Twice the Angst and What a Cost!

Rear cockpit.

With so many more ways for things to go badly than well in a partnership, it pays to carefully consider what and whom you’re getting together with. Otherwise, expensive, frustrating cobwebs may grow on your flying machine.

Several months back, I was all CAVU regarding my partnership with an old friend in a puddle-jumping Cessna. But as I scribbled those happy thoughts, so many other less-pleasant ideas on how easy it is to botch up a flyboy’s partnership passed between my headset. Thus, in a cautionary note, I thought to take a look at shared airplane ownership from the other side of the hangar this month.

As noted previously, money is the easiest way to depart controlled flight in a partnership. People get funny about money, because not only do none of us have enough social lubricant at our disposal, but money is also symbolic of our fragile social status, plus it’s emblematic of our goals, priorities, and attitude.

In short, taking on a partner means moving someone outside of your family far up your financial priority list. You simply have to pay your share on time or maybe even a little early when a partner is relying on you, and if you’re on the non-receiving end of a slow or underpaying partnership, things are going to auger in shortly. The answer is to have enough money or as little airplane so that airplane stuff doesn’t matter.

That’s a tall order, but if you can’t swing an airplane by yourself and taking on a partner only makes the situation somewhat better, then maybe owning an airplane, or at least the airplane you’re considering, is something you shouldn’t do. Check out the rentals or a flying club.

Then there are the guys who have the money and won’t spend it. Or they’ll eventually pay but whine like a turbine the whole time. Having to potty train one of these fiscal-retentives is a thankless task for penance-seekers wanting more frustration in their lives. And for all the self-flagellation involved, curing a tightwad really can’t be done by any normal means. It’s far better to identify and avoid the deadbeats before any serious money changes hands. As a pre-test of sorts, go to lunch and see if they offer to pay the bill. If they won’t occasionally pick up the tab, steer clear.

Tempting, but ultimately rarely workable, are rich-poor unions. There are exceptions, especially if there are three or four partners and one truly enjoys making things happen for the gang, but they’re rare. More likely the rich partner’s wife looked up from her Kindle long enough to see an airliner 10 miles away and is now demanding a TCAS for the Pietenpol while you’re eating weenies under a bare kitchen bulb trying to save up for that ADS-B install. No one is right or wrong, but the differing priorities and the ability to make them happen are bound to cause friction.

Almost as bad as money is time. One reason my partnership works is my partner can only fly on weekends while I can fly anytime a magazine editor isn’t looking. So I shoot landings during the week and try to coordinate any weekend flying with my partner. This is pretty basic stuff, so I won’t belabor it other than to say that most of scheduling is communications, and most of us are pretty bad at it.

I see numerous reasons why we humans don’t get ourselves across to each other very well. Most obviously, much of the time we don’t bother to tell anyone what we’re up to because of some reptilian need for superiority or control. No matter the pysch-speak, it’s deal-busting to open the hangar and find the airplane gone because that arrogant b@#$@! partner of yours took off with the airplane and didn’t even leave a note saying when he might be back. I know, because I’ve done it, thinking my partner hadn’t shown by mid-day, so what the heck, I’ll just take the bird for a spin. I came back to find he and his daughter waiting to go on a scenic…

In these modern times some form of online scheduling, or at least a text message, makes sense. In which case it helps if your partner has a smartphone and can handle e-mail or whatever. You’d be surprised who doesn’t.

If e-scheduling isn’t on, then a partner should at least have the fortitude to use the telephone. Which reciprocally means you have to answer yours. Those guys who let every call go to voicemail aren’t good partner prospects.

Of course, to anyone under 40, phones are pass and calling someone is a nearly unforgivable intrusion, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering a May-December liaison. Different generations have wildly different ideas on communication.

To cite a couple of examples, my wife and I have spent at least a thousand nights apart while I was on business trips, and I’ve always enjoyed calling home at the end of my day. My dad fought in a couple of overseas wars and therefore didn’t think too much of multi-month separations in civilian life. He’d jump in a car for a trans-continental, summer-long trip and say, “See you in the fall.” He wasn’t being selfish; he figured you were a grown man, he was going to be busy, and we could catch up later. If you and your dog have 100 followers on Instagram, you don’t want to partner with that kind of guy.

Then there are pigs. Oh yes, pigs fly, and I can’t imagine a worse partner than the darling raised by an indulgent mother or the straight-back who thinks only enlisted men pick up brass. Some oinkers are actually more unconscious than self-centered, but when you’re ankle deep in last month’s burrito wrappers and oiled carpet, it really doesn’t matter what the lack of motivation is. Luckily, like tightwads, the effluvium-blind are pretty easy to spot. Check out their car’s interior.

Piggy habits extend outside of the airplane to the hangar and wherever else no one else is paid to clean up. And even if your partner pays like a slot machine, is a 25,000-hour pilot, and doesn’t mind if you fly the shared plane five times as much as he does, if he leaves half-full coffee cups in the plane, pizza on the hangar sofa, and the cup of wheel bearing grease in with the sockets, you’re not going to like it. It’s pretty much the same with those guys who can’t put away tools and think anything on the floor is something someone else is going to take care of.

Speaking of tools, and considering you’re reading KITPLANES, are you and a prospective partner meshed as a technical team? If you’re a Lindy-winning builder and Partner Joe can’t find the operating end of a slot screwdriver, then a complete understanding of who is doing what to whom mechanically should be explicitly spelled out before joining in flight-lock.

Maintenance is another priority test. Some guys think a tire with halfway worn tread is a threat to national security while little hints of cord showing make me hiss about probably having to replace a tire after my next paycheck. Figure on partnership airplanes getting more, rather than less, maintenance. The shared responsibility means you don’t want to be that guy, plus everything is half cost, so why not do things the right way?

Significant Others. Now there’s a topic for another day, other than to note if social mixing is part of the partnership, the spouses best tolerate each other.

One aspect of partnership my co-owner and I agree we haven’t figured out is our exit plan. It’s much easier to join up than split up—ask any lawyer—and having some idea of what you’ll leave or take when dissolving the partnership is something to consider before forming it.

Also very helpful is a safety valve. In my case it’s my Starduster. If I can’t fly the shared plane, I have my private hot rod to turn to. That’s been a big help. My partner’s safety valve is he doesn’t need the plane like I do. It’s just a fun thing on the side of work and home life and all that other bother, so if the plane isn’t 100 percent available, that’s part of having only half the costs.

Which brings us to what must be the most important aspect of a partnership: the ability to give a little, to accommodate, to not win every time. Remember, your partner helps you with the bills and maybe socially, too. And that’s worth something.

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Tom Wilson
Pumping avgas and waxing flight school airplanes got Tom into general aviation in 1973, but the lure of racing cars and motorcycles sent him down a motor journalism career heavy on engines and racing. Today he still writes for peanuts and flies for fun.


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