An arrangement called aircraft leasebacks is making high-speed turbo-prop service, aircraft rental and instruction available at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.
Commercial pilot Bill Beard, under the business name Cape Air Charter, has access to three new aircraft -- a Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 eight-passenger turboprop, a Cessna 172 four-seater and an American Citabria two-place tail-wheeler -- but doesn't have to shoulder the enormous burden of aircraft ownership, which is underwritten by another company called Tiger Air.
A second charter aircraft, a Cessna twin-engine 414, is also shuttling Cape Air Charter passengers around the country through a similar arrangement with a local physician.
Beard owns two older Cessnas that he rents to local pilots for instruction and cross-country flights.
In Beard's relationship with Tiger Air, his major expenses, the aircraft, go away when the aircraft are not flying. The aircraft have hour meters, and Beard pays only for the actual time used. Tiger Air covers the maintenance, inspection, insurance and other ownership costs.
"The clock stops when the prop stops," said Mel Van deVen, CPA, who has researched aircraft leaseback arrangements.
A businessman and two physicians, Stan Crader, Andy Walker and John Hall, joined forces to form Tiger Air.
"There was nothing at the Cape airport to train in for the instrument rating," Hall said.
"John and I wanted to follow the Lewis and Clark trail," Crader said, "and we wanted to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight last year. But again, there wasn't an appropriate aircraft for rent at the Cape airport."
Hall and Crader were attending SIMCOM, a flight training facility in Orlando, Fla., when they hatched the Lewis and Clark adventure and lamented the lack of rental aircraft at Cape. At the time, the nearest aircraft were at Perryville or Sikeston, and those weren't ideal for the mission. Cessna had recently started up production of the long-idle 172 line, and the two men began exploring the possibility of buying one.
But it soon became evident that ownership wouldn't be cost-effective without additional pilots to share the expense.
'A real flying machine'
Talks with Beard revealed a need for a comfortable, instrument-flight-capable rental aircraft, and a deal was struck whereby Beard's company would supervise rental activities, while Tiger Air would handle the financial responsibilities of ownership. A few months later, a brand new Cessna 172 -- the most popular aircraft of all time -- occupied the main hangar of the Cape Girardeau airport.
To date, that 172 has logged more than 500 hours, and the unexpected demand stimulated Tiger Air to order a second and third aircraft. The Citabria arrived in May, and a new Cessna turbocharged 182 four-seater will be on the parking ramp soon.
"The Citabria is a real flying machine," said flight instructor Don Grossheider. "It requires special flying skills. Taildraggers require extra footwork on the rudder pedals during turns and landing procedures."
The Citabria, which is "airbatic" spelled backward, is fully aerobatic, meaning it can perform loops, rolls, spins and other unusual maneuvers. The Citabria rents for $75 an hour "wet," meaning fuel is included in the rental fee.
That compares to $100 an hour for the Tiger Air Cessna 172, $75 an hour for Air Charter's Cessna 172 and $50 an hour for Air Charter's Cessna 150.
Although Beard is an instructor pilot with tens of thousands of hours of flight time, he spends most of his time providing charter service in the Pilatus PC-12 and Cessna 414. Business travelers are his bread and butter, although a vacationing family sometimes occupies his passenger seats.
"We're faster, more convenient and often more cost-effective than driving or flying the airlines," he said.
A typical Cape Girardeau-to-Dallas trip in the Pilatus with seven passengers requires about 4 1/2 hours total and would incur a bill of $4,160. A similar trip in the Cessna 414 would cost $2,900 but would entail more flying time because the 414 is slower.
"We're very pleased with the charter and rental demand," said Beard, who gets flying help when needed from Cessna 414 charter pilot Brent Hampton. Another pilot, Mark Rhodes, is also available for instruction at Cape Air Charter.
Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at steve@ robertsonsphotography.com.