From personal experience, albeit limited, you need to be very careful. If you are, it could work out great. If not....
I joined a group 18 months ago. The group had been going over 18 years and had relatively little turnover of members. The aeroplane was superb - allegedly one of the best of it's type in the country for it's age.
I was assured the funds were healthy. I should have checked the details, but felt confident that I was getting into a sound ground with good business acumen.
Some 18 months later the group has been disbanded and the aircraft sold. Thankfully I still have access to rent the same aeroplane, but in the 18 months my share value reduced by over £1k. This was because the aircraft had a great deal more debt (for upgrades and engine repairs prior to me joining) than I was aware of.
In the end a number of members decided to leave, just as the star annual became due. With no money to pay the inevitable bill, the group was faced with no alternative but to sell the aircraft to clear the arrears. Bringing in new members to replace those wishing to leave became impossible because of the debt, and without new members we wouldn't have enough money to clear the debt (and aircraft utilisation would have been insufficient to make it pay for itself). Ye Olde Catch 22...
So I'm back to renting, which at least has the advantage of meaning I know what I've got to pay, and the bill for any repairs, maintenance and upgrades is of no concern to me.
I would consider entering a group again, but I would go in with my eyes open much wider next time....
I've been in several groups, the experience has been very variable - but universally positive. But, I'd suggest making sure before joining that you know...
- State of finances
- State of maintenance (any biggies coming up?)
- What your liabilities are, not just financially but work - how much maintenance / cleaning / meetings.
- What insurance it carries.
- What your ongoing currency / training requirements will be
- What availability you are entitled to within the group, and what the general utilisation is.
- Whether there are any upgrade / major maintenance plans coming up.
If you are happy with the answers to all of those, go for it. If you can't get straight answers to any of those questions, be very cautious.
Serious question - has anybody here been in any group, of any size, and regularly had an unavailability problem? 'cos I've never had one in any of my groups, nor have I hard of one in groups any of my friends belong to.
Genghis - a 'perceived' availability problem was one of the reasons several people decided the leave the group, just as we discovered the state of the finances.
The group had (understandably) restrictive rules around weekend flying. But of course the aircraft was still under-utilised on weekdays, whilst some weekends you couldn't get a look in. Other weekends the 'plane sat in the hangar, and not always due to bad weather....
So a perception of lack of availability at weekends proved to be a wedge which led to the final straw and the proverbial camel.... Although I agreed that weekend rules were necessary to avoid monopolisation of the aircraft, a more pragmatic view on what should be allowed would have made life easier.
I for one flew almost exclusively at weekends, and wouldn't have appreciated it if the 'plane had never been available, but at the same time I had hoped the occasional (1 or 2 per year) weekend trip would be possible, rather than bumbling around locally with a 4 hour max. booking limit (2 hrs in winter).
I think the decision on whether to join a group is often made upon the basis of hourly cost, but I would advise tempering this with considering what you want to DO with the aeroplane. If you want to join a group because you want to do some touring and can't afford the four-hour daily minimum charge applied by many clubs/schools, you need to find a group that not only has a suitable touring aircraft but that actually encourages touring by its members. Differing aims and aspirations amongst group members is likely to lead to disharmony, which defeats the object (for many) of joining in the first place...
18Greens - hear what you say. I know of a group in a C120 with about 18 members, and it does about 90 hours a year - as the Americans say - go figure.
I'm in the Group market too (ooh er), and am amazed at the seemingly dodgy state of affairs some groups seem to operate in.
Example 1. Someone was trying to syndicate his C172. Reasonable nick. Standard monthly/hourly rates. Found the catch after some probing - engine hours up to 1600 and no engine fund. tried to pass it off as if it was not a problem.
Example 2. DR400 group. Lovely a/c. Very hefty buy-in figure, standard monthly/hourly rates. Again, no engine fund and no emergencies fund, so any non maintenance repairs come out of the pocket. I prefer to plan for things more carefully than that.
I'm not casting aspersions on the 2 examples above. They probably run well, but there seems to be ample potential for it to get very ugly...