Want an Airplane Partner? Here's Help Finding One
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.