Posted by: Jeff Rhodes | November 29, 2011

Aviation Mistakes – The Greatest Hits of Risk

In my business, I have the privilege of working closely with hundreds of aviation operators, from all over the country. In a given day, I will talk to student pilots, professional pilots, business owners, recreational and “semi-pro” pilots alike. Many of them have well though-out plans when it comes to their aviation professions or avocations. But, I also see many that just wing it. Many of those are headed for trouble. As we evaluate the risks involved with aviation, consider a few that may not normally be at the top of mind.

There are others, but here are a few “greatest hits” that I have seen more than once:

–  Buying more airplane than you need / can afford. This applies to all levels of the airplane ownership spectrum. Student pilots think they need 300 HP glass cockpit traveling machines. Baron owners think they need a jet. Small business people think they need a Hawker, because it’s “cheaper” than a King Air. While there’s nothing wrong with upgrading to a more capable airplane, we see prospects every year that have bitten off (much) more than they can chew, financially and operationally.

–  New aviation business owners that do quick math on fuel burn and hangar rent and expect the rest of their revenue to be profit. With any business, the direct expenses of aircraft operation are only one (sometimes small) aspect of turning a profit in business. Employee expenses, insurance, taxes, marketing, and a myriad of other overhead expenses must be factored in to your cost of doing business.

–  Pilots and aircraft owners wanting to offset the cost of ownership with charter / a partner / a renter / a dry lease arrangement. While it sounds like good theory to make use of unused capacity with an airplane, these additional user arrangements are usually more difficult than they initially seem. There are a host of issues that must be dealt with just to get these arrangements in place and legal. The cost will be higher than anticipated and the hurdles will make it harder than expected to get others to agree to the deal. Don’t let the theoretical concept overshadow the reality.

–  Turning over the maintenance to a shop with instructions to “call you when it’s ready.” I worked with a flying club this year that had a $28,000 annual inspection bill on a flying Cessna 172. I also had a client that had paid out over $60,000 in two years to maintain a 5-year-old Cirrus and a Beechjet operator that got an $8,500 bill for a burned out bulb in the tail beacon. Stay involved in the maintenance process and educate yourself a little about how it all works – for enlist the help of someone who can help you.

–  It’s probably not worth buying a new airplane to save money. If you can’t afford what you have, you probably can’t afford the upgrade.

–  Don’t skip steps in your training. And training doesn’t stop with the issuance of a certificate. Regardless of what the marketing folks tell you, a 100 hour private pilot with a fresh IFR ticket will NOT be able to reliably complete 500 mile trips. He’s not ready.

What other things have you learned this year? Did you learn the lesson through first hand experiences, or through care observation of others’ mistakes? The hard way or the easy way?  As the saying goes – “Carefully study the mistakes of others, because you can’t afford to make all of them yourself.”


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