The Aircraft Renter’s Code of Conduct

                                ©2001, 2006 Mastery Flight Training, Inc.



Although most pilots aspire to owning their own aircraft, the reality is that most of us are going to rent airplanes.  Rental aircraft have a reputation, unfortunately deserved in many cases, for poor and inoperative equipment, substandard levels of cleanliness, and overall wear and tear from years of service and dozens of pilots who treat the airplane, well, like a rental.  Scheduling is often a hassle, and cockpit controls (especially avionics) are often left misconfigured when a renter returns the airplane.

If you’ve ever shown up for a flight and the rental airplane wasn’t there, loaded the plane only to find the last renter left the master switch on and the battery is dead, or arrived at the airport to find “your” airplane full of the last guy’s garbage, you’ll agree that the rental experience will be better for us all if each pilot followed a simple Aircraft Renter’s Code of Conduct.  Here, then, is a voluntary, yet highly encouraged, Code of Conduct for pilots of rental airplanes.


1.      Treat the airplane like it’s your own.  Don’t cut corners or leave things out of place just because “it’s the FBO’s airplane.” Treat the airplane with respect. The aircraft deserves it. The owners deserve it and your fellow renter-pilots deserve it, too.

2.      Fly the airplane according to the Pilots Operating Handbook.  There's a tendency to abuse an engine, extend the flaps or landing gear at too great a speed, or otherwise violate good operating practice -- because you won’t have to pay for the result. Remember, you may need to rent airplanes for a long, long time. Treat this one with respect (see #1 above) to ensure it’ll last long enough for you to fly it for years.

3.      Use the airplane for approved purposes only.  Violating the rules of operation (i.e. using a rental airplane for commercial purposes, like aerial photography or flight instruction when it’s not approved by the renting FBO) is the quickest way to get removed from the “approved renters” list.  Even some noncommercial operations--like landing on a private airstrip--may invalidate the FBO’s insurance.  Use the airplane only as the owner/operator intends.

4.      Use checklists.  Renters often don’t fly as much as owners, or fly different airplanes with not a lot of time in any specific one.  Even if you do fly the same airplane a lot, always use checklists.  Checklists are a big part of why professionally flown aircraft are so safe. They will help you prevent a “missed item” from hurting someone or damaging the airplane. 

5.      Properly secure the airplane when away from home.  If it’s hangared at home, hangar it away from home -- at your own expense. If possible, put it inside if severe weather threatens, regardless of how it’s stored at home base—it’ll protect the airplane, and also make your homeward departure easier. Aviators form a tight community and asking for hangar space when confronted with severe weather can turn up a surprising amount of assistance. Install gust locks if you must store the airplane outside.  

6.      Make every effort to get the plane back on schedule.  Even if it means cutting your own trip short, leave in time to get back ahead of weather (you’d probably have to do this if you owned the airplane anyway). However, do not push your own limits or the airplane’s capabilities to try to get back. A good rental FBO will encourage you to delay if the weather worsens unexpectedly or if the airplane has a mechanical problem.  

7.      If you’re not going to get back on schedule, tell the renting FBO as soon as you know.  The FBO will be able to tell the next pilot when the airplane is due back and why it’s delayed. The next pilot can then decide whether to make alternate plans, instead of showing up at the planned departure time to find the airplane is gone.

8.      Call the renting FBO before authorizing any off-site maintenance.  As operator of the airplane, the renting FBO has the final say in repairs. Get its approval before getting anything fixed off the home airfield. Don’t let a questionable FBO talk you into flying an unairworthy airplane home--if you’re not comfortable with the renting FBO’s decision to defer maintenance, tell them so, and why. They have responsibility to authorize repairs, but you have responsibility to declare the airplane airworthy for flight. If they leave you stranded, you should secure the airplane (preferably in a hangar) before leaving—but abandoning the airplane is the very last resort, and only then if airworthiness is the issue.

9.      If you have to leave the airplane behind temporarily, arrange to get it back home as soon as possible. Barring a disagreement about repairing airworthiness items, if weather, pilot medical issues or other reasons require you to leave the airplane off-site, you’re still responsible for getting it back home as soon as practical. If you can’t go back to it yourself, work with the renting FBO to send someone to retrieve it – and expect to pick up the expense.  

10.  Use a “turn-in” checklist. Before you turn in the keys, give the airplane another walk-around inspection. Record and verbally report any squawks, so they can be fixed now, before the next pilot arrives to fly. Fill the fuel tanks, unless local procedure dictates otherwise. Use the Pilots Operating Handbook securing checklist to make sure you remember to raise flaps, open cowl flaps, put fuel selectors where they belong, install gust locks, turn off all electrical switches, etc. Clean the windows, wipe oil and bugs off the airplane, and clean trash from its interior. Try to leave the airplane in better condition than it was in when you picked it up.  

11.  Gladly accept the FBO’s checkout and recurrent training requirements, and its restrictions on use of the airplane. Remember, they’re entrusting you, someone they hardly know, with a five- or six-figure investment and have no control over what you do with it once you take off. They’re betting their licenses, futures, and in many cases their entire livelihood, on your ability as a pilot. Respect their wishes for use of the airplane.

Accepting the airplane for rental is a “bailment” that makes you legally responsible for it until you return it to the FBO in a condition similar to when you accepted it.  More importantly, using a rental airplane properly and returning it on time and in good shape improves the rental experience for everyone, including you.  If rental pilots followed this Aircraft Renter’s Code of Conduct we would all enjoy renting airplanes more.


Feel free to copy, post or distribute this sample Renter’s Code of Conduct if you feel it will result in an improved aircraft rental experience.—Thomas P. Turner, Mastery Flight Training, Inc.


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