what I mean? Some of you will!

  13. Hunter Heath says:

    I bought a Cessna 172 by myself many years ago, but after a year sold 1/2 interest to a colleague who wanted to earn his PPL & instrument rating in it. We used his money to upgrade the panel, and only parted ways when he needed to move up to a traveling machine. A fellow who trained at the same school as I bought the half interest, and it was a great experience. We enjoyed working on the plane and flying together. He still owns the plane, and is a lifetime friend. Like a marriage, a successful airplane ownership depends on the partners.

    • Kayak Jack says:

      Hunter Heath sez, “Like a marriage, a successful airplane ownership depends on the partners.”

      BINGO! Some partnerships work; some don’t. Some people are OK with sharing their plane; others aren’t.

  14. RogerH says:

    Spot on Mac you nailed it on the head!

    I shared a plane for several years and never truly sensed I owned it. Last year I was fortunate to purchase one out-right as the sole owner and while no argument can be made that the initial investment or upgrade/operating expenses make any economically rational sense – it’s now part of the family.

    Some days it’s nice to go to the hangar just to do nothing but hang with the plane. You either “get it” or you don’t…not much middle ground there.

  15. Julian Johnson says:

    I agree totally, Mac. I wouldn’t share ownership of my Super Cub any more than I’d sell a share of my children, even though both ideas would make good financial sense! If you haven’t owned a plane, you wouldn’t understand.

  16. Ryan Dembroski says:

    As one of the “young” people (I’m 31, but I’m still one of the youngest guys flying at the airport) you’re speaking of, I’d just state that without the 172 partnership that I’ve recently bought into – aviation would quickly become impossible to afford.

    The only task I’m trying to accomplish when I fly is to broaden my aviation horizons and become a better pilot. It’s not a business plane. It’s not transportation. It’s a way for me to afford my passion and stay current. This weekend I’ll be flying a few Eagle flights.

    And you better believe that all 14 of us in the partnership make sure that “Michelle” is topped up, perfectly parked inside, and as clean as possible after each flight. Not to mention, with 14 dedicated owners keeping tabs on things (and funds) ours is maybe the best maintained 172 I’ve ever seen.

    Shared ownership, for many of us in the club, is the EXACT way that we’re reviving and maintaining private flying. Be careful not to diminish those of us that can’t afford our own plane – that’s exactly the mentality that’s keeping people away from our sport.

    Do I aspire to owning my own aircraft some day? You betcha! But in the meantime, just because I only own 1/14th of a plane that my co-owners and I truly love, doesn’t make me any less of an aviator or any less of an enthusiast. Co-ownership saved aviation access for me. Plain and simple.

    • Thomas says:

      I think that sharing so you can fly shows rather more passion for flying.

    • Thomas says:

      By the way, naming the plane is a good tactic.

      A while back, I saw a report of a study that found that people who named their cars took better care of them and held onto them longer. The cars became characters in the family, to be cared for, rather than mere machines.

      When you have a shared machine, anything you can do to create a sense of a duty of care, not just to the other members, but to the machine itself, may be helpful.

      • Ryan Dembroski says:

        That’s really interesting about how naming something affects our perceived ownership and care of it. I never thought of it that way before, but it’s definitely true.

  17. Larry N. says:

    For a number of years there were eight of us who owned N1334A, an L-21 (military Super Cub). The paperwork for the corporation (by-laws, etc.) stated certain responsibilities for each owner (maintenance help, minimum hours to pay/fly for, etc.

    So for the 2 hours a month minimum we were required to fly (or at least pay for), cost was pretty minimal — $300/quarter (included 6 hours of flying) took care of the fixed costs, as well as the per hour variable costs for those 6 hours. Additional hours were $45/hour tach time (as of 1995 — naturally it went up later, as costs rose).

    The above made it quite affordable, and I still had the privilege of saying “it’s mine,” I still could go “hang out” with the aircraft, I still could help the mechanic (along with other partners) in doing the annual, I still could change tires when needed and do other things that owners do. And there were some social benefits on occasion, as well.

    Granted that someone else might have used it between my flights, or on rare occasions it might be in use when I wanted (spur of the moment) to fly, but that was a small drawback compared to having to rent or not fly at all.

    I finally sold my share when (with some turnover in membership) the club started heading in a direction I didn’t like (the biggest single drawback). It was great while it lasted.

    Don’t knock shared ownership, Mac, and don’t claim it’s a lack of love of aviation causing people to settle for sharing — we can’t all afford Barons, or even C-150s, by ourselves. You probably spend as much on that Baron in a year as I used to make (before I retired), or maybe even more than that. We don’t all have business write-offs for airplanes on our taxes, either.

  18. Kayak Jack says:

    We probably have two, separate discussions going on here. One, in general, is working with logic, (numbers, quantities, dollars, flying hours), etc. The other discussion is generally running with feelings and emotions (love of flying, member of the family, pride of ownership, tender loving care for a dear friend), etc.

    Neither is wrong; both are right, and taken together, are like two ships passing in the night. They may both be in the same geographical waters at about the same time, but in reality – they are two, separate ships – and two, separate conversations.

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  20. Bill Tomlinson says:

    What the hell has this got to do with aviation???

  21. Bill Tomlinson says:

    Mac: Isn’t there some way you can block this sort of crap from your website? Maybe allow posts only from e-mail addresses which are registered as belonging to EAA members?

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