Protect your investment... Fly your airplane!


Insuring that your airplane remains financially viable is a simple exercise... you need to fly it. But if extenuating circumstances prevent you from "punching a hole in a cloud" on a routine basis, here's a few tips that will help you maintain the integrity of your aircraft and its engine while protecting your investment.

Summer is over and autumn will be upon us soon. In many parts of the country, fall marks the beginning of decreased aircraft use due mostly to adverse or unpleasant flying weather. Here in Chicago, or in Northern Wisconsin where my wife and I maintain a vacation home, winter flying in the northern latitudes, where subzero wind chill factors are common, is no fun. 

Obviously, I have been thinking about this and it got me also thinking about the forty plus airplanes I've looked at for clients so far this year... planes that never leave the hangar. Sadly, I'm seeing a trend developing that has the potential, at least in my mind, to significantly reduce the number of active and flyable aircraft across the entire Bonanza fleet. The problem, simply put, is a lack of flight activity. FAA records show that the number of hours an aircraft owner flies his or her airplane annually has declined from an average of 130 hours to 90 hours over the past 10 years; a drop of more than 30%. So many of our beautiful airplanes are sitting, tucked away in hangars rarely visited, collecting dust and decaying, physically and financially, to a point of no return. I believe this trend, if not corrected, will lead to a decline in the number of Bonanzas that are viable for flight.

I can't tell you how many airplanes I've seen that have not flown for many months or even years, but the amount is sizable. In the past, most of these airplanes were well cared for and actively flown but somewhere along the way, something happened causing them to stagnate in a hangar; the owner died, lost his or her medical, got involved in a divorce, lost interest in flying, lost a reason or a place to fly, or couldn't support the care and/or maintenance of the airplane... the list goes on and on. Whatever the reasons, these airplanes are sitting and, in the process, are mutating from financially viable aircraft into parts source.

I recently looked at a beautiful S35 with flawless records, great paint, NDH, good glass, zero corrosion, many modifications and less than 1,500 hours total time on the airplane. But the airplane has been sitting in a hangar for years... flat tires, covered in dust, tanks half empty, out of annual, dead battery, etc. Despite the fact that the airplane had lived in the southwest all its life, as expected due to lack of use, the engine had significant corrosion on the cam and lifters.

According to "book," the median book value of this airplane is $44,000. If you replace the engine on the airplane, the median book value increases to $67,000. If the cost of an engine overhaul for the airplane is $35,000 and the book gives you a $23,000 increase in book value, you've lost half of your investment the day you install your newly overhauled motor. In other words, any funds expended above the increased aircraft book value are gone. Now add to that the cost of a prop overhaul, a thorough annual inspection, transponder and static system checks, ADS-B update, etc. and you're quickly into the airplane for 10%-20% above book retail.

The point is simply, the airplane is no longer financially viable from a value standpoint. It is now a "project," plain and simple, and one where a buyer can never breakeven. It is worth more in parts than it is as a complete and flying airplane. But the demise of these perfectly beautiful airplanes can be easily prevented by just seeing that an airplane flies regularly and is maintained, even if only to minimum standards. If you have an airplane that is just sitting and begging for your attention, you have essentially three options... you can let it sit, you can fly it, or you can sell it.

Option One - Store Your Airplane

If your airplane is not flying and you don't anticipate it flying for three months or more but you really aren't ready to part with it yet, here's a to do list to help preserve it's financial and mechanical integrity:

Top the tanks - Actually, you should always top the fuel tanks when done flying your airplane. Aircraft fuel contains a plasticizer that will keep the rubber in your fuel cells soft and supple and moisture cannot form in a full fuel tank or bladder.

Fill the engine with rust preventative oil - These oils are specifically designed for long-term (over 3 months) aircraft engine storage. Both Phillips and Shell make such an oil.

Cover the engine exhausts - By covering the engine exhausts with a sealing type tape (i.e. electrical) or placing a rubber ball in each exhaust stack, you prevent moist air from entering the engine cylinders thereby decreasing the possibility of cylinder wall and other corrosion in the engine.

