Some financial and other considerations for prospective owners or anyone embarking on a flying association with Moth aeroplanes.
Any pilot interested in flying Moths will probably consider owning one at some point. The novice pilot may be seeking experience on a Moth in order to get a feel for vintage tail-dragging. Perhaps the viability of restoring a Moth may even be under consideration at some point.
In short, there are several ways to get airborne in a Moth for those starting out, all of which involve parting with different amounts of cash, so it is worth looking at all the prospects before making any heavy commitments.
HIRING A MOTH
Opportunities for hiring a Moth commercially are limited. You cannot go to your nearest Rent-a-Moth depot, sign the triplicate form and head off around the country for a few days.
A few organisations around the world operate Tiger Moths on a full-time commercial basis offering experience flights or conversion training. Prices for this vary but in Europe could be between £250-£400 per hour, perhaps more than some modern alloy or plastic machines, but with the bonus of being a lot more fun! Prices will vary depending on the type of operation and whether the booking is for formal dual instruction or just a ‘trial lesson’. There are other options including the de Havilland Moth Club’s annual Moth Flying Forum in England which, in an informal atmosphere, provides an opportunity for some serious familiarisation flying with experts.
Of course the benefit of hiring a Moth, or just buying a ride in one at this stage in the game, is that of experience and thrills, without having to part with a large amount of capital or taking on the responsibilities of an owner-operator. One is simply paying for usage.
However, for many this is a short lived experience for the simple reason that, as a pilot, hiring a Moth restricts flying activities, both with regard to when and how often an aircraft is available, and what to do when it is.
Many pilot devotees of Moths want the freedom to indulge their flying habit by regularly honing their aerobatic skills, their formation flying technique or by attending the increasing number of invitation events and airshows. Most commercial or occasional hire arrangements do not cater for such levels of addiction.
RE-BUILDING A MOTH
What about buying and rebuilding a damaged Moth? People renovate old cars, and the technology is not really very different. Just think of the satisfaction of strapping in and taking off in a Moth restored exactly as you wanted it, and all achieved by your own fair hand. This is a perfectly realistic option for the handyman although this takes not only resource, but time, lots of time.
If you are inclined to venture on this longer-term route to ownership, it is often possible to pick up a project, long dismantled or damaged, which can be restored. An initial lump sum, how much depending on the overall condition and inclusion of an engine or not, will be substantially less than you would expect to pay for a flyer, and the completion costs can be conveniently spread out over any schedule dictated by yourself.
You will be supplying your own labour, mostly, but the additional cost of parts, materials and specialist services (such as an engine overhaul) could eventually and easily exceed the cost of purchasing a half-decent airworthy aircraft! The end cost is, of course, dependent on how complete and in what condition your project was to start with, but the result would be a ‘new’ aeroplane finished to your own specification and satisfaction and worth much more than the total outlay.
There is, perhaps, another major benefit to be gained from rebuilding. Anyone who has developed an understanding of Moths through restoring one themselves is most likely to be inclined to continue to do much of their own upkeep and maintenance. In addition, they are likely to be starting off with an 'as new’ aircraft which will need minimal defect rectification during its early service life.
BUYING A MOTH
Before looking at that glossy paintwork and letting Captain Emotion take charge to decide for you, take some time to consider what you ought to be looking for. It can be all too easy to buy a Moth which is more tired than you think.
Prices for airworthy aircraft vary quite considerably. In Europe, Tiger Moths can sell for anywhere between £40,000 and £85,000 and about the same amount in US$ in the USA. This price differential exists for the best reasons and time spent carefully assessing the status of a potential purchase will stand you in good stead.
So, what are we looking for in addition to the hardware underneath that lovely glossy paint job? A valid Permit or Certificate of Airworthiness or Standard or Experimental C of A will confirm, or should confirm, that you are buying an airworthy aircraft but, it is important to check that all mandatory modifications have been incorporated and Service Bulletins are up to date. These can add a fair whack on top of initial purchase costs if they have not been done pre-sale. Also, when is the next inspection scheduled for engine and airframe and when is the certification due for renewal?
Engine overhauls are not cheap. Give some thought to how many hours life remain on the engine. An on-condition engine with 1,500hrs or more might push up the maintenance bills and a major overhaul may be required within a short time. What about the fabric covering? Depending on the type of material used and when it was last applied, you might soon be faced with a big bill to have the airframe re-covered.
Does the aircraft come with radio or navigation equipment fitted or as portable plug in, and an intercom system that will work with your own helmets if none is supplied? Are these items included as part of the purchase price?
Do not assume that a cheap Moth is a bargain just because it looks good. You might be buying a real dog and would have been far better off paying a little more for one in much better condition. If you are in any doubt, get some help from an independent expert. The Moth Club can offer advice.
OPERATING A MOTH
How much will your Moth cost to run? There are the fixed hangarage and insurance costs to pay before you get into the air, as well as calendar-based maintenance and certification fees. Then you need to cover the normal costs of consumables, fuel and oil, together with the odd landing fee.
Insurance premiums can vary widely, based on the hull value and the level of coverage required or accepted. Cover for Third Party liability is mandatory and then you need to consider Crown Indemnity, necessary if visiting an MoD site, excess payments, quantification of minimum pilot qualifications or selection of named pilots, geographical limits of operation, as well as types of flying, eg. racing, aerobatting, display flying, public hire, etc.
In any part of the world a Moth should ideally be kept under cover. Hangarage costs vary considerably. The bigger airfields can charge what might be considered excessive rates but demand often exceeds the supply for covered accommodation. Some owners choose to operate from private strips for convenience, in order to minimise hangarage costs and landing fees, and to take the opportunities offered by exclusivity and a more flexible operating regime.
Whichever route you may be considering, a word of caution: Do not avoid the use of hangarage; it will be a false economy to do so. Traditional fabrics used on most Moths will degrade quickly and corrosion of metal structures will be accelerated if the aircraft is left exposed to the elements for any length of time. This will lead to larger maintenance bills and, in addition to the security risk, the aircraft would be more exposed to damage by inclement weather conditions.
Maintenance can be the biggest of the annual operating costs for a Moth in reasonable condition, if the work is contracted to a professional organisation. However, maintenance costs can be reduced by the owner, under supervision, carrying out a lot of the mundane tasks and minor checks.
If any work is to be completed by a maintenance organisation, be sure to find one that understands Moths. A 'Part 145 Maintenance Approval' does not mean that a company is familiar with the type, and one that is not will take longer to complete a job, learning as they go, and will charge accordingly.
SHARING A MOTH
By far the most popular way to enjoy the benefits of Moth ownership and to keep costs at more acceptable levels, particularly if you are starting out, is to buy a share in an established group. However, most groups will insist on a minimum number of P1 hours for any candidate seeking membership and possibly even prior experience on the type of Moth they own. They might expect type-conversion elsewhere if they are unable or unwilling to provide that service in-house.
Capital outlay, operating costs, plus contributions to a maintenance fund can be spread equally amongst all the members in a group, especially in the unfortunate event that there be a need to pay for unanticipated maintenance or repairs.
Of course, the greater the number of members in a group, the less availability there may be for each individual to book the aeroplane. But an added benefit is that sharing with a number of like-minded individuals is likely to improve your broader Moth education and enrich your flying experiences