Like a kid with a treehouse, a hangar is the ideal for most any aircraft owner. Not only are you and your ride protected from the elements, but theres also room to store the miscellany accompanying aircraft ownership. The barriers to hangar heaven have always been availability and price. The former is often too scarce and the latter too high-at least on the surface. Many owners put their names on the waiting lists for a hangar, but when it comes time to put down the $400/month or more, the $50/month tie-down doesnt look so bad. More than one owner responded to our recent AVweb.com survey that even when you factor in the wear and tear on paint and other exterior items like tires, the tie-down can be cheaper. A net of $4200/year buys a lot of maintenance. We still think when you factor in the intangibles of convenience, comfort and just staying dry on a rainy-day preflight, a hangar is the way to go if you can swing it. Prices and options vary so wildly across the country, that we cant offer hangar advice so much as a hangar strategy.
Like a kid with a treehouse, a hangar is the ideal for most any aircraft owner. Not only are you and your ride protected from the elements, but theres also room to store the miscellany accompanying aircraft ownership. The barriers to hangar heaven have always been availability and price. The former is often too scarce and the latter too high-at least on the surface.
Many owners put their names on the waiting lists for a hangar, but when it comes time to put down the $400/month or more, the $50/month tie-down doesnt look so bad. More than one owner responded to our recent AVweb.com survey that even when you factor in the wear and tear on paint and other exterior items like tires, the tie-down can be cheaper. A net of $4200/year buys a lot of maintenance.
We still think when you factor in the intangibles of convenience, comfort and just staying dry on a rainy-day preflight, a hangar is the way to go if you can swing it. Prices and options vary so wildly across the country, that we cant offer hangar advice so much as a hangar strategy.
Option One: Rent It
Over 60 percent of our survey respondents rent hangar space. It was more common at larger airports where the municipality owned the airport and the hangars. Prices varied, as youd expect, with 40-foot, closed T-hangars in good condition at some rural airports available for less than $100/month. A median price was more like $400/month at a mid-sized metropolitan airport. Prices could climb over $900/month in the densely populated areas near New York City or in Southern California.
Waiting lists for available hangars are still the norm, but the lines are generally shorter than even two years ago. An owner from La Grange, Georgia, told us, “For the first time in 25 years we have two empty T-Hangars available.” Many people reported that what was a multi-year wait was now six months or less, and a common comment was that shade hangars, or other three-sided hangars were waiting to be filled. The trend seems to be that newer, nicer hangars are being filled by pilots upgrading from less desirable hangars on the same field.
Location always matters, and it pays to shop around. One owner told us of long waiting lists at Endicott, New York, but open hangars waiting for tenants at Binghamton, New York, only nine miles away. A similar situation exists for Groton, Connecticut. It has hangars looking for tenants while Chester, Connecticut, and Westerly, Rhode Island, about 10 miles west and east of Groton respectively, are full. Why? Endicott is more GA friendly than Binghamton, and Chesters hangar prices for shared space are $200/month cheaper than a T-hangar at Groton. If youre willing to be flexible, you might find a hangar right away while you wait for the better choice down the line. We saw similar stories from Illinois, Minnesota and Washington State.
That said, any arrangement that puts the aircraft further from your home may cut your yearly flying hours just from inconvenience. That adds to your hourly cost and may offset the savings. And there may be no hope at the most popular airports. “The waiting period [at Santa Ana/Orange County] is between 100 to 200 years. There are close to 200 people on the waiting list.”
Another option for hangaring is a shared hangar at an FBO. This opens the door to hangar rash as your aircraft gets moved in and out, but it has its perks. A pilot parked in Pawtucket, R.I., told us, “The plane is on the ramp when you get there or just inside the hangar door in bad weather. When you get back you just pull up and they chock the wheels and have a fuel truck and ladder up before you even have your headset off. They fuel the plane and put her away.” Not bad for $350/month.
Comparison-shopping matters here as well, as this owner found:. “Im doing a three-month contract in the Minneapolis area and calls to FBOs were very revealing. Costs ranged from $150-500/month with a range of services. Thats a big saving for a half hour of calling around.”
