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In these challenging times many airplane owners are looking for ways to cut their operating costs while protecting their aircraft investment. One option is to eliminate that big fixed cost – hangar rent. While it’s true that hangared aircraft typically resell for more than their tie down cousins, it is possible to protect your airplane without spending the big bucks on a hangar. Covers typically cost the equivalent of one month’s hangar rent.
Airplane covers are usually cloth covers fitted to your individual aircraft and designed to protect it from sunlight and weather damage. The cover should be lined with microfiber wherever it comes into contact with glass to prevent scratching, and should be constructed of a “breathable” material so moisture and condensation won’t be trapped under the cover. In addition, your cover should be a good close fit to your aircraft to prevent friction against the glass and finish when the wind kicks up.
Although the cover should be water repellent enough to prevent rain from leaking into your plane, you really don’t want something “waterproof” like a plastic tarp. These can flap in the wind and damage your paint and glass and will trap moisture next to the finish possibly leading to mildew and corrosion.
Covers are constructed of many materials. Two popular choices are acrylic-woven Sunbrella and a nylon based material called Silver Laminate. The Silver Laminate, as you might expect, comes in a light silver color and is effective in both water repellancy and UV protection. The Sunbrella is a little thicker, stiffer and heavier and comes in darker and brighter colors. Some people find the darker colored fabric to be more protective, while others swear by the highly reflective Silver Laminate as keeping the aircraft cooler in the summer heat.
The cost of covers vary by type and size of aircraft, manufacturer and fabric choice. Prices start under $100 and go up from there. Depending on your climate and the material, a cover should last from 3 to 5 years. Most are hand washable with mild soap and water.
While it is possible to cover the entire aircraft, many manufacturers recommend covering only the most critical portions of the plane, starting with the cockpit, then the wing tops, the horizontal tail and the propeller blades.
In my area, hangars are hard to come by. Most local airports have waiting lists in excess of a year. Besides the wait, they’re very expensive. A T-hangar near my home (actually a two-hour drive from my home) is $250 per month and requires a very expensive liability policy which brings the total to nearly $500 per month. Another small local airport has tie-downs readily available for less than $100 per month.
Covering your airplane will save you thousands each year in hangar rent, and even if you do have to paint more often than your hangared neighbor, you’ll probably come out ahead in the end.