Fancy owning a TB20, but can’t quite find enough cash down the back of the couch? We talk to five pilots who have joined forces financially – and lavished equal amounts of cash and TLC on their beloved TB20…
18 January 2024
Regarded by many as the ‘luxury car’ of general aviation, the TB20 Trinidad earned its status during its production span, from 1980 to around 2012. Crafted by the masterminds at SOCATA, the iconic initials ‘TB’ were derived from ‘Tarbes’, the city in France where the company HQ was based. Fitted with a 250hp Lycoming IO-540 engine, retractable undercarriage and a constant speed propeller as standard, and with a spacious, ergonomic four- or five-seat cabin, it has a reputation as a solid touring aircraft with long distances a speciality.
The TB20 is a considerable step up in purchase price from the average PA28 or C152 training aircraft. But if you are touring, then you want comfort and capability. Those come at a price. Although they are now only available second-hand, TB20s are still very much sought after. Purchase costs start at around £100,000, and top-notch examples equipped with state-of-the-art avionics can easily set you back by £250,000 – or more.
The example we looked at, is owned by a group of five pilots. Originally built in 1991, the group bought the aeroplane in 2012 for £40,000. Although well-maintained, it is starting to show signs of use, and nearing the point of needing some refurbishment, so they estimate it is now worth around £80,000.
The group was initially established with three people who got together after a chance encounter in a flying club. They all had their sights set on a decent touring aircraft, so teamed up, set themselves a rough budget and unanimously landed on one particular TB20 as the best option available.
Before parting with their money, the group invested in a presale inspection conducted by RGV at Gloucestershire. Costing £460 + VAT in 2012, the equivalent inspection today would cost you £1,200 + VAT, and is a sensible precautionary step for any prospective buyer.
The group flew the aircraft in from the private strip where it had been based, with the understanding that, if RGV found anything that would turn out to be a showstopper, the sale would be cancelled. Thankfully, there were no deal-breaking surprises.
RGV’s assessment indicated that the aeroplane was in generally good condition, but was in need of an avionics upgrade and was approaching engine overhaul time. The group went ahead with the purchase and has since enjoyed more than a decade of luxury aerial touring.
The first few years saw the group mainly facing the anticipated routine maintenance and upgrades. After some familiarisation with the aircraft, getting the required hours in for insurance, and making a handful of longer trips, they cash-funded the recommended avionics upgrade within the first year, spending around £12,000 on a suite of kit from Garmin.
They also expanded, and welcomed two additional members, helping fund the required engine overhaul by Nicholson McLaren in 2014, at a cost of just over £30,000. An overhaul on a Lycoming IO-540 with Nicholson McLaren would currently cost £43-45,000.00 + VAT.
Minor maintenance issues led to some eyebrow-raising surprises along the way. When some plastic inserts that support the head restraints failed, for example, the group naturally contacted SOCATA for replacements. The reply came that ‘the parts weren’t available’.
Some detective work revealed that the seats had actually come from a 1991 Renault 5 GT. Similarly, the sun visors were not high-tech aviation kit, but originally from a Mercedes. Classic car part suppliers became the group’s unsung heroes, providing replacements at a considerably more affordable cost than they expected.
The group include a contribution towards an engine fund within the hourly rate, ensuring they have some cash reserves building up for long-term issues. However, initially the group agreed that the aircraft was in such good condition that a general betterment fund wasn’t needed.
But now it has seen a further 10 years of use, the group is looking ahead, and discussions are underway to include a level of betterment.
They are anticipating a respray and interior refurbishment, including having the seats reupholstered and some trim tidied. Having been upgraded soon after purchase, their avionics are up to date, but they have considered supplementing them with some Golze weather kit.
When it comes to regular maintenance, the group carry out the 50-hour checks themselves. More involved work, such as the 100-hour checks and any significant repairs, including engine issues, are outsourced to maintenance organisations, costing £50-100 an hour for labour. This hourly rate is the same as for other light aircraft, but the constant speed propeller and retractable undercarriage are naturally more likely to attract maintenance issues.
In 2023, the group had the unexpected cost of requiring two cylinders to be replaced in their engine, at a cost of approximately £5,000.
The TB20 has a wing life of 10,000 hours, but there is a Service Bulletin that covers mitigation. Inspections of landing gear and engine mounts are also required. Currently at 3,000 hours, this is far from an immediate priority for the group, who are instead focusing on paintwork and the interior.
In terms of a DOCs (Direct Operating Costs), fuel and oil comes in at £110/hr to which the group adds £35/hr for betterment and an engine fund, making the DOC to £145/hr
Hangarage is currently £6,060 per year
Insurance is ‘only’ £1,700, thanks in part to shopping around, but also the relatively low hull value
Maintenance has been averaging £6,500 a year
This particular TB20 flies for about 100 hours a year. That’s a low to average utilisation for a five person group, and maybe a little high for an individual owner. That makes the hourly cost £288.
If the aeroplane only flew for 50 hours a year (not a bad number for a sole owner) you’d be looking at £430/hr, but ramp up the hours to say 200, and the cost would drop to £216/hr.