Piston Aircraft Management: Options Increasing

Until a decade ago, there wasn’t much management available for piston aircraft owners—such ”management” as existed largely consisted of relying on the local shop to give you a nudge when it was oil change or annual time. 

That started to change in 2008 with the appearance of Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management (SAMM) (www.savvyaviation.com) and has evolved to where there are now a few management companies in some large metropolitan areas offering what amounts to concierge service for you and your piston airplane.  We took a look at what SAMM currently offers as well as one of the largest full-service management services.

In the 12 years since it began, the maintenance management program offered by SAMM  has proven popular. According to founder Mike Busch, SAMM currently has over 4000 clients for its full-service maintenance management program (there are varying levels of service offered). Full disclosure: A few years ago, when I had an ownership interest in a Cessna T210, it was one of SAMM’s managed airplanes. SAMM managed an engine overhaul for the airplane when it broke down over 1000 miles from home. That included working with the shop where the airplane was to remove and replace the engine, helping the owners select an overhaul shop, shipping the engine and keeping on top of progress during the overhaul. 

We like that the SAMM programs are flat-fee arrangements—there are no hidden fees or add-ons. The rate is $750 per year for piston singles and $1000 for twins. (The website gives full details on costs and terms—SAMM is one of the most transparent companies we’ve run across in aviation.) SAMM asserts, and owners tell us, that it’s common for Savvy to save at least the cost of the annual fee in maintenance for the owner. 

The system works via email with the owner’s personal “account manager” (who is always an A&P/IA with significant experience) acting as a single point of contact for the owner to arrange for all maintenance. The shop inspects the airplane and gives the account manager a diagnosis and an estimate for the repairs via email. No work is done until the owner and account manager have conferred. Only when the owner approves is maintenance performed. That way, there are no surprises in the final bill.

SAMM’s service includes breakdown assistance (it is also a standalone service and a number of aircraft insurance companies are including it in their policies as a benefit of buying the policy). Should you break down away from home you call SAMM on a line that has a human to talk with 24/7 as well as an A&P/IA on duty 24 hours a day. Within 15 minutes you’ll be speaking with a SAMM A&P who has a database of good (and bad) shops across the country and the process of getting you on your way will be underway. 

SAMM offers assistance in aircraft purchase—reviewing logbooks, setting up and monitoring prebuy examinations and helping to close the deal. It will also manage overhauls and upgrades. 

SAMM also offers a sophisticated analysis service for engine monitor data (some of which is free). With 2.5 million flights in SAMM’s engine monitor database, it is increasingly capable of predicting engine problems based on reviews of downloads from customers’ engine analyzers—and reaches out to its clients when it sees evidence of impending problems. 

There’s not room in this sidebar to go through all of SAMM’s myriad services. We recommend that owners of piston twins and high-performance piston singles explore the website; it may result in significant savings.

What is probably the largest example of full turnkey, concierge piston aircraft management is Performance Flight (www.performanceflight.com) of White Plains, New York. Targeted at the Cirrus line, and encouraged by Cirrus Aircraft, a $700 monthly fee means the owner is able to drive to the airport and the airplane is waiting, ready to go. We were told by Performance Flight’s founder Lewis Liebert that the management team will do everything from helping a prospective owner select the right airplane and buy it through operating it, including assuring that onboard databases are updated and the airplane undergoes all needed maintenance. 

Liebert’s company also uses its leverage as a full-service Cirrus partner to obtain discounts on insurance (all of the aircraft have $2 million “smooth” coverage) and a local fuel discount of some $2 a gallon. 

Performance’s management team evaluates engine monitor downloads and briefs owners on results as well as making gentle suggestions regarding engine operating techniques.  

Similar service is offered at Cirrus partners Nassau Flyers on Long Island’s Republic Airport and Mike Goulian Aviation on the Bedford and Plymouth, Massachusetts, airports. We’ll be watching to see if the service expands to other areas of the country.