Hangar Envy

In some cases, buying one is an acceptable investment but a rental may be less painful in the long run.

As any seasoned broker will tell you, the phrase always hangared is likely the most popular fantasy spun by owners with an airplane to sell. Of course, no one really believes it. But the notion of an airplane thats never suffered the rigors of a New England winter or the harsh Florida summer sun has undeniable appeal.

Make no mistake, it usually is a fantasy. Only a tiny portion of the general aviation fleet is hangared and given how often airplanes change hands, always hangared is as improbable as no damage history.

But the fact that hangaring adds perceived value tells you something about its desirability. In our experience, most owners do seek shelter for their aircraft, be it a permanent structure or some sort of moveable tent. Indeed, on an aviation property Web site we found, an unknown author waxed poetic about the joys of hangaring, …few feelings in aviation are as warm and fuzzy as knowing your airplane is locked in a sturdy hangar during foul weather.

We agree. But getting there isn’t always easy. For most owners, its strictly the luck of the geographical draw. Near urban areas, hangaring tends to be in short supply and its cost will rival your monthly mortgage, if you can get it at all.

Yet in some parts of the country, forward-thinking airport owners have built well-appointed T- and group hangars which rent at prices bound to break the heart of a city-dwelling pilot who considers himself lucky to have a tie-down within a mile of the FBO.

Why Hangars?
Aside from the resale benefits, there are immediate advantages to hangaring. Lets start with weather:

Regardless of the quality of the paint job and coatings, the sun will fade the finish.
Heat build up takes a toll on avionics and simply ruins upholstery over time.
Acid rain on paint causes corrosion and snow and ice are dangerous if removed by someone who doesnt know how. Hail is just plain ruinous.
Theft of avionics and other valuables is less likely if an airplane is hangared.
Random damage from windblown debris or from taxiing airplanes is less likely for a hangared airplane.

The Numbers
Some owners consciously decide not to hangar and if you look at the economics realistically, its easy to see why. Lets run some quick numbers.

Lets say you get lucky and find a nice T-hangar complete with electricity for $200 a month, or $2400 a year. Thats a good value in the current hangar market. What do you get for that? Undeniable convenience and the security of knowing the airplane is safely tucked away. In most cases, you’ll also have a place to do minor maintenance.

If hangared, the paint and upholstery will probably last indefinitely, given average use. Out on the ramp, your paint may last seven years and upholstery about the same. (A cover is a cheap way to extend it.) During that seven-year period, youd spend $16,800 on hangaring, a sum which would easily pay for premium paint and upholstery on a single-engine airplane.

If youre paying $500 a month for a group hangar-not at all uncommon-you’ll shell out a whopping $42,000 over seven years, a princely sum that will pay for some impressive upgrading, with cash to spare. Protected resale value from hangaring-if it exists at all-fades to insignificance. Some owners argue that you cant put a price on the intangibles-the sense of security, possibly lowered maintenance bills due to less corrosion and potentially higher resale value, the convenience of having electric pre-heat available and so on. But you can put a price on it if you put a sharp pencil to the equation.

Everyones threshold of pain is different but in sum, if youre paying $200 a month or less for rental hangaring, youve got a hell of a deal. If you shell out $300 or more, that additional money is the price of pure convenience and its up to you decide if its worth it.

Rent or Buy?
While the benefits are obvious, the real costs of hangaring are not. These days, you either rent/lease a hangar or enter into some sort of buy/lease arrangement and these vary all over the map.

Sadly, buying a hangar is not always the sure-fire good investment that a house is. At one northeastern airport we visited, demand for hangars far outstripped the supply. A small, slightly corroded metal T-hangar with no electricity was selling for $24,000, plus $80 a month to the airport to lease the spot on a short-term month-to-month deal.

At the airports whim, the deal could be revoked and the owners would have to remove their metal boxes at their own expense. Not a good deal, in our view.

At Westchester Airport, in the heart of the northeastern metroplex, an FBO recently proposed erecting hangars to the tune of a $60,000 or so buy-in /long-term lease, plus minor monthly maintenence fees. The lease was resaleable at market value, subject to oversight by the FBO.

Even without considering the lost investment opportunity for that much cash, thats about the worst hangar deal weve heard. Yet the FBOs offers were snapped up like hotcakes because it was the only deal in the hangar-starved New York area.

