How Much Does It Cost To Own An Airplane?

This question is much less relevant to me now that I crashed my airplane, but I thought other people might be interested. I've done a fair amount of research on this, so I think I have some information to share, but I'm certainly no expert. I only really owned my airplane for 4 days, so unfortunately these numbers aren't based on personal experience.

It makes sense to divide airplane ownership costs into two categories: fixed and hourly. When you buy an airplane you sign up to pay the fixed costs every year, even if you never fly the thing. The hourly costs vary based on how much you fly. Here's a breakdown of the fixed costs for my airplane.

Annual Inspection$1,200
Maintenance$2,000
Insurance$900
Tie-down$1,600
Property Tax$400
Total:$6,100/year

These costs will vary based on where you live and what kind of airplane you own. The maintenance cost is pretty much a shot in the dark. On a good year you might spend a total of $1,000 on maintenance. On a bad year it might be $20,000. To me, this is the scariest part of owning an airplane. You never know what's going to break! However, if you budget about $3,000 per year you'll probably do alright in aggregate. I'm going to list $2,000 here as a fixed cost, and cover the other $1,000 as part of the hourly cost breakdown. Admittedly, that's a fairly arbitrary line to draw, but the fact remains that your plane will incur maintenance costs even if you hardly fly it at all.

The hourly costs are even more variable from plane to plane, but here's an approximate breakdown for mine.

Fuel$60
Maintenance$10
Engine Fund$15
Total:$85/hour

My plane burns about 10 gallons per hour at cruise, and avgas (100LL) currently goes for about $6/gallon. The engine fund represents long-term savings for overhauling that important part of your airplane. Aircraft engines have FAA-approved TBOs (time between overhaul), which you should plan on adhering to. They often require minor overhauls between major ones as well. I covered the last $1,000 of our annual maintenance budget with a $10/hour charge, which assumes the plane will fly approximately 100 hours per year.

If we're asking the age-old "Owning vs. Renting" question, we can use some simple algebra to check out the financial aspects (see kids, this stuff really does come in handy in Real Life. Stay in school.). Assuming your flying club charges $50 per month and a plane like mine rents for $140 per hour, we have:

600 + 140x = 6100 + 85x

Solving for x (where x represents hours flown in a year), we can see that you will break even cost-wise if you fly the plane for 100 hours per year. Flying less than 100 hours means you'd be better off renting; flying more than 100 hours per year means you'd be better off owning. Of course, finances only represent one aspect of this decision, but it's an important one and it's probably the only aspect that is quantifiable.

The qualitative aspects of owning an airplane include moments like this:

It was fun while it lasted.

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