On Buying An Airplane, Part IV

Well, it is yours! The question now becomes, how much will it really cost to operate?

The price of operating an aircraft falls into two broad categories. These include “fixed” costs and “variable” costs. Pilots (and accountants) appropriately refer to these charges in this manner because of the factors influencing the total amounts in both columns.

We refer to the fixed costs as “fixed” because every month, regardless of the airplane flying or not, the owner has to pay these bills. Fixed costs include such things as the aircraft loan, the insurance, the storage fees for the airplane, and any other bills that which come due each month.

The fixed costs, depending on the airplane, can be a substantial amount of money, or not. This also depends on the size of your budget, what might substantial to some may not be to others. There are many factors influencing the fixed costs of aircraft ownership. One is the bank note on the airplane. If it was an expensive aircraft and the balance on the loan is large, the monthly payment will be high. If the airplane is older and less complicated, the owner might have purchased the craft outright, or with a small balance on the loan. In these cases, the monthly obligation may be minor.

For the pilot who diligently saved enough money for the full cash payment of the airplane, there are still the other considerations of insurance and storage. No matter how hard you try, these costs are always going to drive the cost of flying up. After discussing the fixed costs, we get into the question of variable costs.

Variable costs include everything involved in operating the airplane. This includes fuel, oil, engine overhaul allowance, inspection allowance, and other incidentals charged when the airplane flies, but otherwise amount to zero when the airplane remains in the hanger.

Fuel is one of the largest hourly expenses. With aviation fuel costing North of $6 a gallon (at the time of this writing), an airplane burning 7 gallons per hour will cost $42 an hour in fuel alone. The ugly thing about fuel costs is that as we move further into the new century and remain dependent on the Middle East, fuel costs will remain a detriment to flying. In larger and faster airplane, those burning say, 15 gallons per hour, the price just gas alone hits $90 per hour.

This is why careful consideration of the kind of flying you will do is so very important before purchasing an airplane. For smaller airplanes, pilots can expect to pay a great deal less in fuel for the same amount of flying time than those flying larger, more complex and costlier airplanes.

If a pilot has a need for cross-country flying, paying for extra fuel might not be an option. Most airplanes cruising in the 120 to 150 knot range typically burn 10 to 15 gallons per hour. If you have to fly this fast for other considerations, you will end up paying the fuel penalty.

On the other hand, if all you want to do is get out and enjoy flying in good weather, a smaller and more efficient airplane may be in order. There are many good airplanes available at minimal prices, aircraft which burn little fuel, compared to bigger airplanes.

Another important aspect about smaller airplanes is that in addition to lower acquisition prices, they also have lower operational costs. Again, it all comes back to your monthly flying budget. If you have $800 extra a month to spend on flying, you have the ability to fly eight hours at $100 per hour, or 16 hours if you can get the operational cost down to $50 an hour.

Regarding operating prices, one important thing you should do is carefully track all of the expenses associated with your flying. Today, with smartphones and computers, it is very easy to track the details – down to the last penny. This allows you to anticipate and plan for different events in the life of you airplane. For example, planned maintenance is one thing, surprise maintenance is another.

For an estimate of costs, and these are only estimates, go to my excel spreadsheet for aircraft operating expenses. Please keep in mind the numbers are estimates only and any airplane you consider purchasing, may, or may not, cost more or less than the spreadsheet shows.

I say this because I was lucky with my airplanes. I never had a problem after the buy. In this business, as with any other, there are no guarantees. Once you buy the airplane, you may never have a problem with the craft or the engine over the 20 years or however long you may own the airplane. You may also, however, blow a jug on the flight home right after the purchase. Remember, as with many things in life, “You pays your monies and you takes your chances…”

Good luck with your search and here is hoping the best for you while you are out having fun in your flying flivver.


©2013 J. Clark

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