How Much It Costs to Own Your Own Plane
by Crista Worthy
I’m often asked, “How much does it really cost to own an airplane?” To which I answer, “Do you really want to know? Well then, have a seat.” Not because the answer would be shocking, but because the answer is—well, complicated. That’s mostly for two reasons:
- What kind of plane do you want?
- Are you lucky this year, or unlucky?
What Kind of Plane Do You Want?
Let’s start with the extremes: You can buy a vintage two-seat Cessna 150, Ercoupe, Piper Pacer, Luscombe, or Aeronca Champ for around $20,000, less than most new cars these days. The fuel burn is low, and if you only fly out in the boonies, you don’t even need a radio. On the other hand, a new jet costs anywhere from just under $2 million to $65 million or more. Topping the tanks on your Gulfstream G650 just once will run you a little over $30,000!*
Cost of a Middle-Ground Airplane
It so happens that the plane I owned for over 10 years is a good middle-ground airplane to illustrate what it really costs to own an airplane. My husband and I bought a 1973 Cessna 210L, a single-engine, six-seat, retractable-gear aircraft with a normally-aspirated, fuel-injected IO-520-L Continental engine with 300 takeoff horsepower (285 hp at cruise). The retract gave us speed for long trips, while a Robertson STOL kit allowed us to slow down enough to land at many of Idaho’s beautiful (and short) backcountry airstrips.
We paid $61,000 for it in 1997, a good price, but it needed new paint and interior. Immediately after purchasing the plane, we spent about $8,500 for new paint (that runs closer to $15,000 these days), and $7,500 for new leather interior, including seats, walls and ceiling, plus new air vents and carpets. We added a full-color moving map GPS, CD player, intercom system, headsets and Shadin fuel totalizer for another $25,000. The finishing touch was a gorgeous, custom rosewood panel with red night vision lighting for a little over $1,000. So, our initial costs of ownership came to about $103,000—almost exactly what we sold it for 11 years later.
Ongoing Costs to Keep in Mind
Ongoing costs include insurance, tiedown or hangar, and fuel. Insurance prices vary but we paid about $2,200 a year. A soft aircraft insurance market has kept prices relatively steady over the past couple of decades. For the best rates, be sure to train and fly regularly.
We paid about $80 a month for an outdoor tiedown. A hangar, if you can get one, is better for your airplane but will run more. As for fuel, we burned about 14 gph in our 210. Back when fuel was just over $2/gallon, a flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas cost us about $35 each way, or $7 a seat for five people. How do you beat that? But when Avgas zoomed past $6/gallon in 2008, suddenly that short trip burned over $100. Currently, with Avgas averaging $4.94/gallon nationwide, a flight from Los Angeles to Denver in the 210 will consume about $350 in Avgas each way.
Are You Lucky This Year, or Unlucky?
Of course, there’s more to aircraft ownership than the above. Costs can vary astronomically from year to year. Once we got the few bugs out of our airplane, our FAA-required annual inspection cost us about $2,200 a year. Our mechanic billed 26 man-hours for a Cessna 210 annual. At $70/hour, the rate at that time, that ran $1,820. Add the cost of oil and a few incidentals, and you end up with our rate. Most shops now bill at least $110 per hour, which would raise the cost of an annual to about $3,000.
One year, however, we needed a new propeller. That was $7,000, but nowadays a Hartzell 3-blade prop runs closer to $12,000.
Total Body Overhaul
And then there is the big one: TBO, or total body overhaul. Eventually, your engine may need to be overhauled; TBO for our engine is recommended at 1,700 hours. We paid about $35,000 in 1999, and those costs have risen to around $45,000 for the same engine type. That hurts, but it is part of what you must plan for if you buy an airplane. Some people safely fly their engines past TBO, which is why it’s so important to take good care of your engine. If you fly 100 hours a year, TBO is every 17 years so when you amortize the costs, it’s not bad at all.
The bottom line is that once you buy your airplane, provided you’ve had a thorough pre-buy inspection done, worked out a few bugs, and gotten things the way you want them, airplane ownership can be affordable. Our inspection, insurance, tiedown fee and 100 hours of fuel cost us about $6,060 per year for a versatile, fast, dependable six-seat airplane. The annual amortized costs of the TBO and prop come to about $3,800. So, put a few thousand dollars into an airplane savings account each year to cover large occasional expenses. Now, go flying!
*A G650 has a fuel capacity of 44,200 lb. Fuel capacity in jets is reported in pounds, not gallons. Jet-A weight 6.8 pounds per gallon, so that converts to 6,500 gallons. Current nationwide average Jet-A price is $4.63 per gallon, so a fill-up costs $30,095.