Part 3 of a 3-part series on the AirShares Elite small-airplane fractional ownership program, here on flyingmag.com.
After a year of flying a share of an AirShares Elite SR22, we weigh in on the future of small airplane fractional ownership and what it might mean to you.
For the past couple of years I have been flying shared ownership airplanes with two different companies, first a new Cessna 182 as part of the OurPlane program and later a Cirrus SR22 as part of the AirShares Elite program. During that time I've flown approximately 150 hours in these airplanes on all kinds of missions, some near, some far, some with a couple of hours notice and some with several weeks'. Flying a new airplane is easy to get used to, and that's even truer for one that's as nicely equipped as the C182 and SR22. It's been great.
So, why isn't everybody flying a fractional? Good question.
Ask anybody who makes a living selling airplanes. They'll tell you that while there are a lot of pilots out there who can afford a good used airplane, there aren't many, much to their consternation, who can swing a brand new one. Which is why owning part of an airplane makes so much sense. At least on paper. And there are traditional ways to share an airplane, but not very satisfying ones. Partnerships sound like a good idea, but because of all the complications inherent in them-cost sharing, partners moving, unexpected bills, to name a few-it's hard to make them work. The use of a professional management company to administer sharing of light airplanes makes sense-bizjets are shared that way all the time-but until recently there hasn't been the option for small airplane pilot-owners to make use of such services.
Just a few years ago, however, a few companies emerged seeking a way to expand the pool of potential small airplane buyers by selling them just part of the airplane. These companies were very loosely styled after bizjet fractional providers like NetJets that provide a part of an airplane, the pilots to fly it, and the organization to watch over the investment. Would the same idea work for piston-powered airplanes from Cessna and Cirrus?
Not necessarily. For starters, the business model is inherently different in two very important respects. First, fractional owners of bizjets don't fly their own airplanes; professional crews do that. Second, bizjets fly really fast (which is why they're so popular with those who can afford them), allowing them to be ferried cost effectively to where the owner is based.
Neither condition applies to small airplanes. They are, for one, relatively slow and, hence, hard to reposition from any distance, and they're typically flown by their owners. Also, bizjets are, note the name, flown mostly during the week on business, whereas small airplanes are flown more typically for pleasure on the weekend, so scheduling shared ownership of light airplanes would seem, at first blush, more problematical. Because of these factors and more, the bizjet model, which has been successful, doesn't necessarily transfer to light airplanes.
In fact, because of these differences, as far as the FAA is concerned, programs like OurPlane and AirShares Elite aren't technically "fractional" programs at all (see sidebar), though they will certainly be referred to as such for some time to come.
As I've said before, I went to the "fractional" experience skeptical about it. The logistics didn't seem to be there, and I worried that my experience would largely consist of trying, unsuccessfully, to get the same airplane that four other pilots were trying to get at the same time. I also worried that the costs would be too high; still, the folks who run these programs insisted I was wrong. I was curious to see who was right.