Flying can be one of the world’s most expensive hobbies. Not everyone has the resources to buy their own airplane. However, owning your own airplane isn’t always the best option. Depending on how much time you spend in the air, aircraft rentals could be the right choice for you.
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Can Anyone Rent an Airplane?
Not exactly. In order to rent an airplane, you must be a certificated pilot. Different regions, such as mountainous areas, may require additional certifications or training in order to rent an aircraft. However, no matter where you go, you’ll need your pilot certificate to start the rental process.
Where To Rent an Airplane
There are three typical ways to rent an aircraft—flight schools, fixed base operators (FBO), and flying clubs. Each option has its caveats, but chances are, you’ll be able to find at least one of these in your area.
Flight schools are in business to provide training to new and existing pilots, which usually involves having an inventory of multiple trainer aircraft. At flight schools, you’ll be able to pick from a variety of aircraft and robust rental options. If you’re pursuing a pilot certification or looking to upgrade the one you have, flight schools will also have training courses to help you achieve that. Some flight schools will also have relationships with OEMs to enhance the process of buying a new aircraft as well.
Fixed Base Operators (FBO)
If you’re already a certified pilot and just need an airplane for a short trip, fixed base operators (FBOs) may be your best bet.
FBOs conduct business out of a wide range of public-use airports and come with a few benefits that flight school typically won’t have. Some may include lounges, fueling services, tiedown services, and even car and hotel reservations. As an added bonus, some FBOs may have the option to purchase new or used aircraft—if you find yourself in the position to do so.
A flying club may be a great option for someone looking to rent an airplane regularly but doesn’t want the financial burden of the upkeep. A flying club is a group of pilots who come together to purchase an aircraft to mitigate the costs, similar to a fractional ownership agreement.
The difference between fractional ownership and being in a flying club is you only pay for the hours you use, plus a monthly club fee. Because a group of people are renting the airplane monthly, the average cost per hour is much lower than renting from an FBO or private owner. For example, in a non-club environment, you can rent an aircraft such as a Cessna 172 for between $140/hr to $180/hr. By renting from a club you may pay as little as $45/hr dry.
7 Steps For Renting an Airplane
If you have not entered fractional ownership or are not part of a flying club, renting an airplane requires a bit of leg work.
Step 1: Find an Aircraft Rental Facility
Most airports have aircraft that are available to rent. Some of these aircraft are owned by the FBO or a private owner. To find out if your airport has available aircraft to rent, visit its website or give them a call.
If your airport does not have aircraft available for rental, check local flight schools. The rates may be slightly higher if you are not a flight student with them.
Step 2: Decide Your Preferred Rental Type
There are two options when renting an aircraft, renting it ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’ Renting an aircraft wet will be slightly more expensive but ‘wet’ refers to fuel being included in the rental cost. Because fuel prices vary from airport to airport, knowing that your fuel cost is covered may save you money in the long run.
Renting dry means fuel is not included. Just like a rental car, you are required to return the aircraft with the same amount of fuel that it had when you took possession, or pay a premium to fill it back up.
Step 3: Learn the Standard Rental Rate
Depending on the airframe you are renting the rental rates will vary.
Light, single-engine airplanes such as a Piper Cub or a Cessna 150 will cost you the least, normally around $80 to $100/hr dry.
Standard single-engine pistons such as Piper Cherokees and Cessna 172s will run slightly higher on average, about $120 to $150/hr dry.
If you are planning to rent a multiengine aircraft, expect to pay more than $200 an hour.
Step 4: Select an Airplane
When selecting the type of airplane you would like to rent, first consider the aircraft you have experience flying and the pilot certificates you have. Some entities will require a checkout in the aircraft before flying, even if you have flown the airframe before.
Another thing to consider when choosing an airframe is the distance you’ll travel. If you are flying quite a distance, ensure the aircraft has good fuel economy and range to mitigate the amount of times you must stop for fuel and the length of time in the air.
