Logical progression of airplane ownership

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I am a 40 something student pilot presently training in a 1999 172u. My intention is to
progress directly into IFR training shortly after my private is done. Barring a major
complication I will have IFR done this summer. I'm based near Minneapolis and want fly
regionally to Green Bay, WI and Kansas City, MO regularly to start with but the long term
goal is Scottsdale, AZ which I frequent many times a year. I'd like to make the Scottsdale
trip in under four hours if I could. I have a wife, and children 9, 14, and a 17 year old thats
off to college in the fall and probably not flying with us much. As well as two Bernese
Mountain Dogs that need to travel with me regularly. BTW I'm 6'3" the rest of the family is
normal sized. :-)

I would prefer to fly newer airplanes and would really rather IFR training was in a glass
cockpit. Insurance issues seem to be the early killers to all my ideas. I thought a Turbo
206 would be a great starter, insurance man says nope. Do I really need to stay in a
airplane with a true useful load of less than 500lbs for 250 hours? Am I two airplanes from
my Scottsdale mission, three?

So, heres the deal given a million dollar budget, and no desire to kill myself or anybody
else, what would you recommend the progression of airplanes be?

Thanks for your thoughts

-- Michael Kramer, February 17, 2007


KSMP to KSDL is 1100 n.m. There are very few low-budget planes that can carry more than 500 lbs. this distance, especially against any kind of headwind. A brand new Piper Malibu will be more than $1 million and won't do the trip, for example, in less than four hours and probably not without a refueling stop.

There are plenty of guys fresh out of instrument ratings who are able to transition to single-engine turboprops such as the Piper Meridian, TBM-700, or Pilatus PC-12. Unless you want to put those dogs on a serious diet, you might be looking at the PC-12, which cannot be bought for less than $2.2 million (10+ years old) and which does not come with glass at any price. The Meridian doesn't have the range. Your 206 doesn't have the speed. An older TBM might be the best compromise, but they are closer to $1.5 million.

I wouldn't worry about insurance. At your level of flying, insurance is almost worthless. You will have a $100,000 per person sublimit. Pick up an airline captain/CFI buddy and ride with him until he says that you are good to go by yourself and on what kinds of missions. The insurance companies deal in averages, but the reality is that some 250-hour pilots are ready for a PC-12 and some 2500-hour pilots will never be. Don't rely on your own judgement, though, in deviating from the insurance company's recommendation! Find an instructor with high standards and let yourself go solo when he says that you are flying your airplane to ATP standards.

Let me close with a plug for an older Piper Malibu. The 1984-1988 Continental-powered machines have tremendous range. They are relatively cheap to run. The hull value is low enough that if you wreck one you won't be ruined. The cockpit might be a little too tight for a 6'3" person (I think it is okay and I'm 6' tall).

If you want to go the other direction, favoring load over pressurization and comfort, the Cessna Caravan. Plenty of low-time guys have been shoved into these to fly night cargo through icy clouds. Most are still alive...

Anyway, it really comes down to training. The insurance companies assume you are only willing to do a few days per year and quote accordingly. If you have the discipline to come up with a more rigorous transition training program, you can be safe in a more capable airplane than the insurance company would quote you for.

-- Philip Greenspun, February 17, 2007