On the other hand, Port-A-Port, an established pre-fabricated metal hangar manufacturer, recently introduced the Sport Hangar, a portable metal design specifically intended for do-it-yourself erection. At $8367 for the hangar, it would be worth shopping for a friendly airport offering leaseable ground to an owner willing to DIY a hangar, even if it cost some extra airport drive time.

In erecting your own or buying, the key considerations-apart from cost-are the ground lease and service arrangements. The best you can hope for is a few percentage points of appreciation; the worst merely protecting the basic capital investment.

We would walk away from a month-to-month deal where you buy the metal but beg the land on a monthly basis. A long-term lease is a must. Further, when reselling, can you sell at market value or is the sale price somehow restricted by an FBO or airport authority? Can you sub-lease a hangar you own? These considerations vary by airport. Other things to ask about: Will your airport allow privately owned hangars of any sort? Some will without restriction. Others will as long as they arent located in gang tie-down areas or perhaps as long as a specific manufacturer and model are named.

Airports may also want some say over whats kept in the hangar besides the airplane, such as your car. How about access to taxiways and handicapped parking? Can needed services get into the site? Thats a lot of information to take into account when making a siting decision.The evaluation process is only slightly less complicated for an individual owner wanting to build a new hangar. Private airports report slightly less paperwork and fewer procedural steps from breaking ground to completion than that required for their public counterparts. But red tape is red tape. And there’s plenty, which explains why hangar construction isn’t booming.

One way to avoid stifling regulation is by using so-called portable structures such as the Cover-Its and Port-a-Ports. Typically, these are not considered permanent because theyre not on a poured foundation or a paved floor. Generally, expect to be charged the equivalent of a ramp tie-down fee but take a careful look at the conditions in the rental agreement. Are any other surcharges built in? Will the airport be there over time? Land use restrictions or airports being sold off for housing developments arent uncommon. Know what the long-term agreements are before buying a metal box.

Some sample deals: Port Huron, Michigan: Condo structure, $27,000 purchase, $65/month condo fee, electric and gas extra. Plymouth, Massachusetts: Group of hangars owned by a local entrepreneur; some rented, some owned. Current resale rates are about $25,000 for a hangar with an alarm system, propane furnace, insulation, electric winch, electric sliding door; a relative palace. Belvedere, Illinois: Hangar bought for $50,000 three years ago, current market value about $68,000, due to demand. No monthly rental, just modest utility fees.

Straight Rental
A rental at the right price may be the best deal, unless youre sure that a hangar you buy will at least hold its own value. Some will, some wont. Watch for situations where airports are clustered together where one may have a hangar shortage while another 10 miles away is desperate for renters. Shop around your geographic driving limits before committing. Good deals are often uncovered only with legwork.

Up front, group hangaring is an option. At larger airports, its likely to be generally available in some form but tends to be extremely expensive. What do you get out of the deal?

The FBO will probably tow your airplane in and out of a heated hangar on demand; very convenient. But some owners complain about lackadaisical line service and the ever-present hangar rash. (Its common; find out who pays to fix it.)

What do renters need to know and when do they need to know it? There are rental agreements, insurance, liability limits of the FBO, the airport and the owner, arrangements with plowing and paving contractors, restricted parking for cars and airplanes, building size and use limitations, responsibility for hazard prevention, limits on changes to condo-style hangars and airport noise abatement procedures. In short, only in the exceptional case does the renter simply hand over dollars with no other obligation.

At many a private airport, rental agreements are little more than a handshake. More commonly, however, they are multi-page agreements lifted out of a real estate handbook. (Renters at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts, told us that Massport, which runs the airport, gives them an inch-thick agreement.)

Spend a few bucks and have your lawyer look over the agreement if there’s anything puzzling about it. you’ll then know what rights you have in case of a dispute. A little on-site snooping will tell you which restrictions are rigidly enforced and which arent.

In addition to hand-over-the-money rentals, there are numerous other arrangements, each with its own twist. One is the help-me-build-them fee up front, when demand is high. At Minuteman Airport in Stowe, Massachusetts, for example, Don MacPherson offered applicants two tiers of buy-in for the hangars hes building.

