Want an Airplane Partner? Here's Help Finding One

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In my blog earlier this week on the right-sizing of general aviation, I made public a few confessions: I long ago misplaced my rose-colored glasses, I gave up my Kool-Aid habit and I've learned to read aviation industry press releases with a finely calibrated dose of skepticism. But none of that is to say a realist can't also be optimistic and forward looking. I still see smart stuff in GA all the time.

One example of this at AOPA Expo was the Aircraft Partnership Association, the brainchild of David Kruger, a Texas internet entrepreneur and businessman. His new idea is to harness the social network potential of the internet to put together potential airplane partners in an organized, methodical way. The critical underlying assumption is that there's demand for ownership that's being stifled by both high purchase prices of new and used aircraft and by high operating costs. That much we can all agree on.

On APA's web site, there's a white paper making the interesting comparison between aircraft ownership and the much larger powersports industry—boats, motorcycles, ATVs and so on. To hear Kruger explain this in his own words, check out this podcast.

APA argues that the cost of aircraft ownership can actually be reduced to be comparable with sole ownership of a boat or maybe a motorcycle. Having been in three partnerships and a club, I would agree that the trend is right if the numbers are a little high. The paradigm applies mainly to moderately expensive airplanes ($100,000 or less) with multiple partners. The economics of owning a factory new airplane costing north of a half-million bucks are still daunting, even with up to four partners.

Nonetheless, the APA's logic is spot on and the potential of the internet to connect would-be partners is powerful stuff. Through a simple sign-up mechanism and with industry help, it matches up potential like-minded partners. Think of it as eHarmony for the avgas set. Personally, I have never understood why so many owners favor sole ownership of airplanes unless they're exceedingly wealthy or fly so often that potential scheduling conflicts make a partnership unworkable. The third option is that a business pays for the airplane and for many owners, that's exactly the case.

I'm so cheap myself that I could win the lottery tomorrow and I'd still favor a partnership over sole ownership simply because I can't stand seeing an expensive asset used so little. Even 300 hours a year is not much use, compared to working airplanes that fly every day. Further, the nuisance aspect of airplane ownership—frequent expensive maintenance, annuals, hangarage, airport restrictions and so on—reduces the pleasure of having an airplane.

I think the desire to fly airplanes is so strong among a tiny slice of the population that there will always be interest in piston general aviation, even if growth is elusive. If enough of that potential market can be made to resonate with the idea of well-organized partnerships, access to flying might not be mass market, but it wouldn't be limited to the moneyed few, either.

Comments (3)

I agree with this. I am just a Student pilot as of now but i have looked into Clubs and partnerships as opposed to buying myself. how many people out there are using their planes during the winter months in the northern half of the country? most people "winterize" their planes at the same time most do their boats, while in the southwest where i live, this is prime time to fly (not 110 degrees out) wouldnt it be great to have "smowbird" planes? i think it's a great way to utilize an aircraft to it' fullest potentials. i may be wrong( i usually am) but i think it could really work.

Posted by: MICHAEL SULLIVAN | November 21, 2008 8:51 AM    Report this comment

PARTNERSHIPS ARE LIKE A MARRIAGE EXCEPT BETWEEN EVEN MORE PERSONS. EVERYONE MUST BE WILLING TO GIVE A LITTLE FROM THEIR IDEAL VISION OF THIS "UNION". EACH MEMBER USUALLY COMES TO THE PARTNERSHIP WITH A DIFFERING DEGREE OF EXPERIENCE IN GROUP OWNERSHIP AND THE LEVEL OF COMMITMENT MAY VARY. THERE ARE MANY PITFALLS TO OVERCOME IN A PARTNERSHIP BUT IF ALL MEMBERS ARE MOTIVATED AND REALISTIC ABOUT THEIR EXPECTATIONS, IT CAN BE A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE. ANY TOOL THAT EXPANDS THE POOL OF LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS IS BOUND TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON A POSITIVE RESULT.

Posted by: JON JACOBS | November 22, 2008 12:27 PM    Report this comment

I think partnerships can work when the parameters are clearly set in ink. Each partner then knows his costs and duties and penalties for not performing. if there is a way into a partnership there should be a way out of a partnership too. I have no problem with set hours of use and standard of care, maintenance & cost. It makes sense to know where you and your partners stand.

Posted by: Bob Davidson | May 17, 2009 1:22 PM    Report this comment

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