Treat the airplane like it’s yours, even when it isn’t

As a college student born into a family with no aviation background, my flying has been restricted primarily to rental planes. Over the past six years, I’ve rented six different 172s, a 150, a few Piper Warrior IIs, and an Archer II from three different FBOs. Overall, I’ve had no problems with renting, and only had to reject an airplane once (with a bad mag). But recently, I’ve run into some of the pains of renting.

Fueling a Cessna 172
Be a good renter – don’t leave the airplane empty.

One spring day after a long semester of school, I eagerly drove to the airport to log a few landings in my most faithful steed from my hometown FBO: Skyhawk Niner-One-Golf. She’s not the prettiest bird, but her engine is fresh, and with the full 40 degrees of flaps (a sign of a true 172), she can outperform any of the other 172s I’ve flown. I walked out to find the cockpit vents open, the control locks not installed properly, the flaps fully deployed and less than an hour’s worth of gas left in the tanks.

I can hear the hate mail now. Yes, I know I’m being nitpicky, but my complaints are not my point. Many of us who fly don’t have our own planes. We fly planes that belong to FBOs, flying clubs, or maybe you’re a partial owner. When you’re paying by the hour, it’s easy to cut corners, be a little careless, or belittle something that we would never forget on our own airplane. However, if we treat a rental plane as our own, every renter or club member benefits. Here are a few things I try to do when I rent:

  • FUEL. A passenger who’s flown with me a few times asked me once, “Why do you fuel the airplane before AND after we fly?” It’s annoying to walk out to the airplane to find only five or six gallons left in the tanks. Some of the planes we rent don’t have a large useful load, so perhaps filling the tanks isn’t a great idea as it would take away some loading options, but parking the plane with about 2 hours of fuel leaves plenty for a lesson, a local flight, or even a short cross country. If you know who has the plane next, ask them how much fuel they’ll need. It goes back to the old rule of returning anything you barrow with a full tank of gas. It just makes it easier on the next pilot.
  • BE GENTLE. One day, before I was set to fly, I watched as a ham-fisted pilot gunned the throttle and swung the Skyhawk out of her parking spot, carrying much more throttle than what was needed. Mind you, this was a cold day without allowing much time for the engine to warm up, but that’s another issue. Be gentle! For many of us, these planes are older than we are! Take your time and play nice. It keeps things from breaking, and thus keeps the plane out of the shop.
  • THE SCHEDULE. Make sure you have the plane signed out properly before you fly. I am guilty of taking the airplane for a cross country while someone else had a lesson scheduled. Always check the schedule.
  • THE “DE-FLIGHT.” After you fly, be sure to leave the plane in good shape. Close the vents to keep bees out of the cockpit, make sure the master switch is off, lock the controls, put the appropriate covers on, make sure you don’t leave any trash in the cockpit, and tie it down. Little things make a big difference for the next person. We all want the airplane to be in good shape when we walk out to it. Leave it the way you would want to find it.

In short, if all of us renters treat the rental plane and our fellow pilots with a certain level of respect, we’ll all be flying in a better place. None of the items I mentioned take that much time, and people do notice.

What do you guys think? Is there anything that you when you rent to keep the peace at your FBO or club?

Be a good renter, and happy flying.

11 Comments

  • Those little details as leaving the control lock in place, pitot covered, all switches off, seatbelts neatly tucked, all the papers in their respective places, and removing any grass blades or trash from the cockpit, for me at least are part of the postflight ritual. Also a pat on the cowl and a “Thank You Buddy” for the plane, are good for the soul.

  • Good advice, Chris; it would be a pleasure to take a plane after you’d flown it. I rented for a while after getting my license, but too many times I found the airplane with no gas, low tires, a nick in the prop, or some instrument or radio inop. It was my wife who got worried about our not knowing who might have dangerously mistreated the airplane and not reported it–and asked if we could afford to buy our own. How ’bout that? (Needless to say, I have stayed with her for the long haul!)

  • I know I’m the minority here, but renting is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t recently win the lottery or come from a wealthy family, It takes squeezing and creative accounting to keep my airplane flying, but I simply do not trust anyone else with the lives of my wife and children. Too many things can go wrong with a rental. I only fly my owned airplane.