If you are using the aircraft for training purposes, choose an airframe that is common for the type of training you are completing such as a Cessna 172 or Piper Seminole.
Step 5: Request and Compare Rental Quotes
Different rental airplanes of the same airframe may run at different rates depending on the company or person you are renting from. It does not hurt to get quotes from different entities and people to ensure you are getting the best bang for your buck.
Renting from a sole owner is normally the most wallet-friendly way to rent an aircraft and 9 times out of 10 you’ll make a new friend!
Step 6: Sign the Rental Contract and Other Paperwork
The rental contract will consist of the type of aircraft you rented, the proposed destinations and time frame, as well as if the rental is wet or dry. Carefully read this document before signing to ensure that you understand all the aspects of your liability to aircraft and expenses you may incur.
Step 7: Get Non-owned Aircraft Insurance
Many rental companies or private owners may require you to gain non-owned aircraft insurance.
Non-owned aircraft liability insurance provides coverage in the event a corporation becomes legally liable for bodily injury (including passengers) and property damage to third parties as a result of a loss involving a corporation’s or employee’s use of a non-owned aircraft.
Most aircraft insurance companies offer this type of insurance for between $200 and $500 a year depending on the hours and experience you have.
What To Check For Before Renting an Airplane
Before taking off in your new rental, do a proper preflight check with a checklist specific to the aircraft you rented. Because this specific aircraft is probably not one you have flown before, thoroughly check all components of the aircraft to ensure your safety and the safety of others.
Also check the most recent airworthiness certificate and latest annual notes to gain a full understanding of the aircraft.
When booking an aircraft for an extended period of time or buying a surplus of hours at once, some aircraft rental companies will offer a block rate. Block rates are normally imposed if the pilot buys more than 10 hours at a time and can run 10 to 30 percent less than the standard hourly rate.
If you plan to rent an aircraft more than once in a span of a few weeks or months, consider purchasing all the hours upfront.
Dry Rate or Wet Rate
Renting an aircraft wet will be slightly more expensive but ‘wet’ refers to fuel being included in the rental cost. Because fuel prices vary from airport to airport, knowing that your fuel cost is covered may save you money in the long run.
Renting dry means fuel is not included. Just like a rental car you are required to return the aircraft with the same amount of fuel that it had when you took possession, or pay a premium to fill it back up.
The maintenance history of an aircraft is required by the FAA to be kept by the owner and accessible if it is held out for rental. This means that you can view the maintenance records at any time when renting an aircraft. Check these records before your first flight in the airplane, and as part of your checklist after maintenance has been performed, to ensure that the airplane is still within your safety expectations.
Pilots who rent airplanes will be required to gain non-owned aircraft insurance. This is liability coverage in the event a corporation becomes legally liable for bodily injury (including passengers) and property damage to third parties as a result of a loss involving a corporation’s or employee’s use of a non-owned aircraft.
The owner of the aircraft for the FBO may also have renters insurance that covers damage to the aircraft or bodily injury in the event the pilot is uninsured.
Ask the aircraft owner what type of insurance they carry and what they require you to obtain before signing the rental contract.
Before taking possession of the aircraft, complete a thorough pre-rental inspection with the owner to relieve yourself of liability to any issues that were present prior to the rental. This can include but is not limited to, body imperfections or fuel levels. Note the current status of the aircraft in the contract.
Depending on the type of aircraft you are renting and the company you are renting from, cost may vary. A good gauge of cost is between $100 to $500/hour, depending on the aircraft’s age and complexity.
It depends. If you are planning to fly the aircraft more than 20 hours a month, buying may be the cheaper option. But, if you are only planning to fly on special occasions or to train, renting an aircraft is the more affordable option.
If the student is planning to attend a Part 141 school to gain ATP hour reductions, they typically should not buy an airplane to save costs. If the student is looking to learn to fly Part 61 and continue to use the airplane for personal reasons, buying an airplane can be a good option.