Economics of Owning a Small Plane

Table of Contents Expand

  • Upfront Costs
  • Storage
  • Financing
  • Maintenance and Inspections
  • Insurance
  • Gas and Oil
  • The Bottom Line

Have you ever considered owning your own small aircraft? Sure, we all have at some point. A plane represents a sense of independence, giving you the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. And you're not limited to just the road. But let's face it. Having your own plane, say a Cessna, is also a status symbol. After all, only the most rich and elite own their own, personal airplanes, so if you can count yourself among them, you're one step ahead of the game.

Aside from offering you the convenience and recreational opportunities you seek, owning a small plane does come with a lot of responsibility. Financial responsibility, that is. The costs can mount up, with the expenses ranging from the initial sale price and down payment, to repairs, storage fees, insurance, fuel costs.

Key Takeaways

  • The type of plane you wish to purchase radically affects the price point.
  • If you finance an aircraft, it’s essential to budget for monthly payments.
  • Consider establishing an escrow fund for maintenance to pay for engine, propeller, avionics, and airframe overhauls.
  • You'll also need to consider storage, insurance, and fuel costs.

Upfront Costs

One of the first things you'll have to consider is what kind of plane you're going to buy. The type of plane you wish to purchase radically affects the price point. Here's the breakdown of what you're looking at when it comes to the purchase price of a plane.

  • Ultralight aircrafts. Single-seat, single-engine recreational planes. These may be purchased new, for an up-front cost of $8,000 to $15,000.
  • Single-engine planes. These planes which hold two or more people and are more economical to operate and maintain than multi-engine planes, typically cost between $15,000 and $100,000.
  • Multi-engine planes. If you consider a plane like this, it will cost you between $75,000 and $300,000.

If you're really lucky, you'll be able to pay for your plane in cash. But not everyone has that luxury. You may have to get a loan for your purchase. So don't forget, along with the full sale price for your plane, you'll also have to consider the interest you'll pay on top. But don't relax, because you're not soaring yet. There are other considerations.

Storage

When not in use, planes must be stored at an airport either in hangars or outdoors. Outside storage is typically cheaper than hangars and other covered spaces, although this depends on the region and location of the airport. Urban airports typically charge more than comparable rural airports. Meanwhile, the average hangar cost is $275 per month, plus $100 for tiedown gear. Incidentally, residential storage is rarely available to the average small plane owner.

Financing

If you finance an aircraft, it’s essential to budget for monthly payments. Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) offer an alternative to traditional financing, but, in either case, buyers should shop for the best available. interest rate, and loan terms.

Just like a car, there are several things that are factored into the financing for your aircraft. The financing company may consider the following:

  • Your down payment
  • Your credit score
  • The overall amount of the loan you're requesting
  • The usage of the plane and how often you intend to use it
  • The condition of the plane including the year, make, and model

Financing companies look at some of the same factors lenders do for car loans including your down payment and credit score.

Maintenance and Inspections

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recommends establishing an escrow fund for maintenance to pay for engine, propeller, avionics, and airframe overhauls. Contributing to this fund each time you fly helps cover unexpected expenses that can arise. Small aircraft are required to undergo annual inspections, which range in price from $600 to $1,200, while specialized planes with retractable landing gear cost more to inspect.

Insurance

Aviation insurance covers aircraft damage and provides liability for anything your aircraft damages. Coverage varies by policy, and aircraft damage is categorized either as in-flight damage and from external damage. When selecting small aircraft insurance, which runs between $1,200 and $2,000 per year, it’s best to consult with a licensed aviation insurance agent.

Gas and Oil

Small aircraft should have oil changes every four months or 50 hours—whichever comes first. For the average user, this represents three oil changes per year. The average small plane fuel burn rate is five-to-10 gallons per hour. Aviation fuel is significantly more expensive than typical automotive fuel, averaging $5 dollars per gallon.

The Bottom Line

Many costs factor into the economics of small aircraft ownership. On average, a $75,000 financed Cessna winds up costing $200 per hour, if flown 100 hours per year, with $80 going toward fuel, oil and maintenance. Similar aircraft may be rented for about $125 per hour.

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