Install desiccant dehydrator plugs - Replace the top spark plugs in your engine with desiccant dehydrator plugs. These plugs are readily available from most aviation supply houses and cost about $9 to $11 dollars each. They're filled with a hygroscopic material that actually extracts moisture from the air and turns pink to indicate when they need to be replaced.

Place desiccant in the cabin - A bag of desiccant placed in an open pan in the cabin of an aircraft where the doors are sealed shut will help prevent moisture build up in your aircraft interior and eliminate that musty smell we all know far to well.

Install rodent fencing - Placing sheet metal barriers around the wheels of your airplane will prevent mice and other rodents from finding a new home within the airplane. The following pictures I took of one of the Bonanzas I looked at this past spring show just how devastating rodents living in an airframe can be... plane to parts in just one winter. 

Not In Motion Insurance - You can save a significant amount on your insurance cost while your aircraft is in storage by switching your coverage to storage status. Let you insurance rep know that you will not be flying your airplane and follow their qualified advice. 

Option Two - Fly Your Airplane
If you're not flying your airplane but are still capable, recommit to flying it, even if only once a month. 

If you're current - Set aside some time to fly it 30 minutes or more each month. If you need an "excuse" to fly, there are plenty of organizations providing valuable community services that both welcome, and need, volunteer pilots and their airplanes to continue their mission. Join one and help your community doing "good" while promoting your avocation.

If you're not current - Take an instructor or qualified pilot friend with you or, better yet, take the AOPA Rusty Pilots course and rediscover the joy you once had flying your airplane. Over 8,000 pilots have taken this course and over 2,000 pilots are now back in the air and flying under the new Basic Med rules.

Consider a partner - If you can't fly your airplane on a regular basis, consider taking on a suitable partner in the airplane. Consider talking to your mechanic about the possibility of maintaining your airplane in exchange for flight time. If a partner can help you cover your fixed expenses, that's great but the objective is to get the airplane in the air regularly. I bought half of my very first airplane, a Piper Tri-Pacer, 43 years ago because the owner wasn't flying it but didn't want to part with it either.

Trade down - If your not really ready to give up flying but your Bonanza has become too much airplane for your mission, your pocketbook, or perhaps even your age, consider trading it for something less sophisticated. The designated examiner that gave me my license 47 years ago was 86 and continued to fly actively until he was close to 90. If your health is good and you can continue to fly, even under Basic Med rules, why not continue enjoying owning and flying your own airplane?

Option Three - Sell Your Airplane

If you've decided that perhaps your flying days are coming to a close, due to age, financial reasons or other reasons, and you think its time to say goodbye to your old friend, here are a few things to consider.

Your airplane is out of annual - If your airplane has been sitting in a hangar for several years, and it's out of annual, you might consider taking it into the shop and having them bring it into compliance but this is often a very costly mistake on the part of the owner. Unless the cost to bring the aircraft into compliance is less than or equal to wholesale book value of the aircraft in today's market, you should consider selling the airplane as is where is. Depending on your current financial situation, donating the airplane in its current condition and taking the associated tax write-off may also be a strategy that could prove more profitable than actually bringing the airplane into airworthy condition. 

Use a qualified aircraft broker - If you've decided that its time to sell your airplane, selecting a bona fide aircraft broker is always a wise choice for reasons too many to mention. A reputable aircraft broker, especially one that specializes in the type of airplane you have to sell, should know the market as well as he or she does the airplane... but the operative word here is bona fide. The aircraft brokerage industry is an unregulated business often riddled with ethics issues and a seller should always vet the potential brokerage firm or individual with whom you will entrust the sale of your aircraft.

Fall is a perfect time to sell your airplane rather than letting it sit inactive through the winter months while incurring the associated expenses. If your airplane spent more time in the hangar this past summer than it should have or if the time has come to give up flying, let us find a new and loving home for your aircraft. We have years of experience finding qualified Bonanza buyers that will pay you a fair price for your airplane. But most importantly, we work with Bonanza "lovers" that will give your airplane the same TLC that you've given it in the past, and allow it to remain flyable for many years to come.