22 December 2007

Richard Collins Scraps His Plane

Richard Collins has been one of general aviation's foremost advocates for well over 50 years. He is well-known as an editor for Flying magazine and used to manage AOPA Pilot at one time. His father, Leighton Collins, was a well-known aviator and writer as well, having founded Air Facts magazine.

Richard Collins' name is familiar to just about everyone flying in North America, as he not only writes about aviation, but has traveled widely, speaking all over the continent and traveling to most of his speaking engagements in his trusty 1979 model Cessna P210N Pressurized Centurion.

So it came as rather a surprise to open the January, 2008 issue of Flying magazine and learn in his column, On Top, that he had scrapped the plane! For those of you who don't have that issue of Flying handy the story is available on line. It is well worth reading.

This story is an interesting one from several perspectives

Collins bought N40RC in April 1979 as a new aircraft. He even registered it with his initials as part of the "N" number. That is pretty personal. He was the sole owner of that P210N and flew it for just under 9,000 hours over 28 and half years. There is no doubt from his writing that he was very attached to that P210.

So why did he scrap it?

First off, he makes the point that he wasn't flying it as much as he used to. In the past Collins would put several hundred hours a year on the plane, getting to places for work and pleasure. In 2007 he was headed for a flying year of well under 100 hours. He says that was due to his age (73 years old) and his reduced work schedule.

Then there were the maintenance problems. Collins is a stickler for proper maintenance and didn't fly the plane with outstanding snags on it. He mentions that the plane has been difficult to keep serviceable, mostly due to the lack of parts. He adds that using reconditioned parts has not been a good experience in recent years and new parts are often not available. The plane was coming up for a few expensive items soon, too, including $13,000 for new deicing boots.

He talked to a Cessna engineer when he bought the plane who told him that the P210 was tested by Cessna to the equivalent of 10,000 hours. There is no life limit on the airframe and no indication that it should be retired at 10,000 hours or at any other time limit.

He does argue that the P210 is a demanding aircraft to maintain and fly, describing it as a "complicated and temperamental" design. He points out that "the P210 has the worst fatal accident rate of any certified piston single" according to his analysis of the NTSB data. He was concerned about selling it to an inexperienced pilot who might have joined the P210 wreck statistics.

He states that at his age he couldn't get liability insurance in the higher limit amount that he wanted and that was with almost 9,000 hours on type.

So what have we got? An older pilot with a 28 year old plane that is a maintenance hog, hard to get insurance for and not using it enough to justify the cost.

Why not sell it?

Actually that was Collins' first inclination. He advertised widely it and only got one serious inquiry, which didn't turn into a sale. The used airplane dealers wouldn't take it either.

As a result Collins decided to scrap the plane. He really didn't have a lot of choice at that point. Perhaps he could have donated it to a museum, if he could find one looking for a P210. I can only assume it had some residual value as parts.

Collins has written on several occasions that he doesn't believe that old airplanes last forever, no matter how well maintained they are. After 28 years, many engine and prop overhauls and almost 9000 airframe hours, he figures he "had about worn the airplane out". He scrapped it "when I thought the airplane told me that it was tired and wanted to go to bed, I had to listen and to agree."

And so N40RC will fly no more, although some of its parts will probably fly again, but that will be as close as it will get. As for Collins he will be renting airplanes from now on.

Here in Canada, we have lots of light aircraft that are flying with many more than 28 years and 9,000 hours on them. Heck a 1979 model like the one Collins scrapped is considered a relatively "new" aircraft north of the US border. Some of those aircraft are maintenance hogs and many of them don't fly enough to justify their costs. Their owners just don't want to add up the total amount spent each year and divide by the number of flying hours to get the true hourly cost.

Collins' action in scrapping his plane and then writing about it challenges aircraft owners to think about their own situation. Today with the high Canadian dollar, used aircraft are very cheap and can be quite hard to sell. Is there a time to scrap older aircraft instead of endlessly passing them onto new owners, some of whom are younger than the aircraft?

I don't have an answer to this question. Feel free to post your thoughts here on the COPA Flight 8 blog.