  • Take the bugs off the windshield and leading edges, and run a quick check on the lights and tire pressures also. Best to tell someone about a low tire or bad light when there is time to fix it rather than let the next guy find it.

  • As a “helper” for a former flight school/rental facility, most of my flying was for free, for the servicing of their planes. Too often, I’d see the results of somebody not being courteous, and careful, with other people’s property. Spent a lot of time with one of the bosses, (an A&P/I.A.,) repairing problems caused by such carelessness. The other boss got to the point he would ask me to go out before the rental would go out, and make sure the pilot pulled an appropriate, and proper, preflight.

  • Flight schools, flying clubs, FBOs,,,renters take their personal attitudes with them when they fly or drive or operate a boat. It would be nice if everyone would leave no trace. Return it the way you found it or better. Make it look unused. Take time to post flight. Check oil if you suspect it might be low and clean the windshield. Who has a tire guage in their flight bag? Treat the plane like it is your own. It doesn’t take that much time. Call for fuel or pass the fuel pump on the way back to the tie down,,,doesn’t take that much time. We’re all in this together. Nice write up Chris,,,

  • The club I fly at has a flat rule to fuel it after the flight every time. Since you should wait a while after fueling to let debris or water settle out, this gets rid of that problem. Yes, sometimes you need a lighter load of fuel, but you coordinate with the previous flight or learn how to defuel. This lets the nest flight start with little delay and maximizes the flight time per appointment.

    Instructors can set the tone for a rental fleet by appropriate fueling, tiedown procedures, installing control locks and covers with their students.

    Oh, by the way, if you are consistently leaving planes unsecured in our club, you are asked to leave. After all, a plane can be damaged at any time by a sudden change in the weather, or a errant gust of prop wash while parked.

  • I don’t tell our new club members to “treat it like it was your own” anymore. Instead I tell them to “Treat it like it belonged to your best friend and you want to remain friends AND keep borrowing the plane.”

    Too many people would leave things in their own plane, leave the bugs until “next time”, etc. But they probably wouldn’t do that to their best friend. In addition, if their friend was going to use it right after they were done and they changed their plans, they would probably let their friend know about the change of plans.

  • I agree wholeheartedly and do or try to do all of these things, but I wonder how many renters have the same expectation of service that they would get from a car rental company? If it’s one of the major companies, when you return it, they’ll meet you at the car, make sure you’ve collected you belongings, and settle your bill right there. Then they’ll pick up any trash, wash the car, fix required equipment like lights, and refill the tank. If I take a rental plane on a cross country, the FBO at the outstation nearly always marshals me in, chocks and ties me down, refuels the plane, and helps with my bags or trash or anything, really. Often the only charge is for fuel and a tip for the lineman. However, when I return to home base, I have to do everything myself. I do it to be nice to the next renter, but it makes me wonder if the flight school or the FBO the school purchases fuel from is skimping on services to cut costs, without ever an option purchase those services back. My point is that there are stark differences in services from what are essentially the same type of company.

  • When I was renting, I would always ask the FBO (if I didn’t know already) where to put the plane when I returned. My default action would be to park near the fuel pumps for a refill. They had an idea how much fuel I left with (I would discuss before going) and therefore an idea how much I had left. They would know if the next flight was a long cross country or a discovery flight that might have 2 extra passengers — weight limited as a result.

    While I didn’t necessarily wipe down the plane (not carrying the proper cleaning sprays in my flight bag), I did help clean it on occasion. I did make sure that I left NO mess inside, parking brake off, wheels chocked, switches off, gust lock on — unless they were pulling up to park it somewhere else. I also made sure the checklists and sump container were in their proper places.

    Now that I’m in a club, our rule is to refuel before putting away. Main tanks are to tabs, tip tanks full. That gives loads of passenger weight capacity. If the next person wants more fuel, they put it in. If there is some (really good) reason you can’t put the appropriate fuel in, you tell the club. Since we do have cleaning supplies in the hangar, we clean off the leading edges, wheel pants, and windshield when putting away. Power off, fuel off, wheels chocked, seatbelts connected/on seat (unless parked outside — then one is used as gust lock).

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