Thursday, March 26, 2009

To Piston or Not To Piston?

Dear Gentlemen,
I'd like to suggest that we consider a piston powered bird at this time for the following reasons:
1) COST: The turbine aircraft out there are more expensive than we are able to afford at this time. The purchase price and cost to stock spare parts is quite high. We see the Lord providing around $300,000 for our start up. At this time, there are Cessna 207's for sale at a price that still allows us to outfit it well- perhaps with a factory new engine as well. A Christian organization in Ohio will do all the maintenance with no labor charges.
2) REGIONAL CHOICE: The missionary aviation organizations in the region (SIL/JAARS Cameroun and MAF Congo) are choosing to continue with their piston powered fleets for the time being. Both have looked into the switch to turbine solutions but have those programs on hold indefinitely. They site the high cost of operations of turbines and the satisfaction in the current fleet of pistons as the main reasons. I will be doing my major maintenance in Cameroun with the SIL base, so it will be very helpful to have similar equipment and, perhaps, use the same avenues when ordering parts, etc.
3) AV GAS SOLUTION: The company that is loaning us the Beechcraft Baron gets a regular supply of AvGas from South Africa. They have provided private individuals with access to their stock. With their support of the program, we see this as a solid solution to our problem of finding an AvGas source.
4) EXPEDITION OF DEPLOYMENT: We have laid the ground work here for over 6 months and are ready for flights to commence. With my piloting and maintenance experience lying totally in piston aircraft, there would be no additional training needed. If we select a turbine aircraft, I will need to return to the states for a minimum of one month for additional training. A piston powered machine could arrive quickly and we could get right to work.
5) A "SAFER" START UP CHOICE: It can be argued that a piston aircraft, with a lower financial start up price, would provide a better "platform" to launch a new program from. Less risk with a proven aircraft. It will also give us perspective when looking to "upgrade" to either a diesel or turbine aircraft in the future.
6) WIDER SELECTION OF CHOICES: After consulting with SIL/JAARS and MAF, we have identified a wider variety of aircraft types that they are using and/or recommend. Of course there are the Cessna 206's and Cessna 207's, but they also suggest a Cessna 182 and a Gippsland AirVan as possibilities. We would only want to consider normally aspirated choices (preferably an IO-550 engine), as the turbo-chargers are fickle and drive up fuel burn and maintenance costs. There are a wider variety of aircraft on the market that fit this category rather than any single-engine turbine choices. We have even found a couple of Cessna 207's in chapter 11 bankruptcy for about $100,000 (each) that we could purchase, add upgrades, and perhaps a factory new engine, and then have it ferried out to Africa for a price tag under $300,000. This is just one example.
I appreciate your insights, thoughts, feedback, and more regarding these thoughts.
Steve Straw