Choosing A Piston Aircraft Leasing Partner

Aircraft leasing has been a business for many years. The history of when exactly the first aircraft lease transaction occurred is a bit hard to determine, but we do know that Steve Udar-Hazy, the CEO of ILFC, brokered his first deal back in the late 1970’s for a Mexican Airline DC8. Even after 40+ years, aircraft leasing is only widely known and understood in the commercial and business aircraft space.  Piston aircraft leasing is still somewhat unfamiliar to many, but is a financing option that should be discussed when a program or flight academy is considering their options for acquiring new aircraft.  


There is no need to be afraid of leasing. Piston aircraft leasing can be broken down into two simple options, each of which contains several different type of partners who provide a range of services to help a flight training program meet financial and operational goals. Simply put their are short-term lease partners, companies or individuals who lease aircraft on a month to month or even hourly basis, and longer term lessors generally made up of banks, specialty lenders and fleet management companies.

Before getting to far into the type of lender you should seek out, it is important to first consider your reasons for leasing by outlining some goals you would like to reach. Sounds like common sense, I know, but I have seen the financing process get dragged out because simple planning was not done in the beginning.

Aside from the fact that goal-setting is good business practice, it also helps lessors better price out deals that meet a programs needs. For example, you should be thinking about:

  • The airframe and model aircraft best suited for your curriculum
  • The number of aircraft you need to accurately service your students without being under or over-utilized
  • Are you leasing aircraft to get access to newer equipment? If having new technology available to your students is important, you should consider a lease that allows you to upgrade your piston aircraft at the end of the term so you are continually training pilots on the most up to date technology.
  • Are you leasing because you need to upgrade your aircraft but would like to avoid the large upfront capital requirement usually needed to acquire new planes?
  • Do you plan to use the aircraft until the end of their useful life? If so you should be looking for a lease package that allows you to own the aircraft at the end of the term.

These are only a few of the questions to think about when getting started. Here is a complete list of things to consider when beginning the process. Don’t worry, it's free!


Weekend Warrior Lessor: These are your 1 to 1 leases with piston aircraft owners in the surrounding area. These are the usually the guys that bought an aircraft one day thinking they were going to fly it a few times a week and put 150 hours a year on the plane. In reality, they realized they had wives…and then kids… and then jobs and found they were only able to fly once a month if they were lucky.

Generally, some of the Warriors will find a school or flight training program that they will lease their plane to when its not being used, in order to cover the cost of ownership. This can be a really good option for your flight training program if you only need one or two planes and are not to particular about what year and airframe they are. The downsides can be that the school doesn’t always have the plane when they need it. If the lessor decides to sell the plane the program could be out of luck (or could be the ones making the purchase). As a program manager, you are also dependent upon the equipment the aircraft owners at your airport have.

Savvy Industrious Guys: These guys have been doing it awhile. Piston aircraft leasing has been their go to business for 20+ years and now they own a bunch of older aircraft that they owe no money on. So like any astute businessman, they rent out whatever aircraft they have left in flying condition on an hourly or month-to-month basis.

This is really a great option for your program if you need aircraft on a short-term lease. You can essentially rent for as long or as little as you like as long as you don’t mind using older (usually steam) technology. 

Gordon Gecko: If you know who Gordon Gecko is then you understand that the only lessor I could be referring to with this characterization is the banks. Okay, maybe Gordon Gecko is a little harsh... Banks are great if you're looking for a lease on a car or a lease on office equipment; stuff they understand.  Problem is, most banks do not understand flight training or the value of a piston aircraft. They spend a lot of time playing with business jets and try to apply that same thinking to a piston aircraft lease. Unfortunately, the piston aircraft market does not function the same as the corporate jet market. 

My suggestion for dealing with banks is to look for the smaller specialty banks where you can have a more personal relationship. That way you can help educate the banker on the real value of piston aircraft...

The Fleet Guys: These companies can be tough to find. They play in the piston market day in and day out so they understand the assets. Their only job is to manage fleets of aircraft for flight training programs and organizations so they have a wide array of services to meet that need.  They tend to already own a large variety of both new and used aircraft and will usually go to the market and purchase the aircraft you need if they don’t have it in their inventory. Best of all, they tend to be focused on customer service. 

The Fleet Managers tend to be a good option for a long-term lease of more than 3 or 4 aircraft.  They offer pricing specific to each program and are usually looking for new ways to service their customers. These guys are in the business for the long haul looking to build mutually beneficial long-term partnerships to benefit their business. If you’re looking for a short-term lease option, this probably isn’t the best lessor for you.

At the end of the day, you have many options as a flight training program looking for piston aircraft leasing options. The most important thing is to set strong goals at the beginning and work with a partner that will best help you reach them.