Up, up and away on a wing and a share

Mary Wilson on the economic sense of owning a plane jointly
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The Independent Online
IF YOU love the idea of pretending to be Biggles, you do not need a huge bank balance to indulge your passion.

It is now possible to buy into an aircraft-owning group for a few thousand pounds with yearly running costs of no more than about pounds 500.

About the only way to own a plane is to share, unless you are mega-rich.

Mike Ashfield owns a 1967 four-seater Piper Cherokee with 15 others. It cost him pounds 1,150 to join.

'The plane cost pounds 14,500 four years ago,' he says, 'and it is now worth pounds 18,000 so it is a good investment. And some people in the group who sold out got pounds 2,000 for their share.

'I pay pounds 32 a month into an account which covers the general running of the aircraft, and its 50-hour and annual check- overs. It works out at around pounds 30 per flight-hour.

'I take my wife and children with me. It is a good way of exploring the countryside and a boringly safe way to travel. With a little aeroplane, if anything does go wrong it just means you end up landing somewhere you don't want to.'

The Popular Flying Association (PFA) issues guidelines to anyone wanting to go into group ownership. Its aim is to encourage people who do not have a lot of money to fly. Of the 7,000 members, around 25 per cent own planes jointly.

Peter Underhill, chairman of PFA, says: 'In East Anglia, there is a group of 20 which owns a single-seater. It costs them pounds 5 an hour to fly, including petrol.

'Many of our members own vintage planes, such as a Jodel, which was built late Fifties to Sixties. This two-seater can be bought for pounds 15,000.

The advantage of owning an older plane is that you can do a lot of maintenance work yourself, which then has to be inspected.'

Joint owners should set up the group as a small business concern and nominate one member to be the secretary and treasurer.

Someone has to look after the log-books and accounts. Most importantly, you should find people you fit in with. 'If you can't stand the way someone flies, then it will not work,' says Mr Underhill.

People who fly small planes use them mostly to go somewhere exciting or different for a meal. Mike Ashfield flies to Dorset or the Isle of Wight for a coffee or lunch.

The East Anglian group has flown to Czechoslovakia and Tony Tuthill, who is treasurer and vice-chairman of the Lawyers' Flying Association, says: 'One of the group I share with uses the plane to take clients to lunch in Le Touquet. If you ignore standing costs, it is cheaper and far more impressive than eating a good meal in England.'

The Piper Warrior that Mr Tuthill's group owns costs each member an average of pounds 100 an hour. 'That's pounds 20 an hour cheaper than hiring from Biggin Hill, where the plane is kept,' explains Mr Tuthill.

Another way to save money is to build the plane yourself, or you could buy a relatively new aircraft and lease it back to a local flying club.

That way you could afford a more modern plane and cover some of the costs, but with less freedom of usage.

Lawyers' Flying Association, 3 Gracechurch Street, London EC3V 0AT (071-626 0909).

Popular Flying Association, Terminal Building, Shoreham Airport, Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex BN43 5FF (0273 461616).

(Photograph omitted)