Learn to Fly

The Light Aircraft Association

Helping pilots with affordable aircraft ownership for more than 75 years, Ed Hicks suggests the Light Aircraft Association can help you access some of the best value for money flying in GA… 

A typical scene at the Light Aircraft Association’s annual Rally. A large number of the aircraft here have been built from plans and kits

Learning to fly remains one of the best things I’ve ever done, but what has enabled me to make the most of the licence – once it was in my flight bag – was to become a member of the Light Aircraft Association (LAA).

Like many people who get involved in flying, my first formal experiences of General Aviation had been through flying clubs at airports, on the familiar certified trainer types like Cherokees and Cessnas. But at the same time I had already started to find out about aircraft which were operated on a Permit to Fly. The LAA turned out to offer lots of great opportunities to access flying at lower cost, and often in aircraft that were more sophisticated at lower price points than their certified equivalents. Plus, while it’s not for everyone, there is the whole world of homebuilding – making your own aircraft from raw materials and a set of plans, or from one of the many kit aircraft that are available in the UK.

You might be surprised to learn that the LAA has more than 75 years experience of helping pilots fly for lower costs. It all began thanks to enthusiastic post-war pilots who wanted to expand their flying activity on a limited budget. It’s the same today, while flying clubs are able to provide the beginner with access to aircraft for hire, once a pilot has their licence, they discover that there’s so much they can do if they aren’t held back by the costs of hiring. After all, when you learned to drive, I’m guessing you didn’t rely on having to hire a car each time you wanted to make a journey? And if you’re thinking that the costs of car ownership aren’t comparable to aircraft, then think again… the LAA world can help you find similarly affordable opportunities.

LAA members own around 2,800 aircraft on valid Permits to Fly (the equivalent to an MoT’d in the car world), and there are at least another 1,500 aircraft in various stages of build or rebuild. Of the 7,800 members, many are aircraft owners, and the majority are active pilots.

Your own aircraft

So what’s your budget? You can get into sole ownership from well under £10k for a single-seater and costs of around £2k per annum operating from a farm strip (hangarage, insurance, Permit). Low-cost two-seaters start from around £10k and up. The Association’s monthly members magazine, Light Aviation, often highlights aircraft you can buy for under £20k. Operating costs from a strip are in the order of £2k-£2½k per year, but can more than double if you prefer to operate from an airfield. From then on, the options extend to over £100k for a second user LAA aircraft, with something for every pocket.

Aerobatic machines, fast touring two- and four-seaters, charming and characterful vintage types, gyroplanes, motor gliders, wartime liaison aircraft… the LAA caters for all manner of types. It’s a world away from the typical training aircraft available at most flight schools.

Building your own

How about building your own? No, it’s not as daft as it sounds and hundreds of the aircraft on the LAA’s fleet have been built from plans or kits.

A new two-seater kit can be built from around £40k, and from there on up there are some fabulous types available with exceptional performance.

Van’s Aircraft are at the pinnacle of the kitplane marketplace with a range of single-, two- and four-seat all-aluminium models available. Almost 11,000 kits have been completed and flown worldwide, with around 400 flying in the UK. With cruise speeds of up to 200mph, they provide exhilarating flying, making short work of a weekend down in the South of France.

The magic formulae

So, what, you may ask, is the magic behind all this affordable flying fun? Well, it comes as a pair of benefits that, together, enable the ordinary working person to own and fly his or her own aircraft. The first is the LAA’s Permit to Fly Scheme, an airworthiness regime designed around being able to build and maintain an aircraft yourself and have it overseen by an LAA approved Inspector to ensure that it is in an airworthy condition.

The LAA’s approval to handle the airworthiness of its varied fleet of aircraft comes from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, and is tailormade for homebuilt and kit-built types, plus classic and vintage types where manufacturers have either ceased to exist, or no longer support the type.

The second benefit is that the LAA is, at its heart, a club made up of enthusiasts. Of course it has its business side. It employs about 15 staff – engineers and admin people – who oversee its operations, but the ethos of the Association is helping people attain their desire to own, maintain and fly their own aircraft.

A very important part of the organisation is a UK-wide network almost 400 Inspectors, who help, guide and educate aircraft owners and builders. But they are just the tip of the iceberg – the other nine-tenths are the members, who are ever willing to help each other with parts, knowledge and hands-on assistance.

Looking after your rights

Another important aspect of the LAA’s remit is advocacy – representing the needs of pilots and aircraft owners when it comes to regulation.

“These activities have grown hugely in the last few years, and now take up probably half of my working time, plus there’s a huge amount of effort from fellow members who take part in specialist working groups,” says LAA CEO Steve Slater.

“As the UK’s biggest powered sports flying organisation, we have access at the highest level with the regulator, the CAA, and we often make a strong case against those who sometimes threaten to jeopardise our freedom to fly safely, how we want and where we want.

“Our whole reason for being is to promote safe flying for fun at reasonable cost. Sometimes that is challenged by other vested interests, whether it is unscrupulous commercial operators trying to prevent others from accessing ‘their’ airspace, property developers trying to make a ‘quick buck’ by turning a vibrant airfield into a housing estate or sometimes, well-meaning but ill-thought out legislation. The LAA speaks out for 7,800 members, the majority of whom are pilots and aircraft owners, so we are a powerful voice.

“It’s not just about objecting either. The Department for Transport and CAA see us as an important source of knowledge and expertise, and we are working closely with them in planning and policy development for the future. The main thing that drives all of us is making sure we keep getting fun from our flying!”

So, what’s stopping you? Click onto the LAA website and download a copy of LAA Today – there’s a link on the homepage. It’s the Association’s 32-page booklet that explains what it does, as well as most of what you need to know about buying a PtF aircraft, building one, group ownership… and so much more.

Group flying

Like many people, Duncan Campbell learned to fly in middle age, when family and career were pretty well sorted. He did what most of us do, hired club aircraft, but eventually realised it was just too expensive and limiting. In 2009 he scoured the aviation classifieds and ultimately joined an established four-man group who operated an LAA Permit Luscombe Silvaire on a farm strip in Sussex. In his own words, he wrote in the Association’s monthly magazine, Light Aviation… ‘this move cut my flying costs immediately, gave access to increased learning opportunities and that (no exaggeration here) this is when I really started to learn how to fly’. But this would be to skim over what continues to be a very rich and affordable experience. 

Duncan went on to explain many of the delights of shared ownership, including the camaraderie, the ability to fly when you wanted, trips abroad etc., but not least is the affordability. 

“We each pay a standing contribution of £70 a month to cover hangarage, insurance and permit renewal costs. This also leaves a little towards our maintenance fund. When we fly, we charge ourselves £40 an hour, less the cost of fuel we put in. Roughly £15 of that £40 also goes into our maintenance fund. In the past 11 years, only one small call for extra cash has had to be made.

“If I was to hire a PA28 for one hour a month locally, it would cost me £160 plus £30 to land back… plus VAT at 20%, giving an outlay of £228. If I were to fly our own aeroplane for just one hour a month, it would cost me £110, and if I flew five hours in that month, the hourly cost to me would be £54, a considerable saving whichever way you look at it!” 

A typical 1/5 share cost for such a group share would be around £4k.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply


We use cookies to give you the best online experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies.