A New Fractional Vision Explored

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AirShares Elite Cirrus SR22

****Part 2 of a 3-part series on the AirShares Elite small-airplane fractional ownership program, here on flyingmag.com.****

What's the ideal airplane? For most of us, it's the one that goes a few knots faster, travels a little farther or carries a bit more weight than the one we're currently flying. As in the rest of life, however, such improvements in utility and convenience come at a price. Want more airplane? Be prepared to pay more for it.

Which is why fractional ownership, at least at first glance, is so appealing. If you can't use the whole airplane, why pay for all of it? Moreover, if you can afford the whole airplane but don't need it, why not take that same amount of money and put it toward part of a much more capable airplane? The hoped-for result is getting a lot more airplane for a lot less money.

While this sounds too good to be true, today there are a handful of companies that will indeed sell you part of an airplane, and they'll manage it for you as part of the deal. Last year I completed a successful, long-term evaluation, flying a share of a brand-new Cessna 182 as part of the OurPlane program. I'm now in the middle of a similar long-term test of an AirShares Elite Cirrus SR22.

New Pricing Plans

Since I began the evaluation, the program has evolved. AirShares is now offering lease options, which allow pilots to get into a Cirrus with less money down, and it's introduced a program to put pilots in the left seat of an existing SR20. The program is designed, says AirShares, to help pilots build time toward SR22 ownership. Because of insurance and proficiency requirements, to fly an SR22 in the AirShares program, pilots need 350 hours of total time and to be working on an instrument rating. SR20 ownership, in contrast, requires just 100 hours total time and a private pilot certificate with no instrument rating needed. AirShares plans to start the program at Danbury (Connecticut) Airport with an existing SR20. Cost of the lease, which provides 75 hours of flying time a year, is $5,000 up front, $80 an hour and $780 per month. The lease customer can renew the agreement annually, and the $5,000, a one-time fee, is partially refundable depending on how long the customer stays in the lease.

The company has also introduced lease options for its brand-new SR22s, at either the 50-hour or 75-hour annual usage level. The up-front cost is the same $5,000 as for the SR20, but the hourly operating cost of $90 and the monthly maintenance fees of $785 (50 hours) and $1,120 (75 hours) are substantially more.

Customers can still buy a share in a new SR22. A 50-hour-a-year purchase agreement costs $44,000 up front, $475 a month and $60 an hour. The costs of a 75-hour agreement are $61,000 equity payment, $710 for the monthly management fee and $60 for each flying hour. In keeping with its single-model fleet concept, AirShares doesn't plan to sell ownership shares in SR20s.

Customer Service

In my previous article, I shared my first impressions, gained while going through the extensive training program in the airplane. Those impressions, as you may recall, were all good. The customer service experience was, if anything, even better than promised, and the training experience was top drawer.

So while things looked promising, I didn't yet know if the program could pull off the real magic of small-airplane fractionals, making the airplanes available enough to satisfy the owners.

AirShares' approach to this is different than OurPlane's because it places multiple airplanes at a single location, so owners can truly share ownership with others while flying identical, or nearly identical, airplanes.

While the availability of the OurPlane 182 was excellent, that of the AirShares' SR22 is even better, thanks to the greater number of airplanes in the program-at my home base of Westchester County (HPN), there are now three SR22s (more on that later). So far, I've taken more than a dozen trips both long and short and have yet to hear the word, "Sorry." And the people behind that customer service have gone above and beyond.

Mariana Barros, who's located at the Atlanta facility (PDK), is in charge of scheduling the airplanes. On three or four occasions I've called with a last-minute scheduling request-including one for a weekend flight- and Mariana has asked if it was okay if she called me right back. It didn't occur to me until the second or third time that she was working behind the scenes to get me an airplane. AirShares New York general manager Kevin Price told me that my treatment was not unusual, that he could count "on one hand" in the past year and a half the number of times customers have been told they couldn't get an airplane.

So one of my early concerns about the program, the lack of a self-serve website, turned out to be needless. Scheduling personally actually allows the company to be more creative than customers could be themselves. In the New York area, it also gives them the flexibility to ferry airplanes around to where the customers need them.

