For the first time in over 12 years, SA Flyer does not own an aircraft. At the end of March we sold our Saratoga IITC, ZS-OFH.
The reasons we sold it are unfortunately symptomatic of the position many aircraft owners find themselves in – specifically in South Africa. The bottom line was that it had just become too expensive to own and operate, and that was despite some very favourable deals we had with Ferreira Aviation for maintenance and Flightsure for insurance, amongst others.
The harsh reality is that a complex general aviation aircraft has become so expensive to operate that it is largely beyond the reach of a specialist publication. OFH burns around 60 litres per hour – that’s R1,200 per hour just in fuel. A useful rule of thumb says that it costs three times the fuel burn to own and fly a GA aircraft – perhaps as much as four times if you don’t fly it at least 50-100 hours a year. And I was saddened to discover that in the year since I had moved OFH to the Cape, I had flown her just 33 hours. Many of those flights were less than an hour’s scenic flip around the Cape Peninsula, plus the monthly Saturday fly-aways organised by the dynamic Morningstar Flying Club. I was no longer using her for the original purpose we bought her – air-to-air photography and flying to airshows.
Then the tacho clicked over from 1,599 hours to 1,600 hours since new. Suddenly there were just 300 and something hours to go to major. And that Lycoming TSIO-540 is expensive – I’m told that in today’s money it may cost as much as R800,000 to overhaul. That added another R2,500 per hour to the flying, which I should have been squirreling away in a savings account, but wasn’t.
The ‘Toga had been a fantastic plane to own: fast and comfortable, even my wife liked flying long distances in her. And we took her all over Southern Africa, from Mozambique to the Cape coast. We flew many air races and each time she was good for 175 knots, albeit at a thirsty 30 gph. That’s why the Race for Rhinos with its fuel sponsorship is a favourite!
We sold it for just under 70% of its Blue Book retail price, which is fairly typical for South African used aircraft sales. The new owners say they will use her to fly into northern Mozambique. I trust they will get as much enjoyment out of her as I did.
So, at the moment I’m without a plane. Sympathetic members of Morningstar have rallied around and offered me their aircraft for free – I just have to put the fuel in. That makes the costs and hassles of owning another plane hard to justify, but I know that having once enjoyed the privilege of having our own aircraft, I will soon have to be an owner once again.