For $5000, owners got a position in line ahead of those who forked over only $1100. But nobody got a guaranteed hangar until MacPherson allotted them. He proposed to charge $350 per month, although cost overruns may bump that somewhat higher. There’s still lots of demand among the airport customers.

At nearby Norwood Airport, some hangars were renting at a prohibitive $700 per month. The hangar owner was looking for a better return on his investment without charging rates that wouldnt sell. Again, there were plenty of owners interested in hangaring, but the town prohibited a condo arrangement.

Solution: Sell the aircraft owner the rights to the hangar for 40 years, expiring in 2038. Cost of the rights in 1998 was about $35,000. In addition, there’s a monthly fee for taxes and utilities; currently $275 a month.

The hangars are beautifully maintained and the owners seem satisfied with the arrangement, even though it requires substantial upfront investment. (The rights are resaleable, sibject to first refusal by the owners, but this is really a rental arrangement, albeit one not overly favorable to the the hangar customer.)

Hangar Features
In an informal survey, we asked aircraft owners what they considered important in the way of basic hangar structure and to fill us in on if-only-Id-known second thoughts about hangar decisions.

Hangar size-Maybe you have a small single-engine airplane and the 42-foot hangar thats available is just too big and costs $50 more a month. Grab it. If youre buying it, it will have better market value and, in any case, you may get a larger airplane later. In the meantime, you’ll have all that extra space. Even with airplanes that fit nicely into whatever space theyve been assigned, there’s enough hangar rash around to call it a hazard. Ding a ruddervator on your Bonanza and you could easily be looking at a years worth of hangar rent to fix it.

Electricity – Most hangars have some form of electricity. It may be only enough to operate the door, some inadequate lighting and perhaps a small heater. Even a single 20-amp circuit is better than none.

If youre ordering a new hangar, look at the electricity options and go for the most sophisticated set-up you can get and the most power your site will allow, so you’ll at least have the option of heat and door openers. Operations managers are beginning to invest in separate metering for T-rows.Water -An indoor water source is an oft-mentioned desire. Most hangars arent plumbed. So bring a gallon of water and some paper cups. Only one of the FBOs to whom we spoke reported water in the vicinity of his hangars. And only one owner reported having running water and a toilet onsite. Eat your heart out. Most require a trip to the wash rack.

Heat-Most individual hangars have no form of heat, although group hangars usually do. Most users find that heat is for engines, not the entire airplane or people. You can install insulation batting and run a keep-it-above freezing heater of some sort, but that may easily double your costs during the winter. Again, convenience costs.

Weve seen a few hangars advertised as having a propane furnace. Its cheaper than electric heat, doesnt blow breakers and heats the entire hangar. Weve seen others in which covenants prohibit having any flammable fluids other than the airplanes gasoline. Propane bottles arent a serious siting issue, at least compared to water and electricity, but in the north, a heater can make a big difference to an owner doing winter maintenance.

Doors – They come in all sorts of styles; electric and manual bi-folds, top or bottom sliders on channels or tracks, overhead (garage), stacking, zipper, roll up, and people.

Hands down, the preferred doors are electric bi-folds, especially in wetter and dustier climates. Some bi-folds have dead-man switches to prevent accidental injury to life and property. Wed urge bi-fold users to consider adding such a switch. Its we’ll worth the investment and occasional aggravation.

Overheads that follow a track parallel to the ceiling are a close second. They maximize room in small spaces and are only occasionally recalcitrant. Theyre less likely than sliders to stick or snag. Sliders are among the biggest disappointments. Some are horrendously heavy and dangerous to fingers and toes. Others are disproportionate to the size of the hangar and remain within a channel or track only if treated carefully.

Most, although providing protection from the elements, don’t seal adequately from snow and dust. And northside hangar inhabitants report ice build-ups in tracks and channels. Several FBOs have tried to redesign the apron and placement of slider guides to get water and ice to run off the apron and out of the tracks and channels. These efforts meet with only moderate success.

Zipper and roll-up doors are the styles of choice for the soft-sided hangars. They provide protection against dust, precip and wind and are flexible and easy to use. But not quite as easy as a bi-fold. Although they can be replaced easily and fairly inexpensively if they break and FBOs tell us the hardware is reliable, we saw evidence of tearing in the vinyl sides and back near the bottom. A second visit on a windy day confirmed that the tears occur where the covering is stressed or stretched.

