In the first post I discussed choosing to build the SlingTsi having briefly touched on the aircraft. I’ve got some time still before our kit shows up, so in this post I’ll be going over why I picked this plane over the others. Full disclosure on the delivery. I thought it was going to be delivered to our door the end of January, when reality the delivery isn’t set to leave South Africa until the end of January, with an arrival date sometime late March/early April. I guess the plus side is it leaves me plenty of time to continue to perform some homework around the build process.
Let’s start off with the understanding that everyone has a different choice of aircraft. Ask any given person (pilot or otherwise) what their favorite airplane is and you’re going to get a variety of different answers. It’s obviously an easier choice and bigger airplane when it’s not your money on the line (or if you’ve got much more money to spend than I do), but when it’s being self funded critical thinking gets applied more narrow in scope. As I’m writing this the Megaball is sitting at $850 million and the Powerball at $730 million. No apologies if I have to change my tune on this build during the next edition.
In starting my evaluation and when considering my time working on one of my projects is effectively “free”, to choose a new experimental over a new certified it becomes a pretty straightforward decision. I previously outlined that a 4 seater is the base choice. There are a lot of two seat experimental options on the market, which are attractive, however four seats for us is a minimum. For certified aircrafts, the field of 4 seaters are revolve around the Cirrus SR20, a Diamond DA40, Cessna 172/182 series and possibly the Piper Archer LX. For the sake of space and the discussion I’m limiting it to the aircraft that closest match the SlingTsi’s performance. That drops out the Piper and the Cessna 172.
The numbers in the table below are what I could source out through a variety of sources for some of the most common metrics when looking at an airplane. There are areas that may slightly be off a bit. Please feel free to correct where I am off, but not all manufacturers publish all these specs, so I had to use a variety of sources.
Compare the cost of new certified to new experimental
Overall, each aircraft look to be within a few knots, size, feet or any other metric used to push or pull the decision in one direction or another, except the price with the SlingTSi being half of what everything else - and that’s not even the final say on cost. Once you get the certified aircraft any work beyond what an owner/operator can do will require paying an A&P to do the work, which is still again as expensive
Certainly there is a good chance of cost overruns during the build process. I would think that would happen with potentially any aircraft purchase new or used, certified or experimental. From a financial perspective it’s just not a good idea to go all in on any investment into any recreational item with every last drop of funds you have available at your disposal. Murphy has a tendency to move in when you’re least expecting it. That being said, having a cost overrun on an experimental build to the tune of matching a certified aircraft seems a bit far fetched. That being said, the one component not factored in is the cost of my time. My time may be something to consider, but lets say an estimated rate of $50/hr for my time and a 1500 hour build time… that works out to $75,000. Toss in another generous $20,000 in tools and round up to $100,000 and I’m still well below the cost of a certified aircraft. A note on the tools - I’ve got most of the tools already and what other specialty items I needed to get was less than $3,000. So I’m well below the $20,000 mark.
Why not a used airplane?
Given the Tsi is over half the cost, why not consider going back and looking at something new~ish that is comparable instead of building? I found a 2003 SR20 Cirrus on Trade-a-Plane, so let’s compare the costs between the Tsi and the SR20
This SR20 has new~ish avionics (an Aspen), a really low time engine on it and was in decent shape. When putting numbers to some of the items to consider it doesn’t look too bad. Some (if not all) of the numbers are educated guesses based on past experiences and certainly if I shopped around for the Cirrus I might be able to get better deals/numbers. The purchase price and inspections I’m pretty comfortable with and the first annual is likely going to be addressing some of the deferred maintenance items by the previous owner(s). Honestly, I thought this was a pretty good deal for the SR20 and was quite surprised to find it.
As I eluded early on in the article, you can debate in circles about which airplane to get (or not get) based on personal preferences and completely irrational metrics. At the end of the day, you want what you want and will make any argument work. The numbers (as given here) tend to lend themselves more towards the SlingTsi from a purely financial perspective. One item you may notice is the insurance line item. Insurance has been a pain point for most pilots the past year or two and the Tsi is no exception. This is one area that could make or break the type of experimental being chosen. The early insurance quote I got for the Tsi was troublesome and is mostly based on the fact the Tsi is a new aircraft, so the insurance companies have little to base their estimates upon. I do expect this rate to come down as more aircraft start flying. There are a number of builds quite far along and in theory with every year that goes by rates should go down. If someone was to be considering a build insurance alone might be enough to sway people over to an RV which has a very robust history which should help keep insurance lower.
So there is only a slight advantage on fixed costs for the Tsi over the SR20. Now lets look at Operational costs:
Some of this process is going to be a bit of looking back at the SR20 performance information vs. the SlingTsi performance information. The SR20 does have a bigger engine and goes slightly faster. The trade-off is more fuel burn of course. But there are other factors at play here as well. The biggest is the Rotax 915is engine. Even with its turbo charge it averages about 8 gph vs around 12 gph in the SR20. It also is important to note, the current (as of this writing) Time Between Overhaul (TBO) for the 915 is 1200hrs. By the time I go through the process of building my airplane the 915is will go to a 2000 TBO. This happened with the 912. The 914 on introduction, the TBO was only 600 hours, which was double that of previous Rotax engines but far short of existing engines of comparable size and power. However, by 1999 the TBO had been increased to 1,000 hours, and it was increased again to 2,000 hours in 2010 (https://tinyurl.com/jv65whp). Rotax keeps their initial TBO’s on their engines low until they have enough of them in the field to confirm the longevity of the engine. By going to 2000hrs it shifts the equation quite a bit. If it were to stay at 1200hrs, the bottom line hourly rate would jump $15/hr to almost $87/hr
Another thing to consider is the use of Mogas over 100LL. There absolutely has to be a realistic understanding that I likely am going to have to shuffle fuel to/from the airport locally when I fly around the immediate Colorado area as there are few options for Mogas on any air field. At the time I’m writing this I’m unaware of any airport in the state that offers this option. There are a number of websites which provide some reference material for mogas at airports, however most of them are outdated. Erie had mogas for a period of time, but when they redid their fuel station several years ago, they took it out. I don’t expect it to change anytime soon. I have a truck and there are options for moving fuel this way. If I were to go cross country I have some options for carrying some collapsable fuel containers and using the courtesy car to get fuel this way. That would definitely turn into a pretty big time consuming hassle, so that may not happen. Advantages of using mogas over 100LL include a longer interval between oil changes. When using strictly 100LL in the Rotax engines, your oil changes drop to every 25hrs - which definitely increases the oil change costs and not reflected on this table.
While the SR20 may be slightly more expensive in the hourly rate, the convenience is seen in the additional costs. The annual for the Cirrus has to be done by an A&P and my understanding with the Cirrus aircraft, is the annuals can be pricey. In my image covering the initial costs, I have down $4,000 for the annual on the Cirrus - which I would wager is a good middle ground expectation. Also when buying a used aircraft, deferred maintenance may be an issue which will keep annuals high as maintenance items are addressed over time. Having built the aircraft myself I will have the repairman certificate for this particular airplane. The cost of materials and my time are the two factors involved with the experimental build.
In an upcoming post I'll do a comparison between the SlingTsi and the RV10.