The main reason I am putting my flying on hold is financial. It’s no secret that the price of gas is skyrocketing and it’s only going to go higher, currently 100LL (100 octane Low Led) avgas is running a bit less than $5.00 a gallon and the aircraft I fly tend to burn an average of 11 gallons every hour. There are also other costs associated with the operation of an aircraft. Inspections have to be done every 100 hours for rental aircraft, and the annual inspection will generally find something that needs attention. Both of these costs need to be amortized into the rental rate. Fun Fact: you can purchase a new and nicely decked out automobile for less than the price of a new aircraft engine. Just the engine. Also factor in that, unlike car engines, aircraft engines have TBO, or “to be overhauled” time. A time period where the engine has to be broken down and inspected, and likely a bunch of internal parts replaced. Add to that the insurance costs, as well as the costs of storage and the purchase of the actual aircraft and it’s not hard to see where my $128.00 (inclusive of taxes and fees) dollars and hour goes. What it all boils down to is that airplanes are expensive.
There are a couple of ways to bring the cost of getting into the cockpit down. I could go get my advanced ratings and start getting paid to fly, but that involves a considerable investment in time and money. I figure that I’d need at least $12,000.00 to get my IFR and Commercial tickets. Not to mention the time investment. The other method would be to lower the operating costs of the aircraft, and there are several initiatives happening on this front. The first is the LSA or Light Sport Aircraft rules.
LSAs are basically smaller aircraft with only two seats. When operating an LSA aircraft, under the LSA rules, you are restricted as to where and when you can fly. But it is possible to operate an LSA licensed aircraft with out restrictions with your pilot’s license, provided the aircraft is equipped with the mandated equipment. Brand new LSA aircraft are supposed to be cheaper, but cheap is relative when you can purchase a used C-172 in good shape for the same money. I figure that to own a C-172 and fly it 100 hours a year, I need about $15K a year of extra money. That’s including financing the aircraft, gassing it up and paying all the monthly costs. One of the neat math tricks you can use to convince yourself that you can buy an aircraft is calculating hourly costs. Because, other than fuel, the expenses associated with owning and operating an airplane are fixed, it works out that the more you fly, the cheaper it becomes per hour. So if it costs $120.00 an hour at 100 hours a year, if I fly 200 hours it will only cost $90.00 an hour. Naturally, the total annual costs go up, but that’s not the number that’s very helpful with the self deception is it?
Probably the most effective way to lower the costs is by getting a partner. Theoretically, this should divide the costs by the number of partners you have. In practice, some partners will fly more than others, and the split will not necessarily be even. Even more counter intuitive is that adding a partner only cuts the fixed costs of the aircraft, and does little for the hourly costs per partner. So if I take the scenario above (15k a year at 100 hours a year), and add two more partners each flying 100 hours, my actual costs only go down to around 10k a year not the mythical 5k that would be one third of the annual costs. Of course, there are also all the personality and scheduling conflicts that go with a partnership. Not unlike marriage, you must pick your partners well. It’s not unusual for an aircraft partnership to end what had been good a friendship.
Hopefully I have given some of the non-pilots a bit of incite into the monetary side of flying. One thing that I would really like to add and it may not seem like this from the text above, is that flying in not just a rich man’s game. There are truly dedicated and talented men and women going to astounding levels of debt to pursue the dream of flight. And they are doing it with an ever decreasing prospect of future pay scale. Chances are the guy serving your burger is making more money that the first officer (co-pilot) flying the regional jet you just took to get to grandma’s. Flying is something that I have always wanted, and I don’t regret a single dollar I have ever spent doing it. Likewise, while I may be saddened by my need to stop, I wouldn’t change my life now for all the airplanes in the world.