Windows-Most windows are really fiberglass panels at or near the roof. In some newer and more expensive hangars, people doors have Lexan windows and large Lexan windows are an option. The minimal light that these pass is useful for finding the light switch in the dark.

Floors – Lets start with whether your hangar even has a floor. Most portables don’t and channeling water away from the center of the hangar becomes an avocation. According to portable hangar owners, there are creative ways to reroute water on sloping sites using concrete blocks to create bypass channels.

Or, by placing the hangar on a slope and accepting the fact that pushing the airplane into the tie-down position will be bothersome. If youre thinking about a grass site, think about the aftermath of a heavy rain. With clear-span portables, positioning may be difficult. But with homemade or prefab Ts, it becomes downright challenging.

Hands down, the preferred flooring is concrete over asphalt. Its easier to paint and tape, its a harder, more rugged surface that impervious to gasoline, it holds heat and it doesnt heave in cold weather.

If you have asphalt, try to counter the softening where avgas and oil drip, perhaps with pans. Talk to an asphalt contractor or your airport maintenance staff about coatings and maintenance that will protect the floor from crumbling.

Plowing-Snow removal should be part of an ongoing condo or rental agreement where an FBO or airport authority owns the hangars. Individual owners are responsible for their own structures but can often contract with the airport or other providers to do snow removal. In most cases, clearing door tracks is the owners problem.

If you happen to have a hangar in a south-, southeast-or southwest-facing line in a temperate climate, you’ll rarely experience the kinds of ice build up that your opposite numbers facing north east must live with. Ice can freeze the door of the hangar in place and create a long-lasting walking or working hazard. According to one source, sliding doors facing a westerly direction are the worst, as wind blows the snow into the channels, drifts the snow against the door and freezes water on the ground under the doors.

Fire Protection-In large hangars with exceptionally expensive aircraft, it may make sense to consider fire detection and suppressant systems, along with mobile fire extinguishers.

However, few T-hangars or portables are protected in any way. Cheap insurance: Keep at least one fire extinguisher in the hangar. Separation of units by air space, as in typical Port-A-Port installations sited in hangar tie-down spaces, provides some protection against the spread of fire.

If Only Id Known
Random e-mail advice from hangar owners and renters:

Paint or tape push guidelines on the floor of the hangar to back the airplane into the hangar with no fear of creaming the thing. Paint or tape guidelines on the back wall to provide additional guidance when backing.
Paint the floor a light gray and add anti-skid compound.
Position a chock permanently behind the nosewheel position to keep the airplane from striking the back of the hangar, a common source of rash.
Rig a winch or get an electric towbar, particularly if the slab is sloped.
Get to know people on the airport authoritys Board of Directors. One day, it will pay off big time.
Can you keep your car in the hangar when the airplane is out? At some airports yes, some no.
Replace standard issue spotlights with fluorescents; replace anemic fluorescents with the largest tubes possible.
With screening and/or metal patches, seal the hangar against bird incursion. A hangared airplane may be more susceptible to bird damage if not sealed. Ditto rodent damage.
If youre breaking hangar occupancy rules, do it quietly. Be polite and play dumb.

The reasons to purchase or rent and maintain a hangar are philosophically if not always economically sound. Its a way of protecting an appreciating investment and you can honestly say your airplane is hangar kept.

But make no mistake, the protect-the-investment argument falls apart if youre paying $300 or more a month to hangar the typical older single. The real argument is convenience and peace of mind. Apart from the monthly cost, there’s rarely a downside to hangaring, unless you get into a deal with an oppressive airport environment or you buy into a ramshackle hangar that could collapse or damage your airplane.

Many owners will grab the first available hangar. Given the limited supply, we cant blame them. Whether hangaring is worth it at any cost is debatable. Considering the lost investment opportunity, weve heard of deals costing $1000 or more a month in some urban areas. That strikes us as a usurious fee merely to keep the paint shiny and to save canceling an occasional trip or two because the aircraft is frozen in.

But its your money. There are worse ways to throw it away than renting a hangar.

Also With This Article
Click here to view the Hangar Checklist.
Click here to view the Hangar Source List.
Click here to view “A Tale of Two Covers.”

-by Joan Perkins
Joan Perkins is a freelance writer in the Boston area. Along with her husband, she owns a Cessna Cardinal.