In the shared hangar space arena, we heard two disturbing trends. One is that several airports are not renewing leases for small aircraft and even demolishing
hangars to cater to larger-and more lucrative-biz jets. A second is that its getting more common for FBOs to require hold-harmless agreements as part of the hangar contract. This means they wouldnt be responsible for damage to your aircraft. Read the fine print on any shared hangar space. For that matter, read the fine print on single-occupancy hangars too. Some owners have been burned by contracts that forbade things like aircraft maintenance in their rented hangar.
Renting a hangar is like renting a home in that all the months of rent return no net equity. Thats just fine with some, but if you have the option of buying a hangar or building your own theres the potential to recoup some cash from a resale.
Historically, this has been a good option if it was available. When we last did this review, it was less so because of higher building costs. The current climate may favor renting even more because a hangar purchase is really a real estate transaction and this real estate market isnt doing much better than homes.
Heres a story from White Lake, New York, that we dont think is unique: “Prior to building, I had eight of 15 sold to prospects and elected to build the other seven on spec. When completed, all eight who expressed commitment to buy disappeared. I wound up with 15 hangars for sale and no buyers. I rent them for a pitiful amount because the county also has rental hangars and undercuts reasonable rents. In the meantime, the county continues to collect the land lease payments.”
Youd think this environment would make for some bargain prices on hangars, but thats not what we saw. “Easy to get [a hangar] if you are willing to pay,” was the word from Chesterfield, Virginia. Apparently some of the empty hangars are just like the empty homes. The lowest price the seller is willing to go is still too high for most buyers.
The land lease is a sticky aspect of buying as well. Youre unlikely to find an airport other than a private airpark where you can buy the land. Youll lease that from the airport and build a hangar on top of it. The leasehold will expire at some point and the hangar becomes the property of the airport.
This means an existing hangar with 15 years left on the leasehold is worth more than one with five years left to amortize the purchase. Many leasehold arrangements have an option of the former hangar owner having first right of refusal to rent the hangar he formerly owned, but at the lessors choice of rent.
Leaseholds might be renegotiable, and that five-year lease could turn into a 30-year one with a sudden gain in value. How well you play local politics could be as important as what the contract says in this game. But thats often true for those rental waiting lists, too.
If you do build, a good contractor is worth the trouble. “The word should be turn-key.” says Marc Blais, a contractor in Maine authorized to locally assemble pre-fab hangars from several vendors. He points out a good contractor can save you from running afoul of local codes-required wind loads are 110 mph in Florida but only 70 mph in Maine-as well as suggest key improvements that will save you time and money in the long run. Building in snow country? Invest in an electric bi-fold door.
Construction costs obviously vary with how upscale you go, but expect at least $45,000 to build a sparse yet solid 40-foot hangar even if bought pre-fab. Many new constructions are twice that, especially with amenities like heat or electric doors.
Blais also points out that the average metal building is only designed to last 20-25 years. We saw many reports of old, cold and leaking hangars that necessitated pricey repairs on top of the purchase price. Additional gotchas can be an airport authority that passes on the property tax costs in addition to the yearly lease.
More fine print to read.
Undeveloped sites at desirable airports are getting as rare as avgas under $5, but many old hangars are in serious need of complete overhaul. Hitting the trifecta of a shrewd purchase, a renegotiated leasehold and a reasonable cost to renovate is a long shot, but its worth a try.
This shouldnt completely put you off to buying or building. With a reasonable leasehold agreement and a location at a popular airport, it can be a better use of your funds than renting. Said one hangar owner in Friday Harbor, Washington: “We planned to have our plane for 30 years. We have owned it 26 years to date. The hangar was one of our best investments.”
Good Problems to Have
The hangar experience is far from guaranteed as this New Jersey owner reports: “The T-hangar that I rent is in horrible condition and unheated. This past winter my plane was held hostage for two months by my inability to open the hangar doors that were frozen shut. Unfortunately, I still pay an exorbitant rent for this piece of junk hangar, because there is no viable alternative.”
However, the drop in GA usage overall means alternatives are more likely than any time in recent memory. If youre lucky enough to have a couple of airports to choose from, or a field where owners are vacating hangars that need a sub-lessee or buyer, make an effort to ask around. Websites like airnav.com or hangartrader.com can help. You might get a chance to come in from the cold.