Getting Flying

The whole point of having an airplane, or part of one, is to fly it places, and that was precisely my plan with the SR22, an airplane conceived for just that purpose. In many ways I fit the typical profile of the AirShares customer, a professional with a family who wants to fly the airplane for a variety of reasons, primarily for business, but also for family travel, proficiency and just for the fun of it.

In the first couple of months after my challenging, winter-weather checkout, I flew the airplane on several trips, including a pair of jaunts down to central Florida, for the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland and to the Aircraft Electronics Association convention, held near Orlando, the latter of which I scheduled with just a week's notice.

In Lakeland I was reminded of how nice it is to have somebody else manage your airplane for you. On my stop at Kinston, North Carolina, the airplane pulled a bit on landing. I thought it was a gust of wind. Takeoff, however, was similarly challenging, and the landing at Sun 'n Fun was accompanied by a healthy swerve that indicated that there was indeed a real problem. I parked the airplane, got the name of a local FBO (Lakeland Air Service) and made one call, to Darin Laby at AirShares, to apprise him of the situation. Darin called me the next day to let me know that the mechanics (Cirrus, which was at the show, offered its help, too) had found and fixed the issue, which turned out to be a lubrication problem on the nosewheel axle.

A month later, I was planning a long-weekend family trip to Montreal, and AirShares helped out by ensuring that I had a permanent registration certificate in the airplane-with owners being added all the time, it takes time for the paperwork to travel back and forth between New York and Oklahoma City.

I also took advantage of one of AirShares' services one Friday in August when I had a last-minute chance to join my family on Cape Cod for the weekend. There was no way I was going to get an airplane on a summer weekend with 24 hours' notice, so I asked if I could fly out to the Cape with Darin and have him take the airplane back so it would be available for its weekend schedule. Again, the answer was "yes." I even got an hour's worth of actual instrument time, including an ILS to 250 feet agl in the bargain, not to mention a wonderful weekend with the family.

It Gets Better

In June I got an e-mail from AirShares saying that the company was considering swapping its two Sandel-equipped SR22s for three new SR22s outfitted with Avidyne Entegra flat-panel primary flight displays and TKS ice protection. The e-mail asked owners if they'd like to do that, taking into consideration that costs would increase some. As it turned out, every owner said yes, albeit for different reasons. Most of us just wanted to fly with the flat panels-I mean, how cool is that? Others were swayed by the fact that their equity would be better protected in the more modern version of the SR22 when it came time for AirShares to sell the airplane at the end of the five-year term.

So, for the last couple of months I've been flying the latest, and newest, SR22s in the fleet. (See story last month on just what went into that transition. It was trickier than I thought it would be.)

AirShares has, at this writing, 17 airplanes in five locations, with more on the way. There are three in the New York area, a pair in Birmingham, nine in Atlanta, two in Boston, and one in Chicago. Nationwide there are 55 clients in the program. AirShares has also added a new feature, nationwide availability. If you're going to be in Atlanta or Boston and you want an airplane there, just call and schedule like it's your home base.

I closed my first article on the AirShares program with the question, "Is it possible to share two (now three) really nice cross-country airplanes with 15 other people?" The answer has turned out to be an emphatic "yes."

Frax FAQs
• Costs are substantially higher than renting but much lower than whole ownership. Share owners pay for their share of the airplane, an hourly operating cost (for fuel, oil, etc.), and a monthly management fee.
• Term lengths vary so that everybody's term is up at the end of five years. At that time, AirShares sells the airplane, keeps a broker's fee and distributes the proceeds among the owners.
• Unlike fractionally owned jets, which travel to the customer, small airplane fractionals are based at a single airport or (in the case of AirShares) two or more neighboring airports. If there's no program near you, you're out of luck.
• The AirShares program is truly a shared ownership one. You might fly the airplane you own a part of, or, depending on availability, you might fly an identical one owned by somebody else. You just have to keep the N-numbers straight.
• Unlike the jet programs, there's no guaranteed availability with small-airplane fractionals. Some programs, such as OurPlane, have weighted availability, allowing higher share members the chance to reserve farther in the future. AirShares is first come, first served.
• Depending on the program, customers can be on the registration certificate as a part owner or not. As with jet fractionals, there are certain tax advantages to ownership.

You've just read Part II - A New Fractional Vision Explored - February 2004 Click here for Part I - A New Fractional Vision Explored - August 2003 Click here for Part III - The Jury's In: AirShares Elite SR22 - June 2004