Enrolling Our GA Fleet in AARP

We had the pleasure of enjoying a full week at Oshkosh this year. And, although we had to spend some of the time we had there at our booth, every Gemco employee had the ability to get out and see the sights of the show. And, although Oshkosh is an exciting event for most people, we can't figure out why.

There are always a few new things on demo there, but for the most part, the show is like a CD player that keeps repeating itself after getting bumped around. Going around the manufacturer booths, the large players are showing off the same airplanes they have for years. Beechcraft has the Bonanza, Baron and King Air. Cessna has the 172, 182, and a 206. Mooney had their M20. Although we don't have any photos, the Airventure of today would look very similar to one from the 1980s (except for the show-goers fashion sense).

Moving towards the flight line, more nostalgia awaits. Walking among all the aircraft that flew into the show, there were too many aircraft built before the start of the 21st century to count. And, although there is something to be said about preserving the classics, it was disheartening to see the lack of new designs being flown today. Talking with a friend who is an Aeronautical Engineer, he said that "aircraft engineers are having a tough time in the states. Most of us go over to Europe, where many of the new designs are coming from." And, its true. The sleek new euro designs, the result of years of high gas prices and user fees, make many of the legacy US manufacturer designs appear dated.

Although it would be great to sit around and propose ways to change this; a way to bring general aviation to a point where it is economically viable to start the design of new, clean sheet aircraft, there is a more important discussion to be had. As these airplanes age, we need to construct ways to keep them flying in the most economical manner possible. If you were to travel back to the 1950s, and tell Beech engineers that their Bonanza would still be in active service in 2017, they would have laughed you out of their building. As operators and owners of these aircraft, the responsibility for continued airworthiness falls on us.

This starts with continuing an manufacturer required, and recommended, maintenance. Although many of the maintenance procedures were not designed to keep an aircraft in service forever, they form the backbone of what has to be done to keep the aircraft flying. In addition, aircraft owners need to be proactive about their maintenance, looking for things that are showing their age, and take action to fix them.

As these airplanes continue to age, maintenance will become more and more difficult. The rotables pool is shrinking at an alarming rate, causing many repair shops to take notice. As some manufacturer support is ending, owners may find it necessary to go to the junk yards for more and more parts, or rely on the guidance provided in FAR 21.9 concerning the concept of owner produced parts.  This all, in the end, means aircraft will continue to get more expensive to operate.

What this can imply, then, is that legacy aircraft will continue to trundle down in value. Every aircraft, whether it is a G-V business jet ready for its next trans-atlantic crossing, or a Cessna 150 getting ready for another $300 (after inflation) hamburger, the value of the aircraft on the used market is directly linked to the outstanding maintenance liability against it. In layman terms, if your engine has a TBO of 2000 hours, and you've flown 1000 hours against that, the buyer of your aircraft will expect you to lower the asking price of the plane to account for the fact he'll have to replace the engine after only 1000 hours of his own flying. Going deeper, the shrinking rotable pool, lack of junkyard parts, and aging airframes demanding more work, all demand that asking prices be lowered to account for the associated responsibility in keeping the bird flying.

It behooves all aircraft owners and operators to seriously consider their aircraft value in the context of their unique outstanding maintenance liability. When talking with customers here at Gemco about our Overhaul Savings program, we explain how having an hourly engine overhaul program can increase value via the reduction in outstanding maintenance liability. Although the engine will always be a liability on the front of your plane, by being enrolled in a Gemco program reduces the outstanding part of that liability.

Walking around Oshkosh, as we've viewed it here, could be conceived to be a depressing event. We don't see it that way. Instead, it was affirmation of what we are faced with, and need to adapt to. Although the Part 23 rewrite might free up certification for new designs, possibly justifying new market entry, general aviation needs to come to terms with the fact that we will be operating the same aircraft for years to come. And, instead of ignoring it, we need to develop methods to cope with the additional responsibility, and expense of this. So, although we might need to inquire about an AARP membership for our airplanes, they are still able to fly well into the future providing new generations with the joy of flight.

Dylan Grimm