Why So Few Partnerships?
I get a steady stream of e-mail from subscribers complaining about the cost of flying. Imagine that. If there's a common theme, it's that "they" have ruined flying with usurious gas prices, unaffordable new airplanes, ever more regulation and…well, pick one complaint from Column A and one from B. The LSA rule was supposed to address that, but has it?
I've been doing a lot of reporting on this subject and last month we ran a survey asking about LSA ownership costs. It yielded a flood of data but there were two things that surprised me. One, the majority of the owners who responded own new or late-model SLSAs or ELSAs. Given the complaints about high costs, I'd have expected the reverse—more legacy LSAs like Champs and Cubs, fewer new models. Second, a surprisingly small number of owners are in partnerships—just 7 percent.
That I really don't get. The single most potent way to defuse the cost of owning and flying an airplane is a partnership. That's especially true if the airplane is an LSA, which is relatively inexpensive to begin with. I've been in five partnerships myself and know the ups and downs. But I've never found the downs particularly off-putting, at least when measured against dividing the ownership nut by three or four.
As part of my research, I ran some numbers on the four-way legacy Cub that I'm a partner in. The thing is almost absurdly cheap. Added up for a year, the total for 50 or so hours of flying is about $2480 or about $49 an hour, all in. Since we aren't running a reserve fund worthy of the name, we do have looming liabilities for an engine overhaul or re-cover. Historically, many owners of little-used airplanes sell them before they get to that point. We'll see which way we go.
So $2500 a year is about as cheap as it gets and works out to a fraction of even a moderately priced car payment or maybe a third to half of the weekly grocery budget. In other words, you don't have give up your daily Starbucks or strip the kids' college fund to afford it. (On the other hand, you're not taking your wife to Miami for the weekend in a Champ unless you live in Miami. Even then, pencil in a half day.)
So why there aren't more partnerships baffles me. Maybe most people just don't like sharing an expensive thing like an airplane, but for me, I couldn't stand not sharing it. AOPA has a good find-a-partner service evolved from David Kruger's Aircraft Partnership Association. These services establish a database of partnerships looking for members and would-be members looking for partners. I think they're making inroads, but perhaps haven't tapped much of the potential yet.
One last thing I observed in the survey: the level of satisfaction among those who do own LSAs—new or legacy—is quite high. There were few complaints that owners thought the airplanes were over-priced toys that didn't deliver value commensurate with the investment. Most owners seem to view them as fun little recreational vehicles to putt around the sky in with expectations not much beyond that. And really, isn't that all they're supposed to be?