As leisure activities go, there’s nothing in the world more glamorous and liberating than piloting your very own aircraft through the skies and touching down at the destination of your choosing. But it’s a hobby that comes with some serious financial strings attached. If you’re like most private airplane owners, you aren’t rolling in enough dough to buy a jet. You’re watching your budget in order to afford a modest Cessna or Cherokee—and all the attendant upkeep. Here are some ways on how to reduce costs of owning a private airplane to a minimum.
Having an airplane is a dream come true. But having the specific aircraft of your dreams may be out of your price range. It’s wise to buy the plane that gives you everything you need but not necessarily everything you want. A simple craft is less expensive to purchase—and costs a lot less to insure.
If you are buying a used craft, focus on the quality of the engine and how long you can continue to fly prior to major maintenance (time before overhaul or TBO). Otherwise, you will face a substantial out of pocket expense before you’ve really had time to enjoy your plane. The airframe is another area to check carefully for signs of damage that will need to be repaired. Consider buying an already refurbished plane rather than buying a used one and trying to fix it up. With a “fixer upper”, you might find you’ve purchased a money pit. Either way, spring for a pre-buy inspection to save you from costly surprises.
Split the Cost
Co-ownership is the most obvious way to reduce costs of owning a private plane. Sharing a plane with one or two other pilots can be a smart choice if you want to split all the costs (from maintenance and hangar fees to insurance) instead of shouldering everything yourself. Obviously, as with a time share, you’ll have to agree on a usage schedule that works for everyone. At the same time, if a dispute arises or one of the co-owners bails on the agreement, you might be stuck with financial responsibility for the whole plane—or risk repossession. If you already own an aircraft and want to defray some costs, you can also consider a leaseback agreement that allows a flight school to use the craft for training on a regular basis.
Explore Insurance Options
Your cost for insurance will be based on many factors. For example:
- The type of plane you purchase
- The amount of training you’ve had on that make and model of aircraft
- Whether or not you are an instrument-rated pilot
- If you want to keep hull insurance (this will depend on the value of the craft, how much you owe if it’s under financing, and your risk tolerance)
- The specific organization doing the underwriting (shop around and see if you can get a better price from another carrier)
Stay on Top of Maintenance
For simple maintenance tasks that you are authorized to perform as a pilot, you may be able to save money by taking a DIY approach. When you must pay for a mechanic, you may be able to purchase the parts yourself to avoid paying a markup to the repair shop. In any event, don’t skip or delay routine maintenance. It will cost you more in the long term to fix serious problems.
Motorists may complain about the high cost of gas, but aviation fuel really is sky high all the time. Using an electronic fuel optimizer may help keep you from running too rich, saving money on every flight. The aircraft you purchase makes a difference too. A powerful engine may be more fuel efficient on long flights at high speeds. A less powerful one that is slower but burns less fuel makes sense if you use the craft mainly for short trips. Choose your craft based on your expected usage pattern.
When you look at the cost per gallon for fuel, don’t forget all the extra fees and hidden costs. Flying a longer distance to fill up on cheap fuel only makes sense if the savings is more than the cost of the fuel you burn getting there. Fees for landing to refuel can hit you in the pocketbook as well—although these fees may be waived when you fuel up. Finally, self-service usually costs less than full-service when it comes to who is doing the pumping.
Financing and Taxes
If you are financing your aircraft purchase, shop around for the best rates. And remember, the more money you can afford to spend on the down payment, the less interest you will have to pay over the long run. With a typical 20-year loan, the savings could be substantial.
If you will be using the craft for business purposes, buying new and taking the usage costs and depreciation off your taxes could be a good strategy. Talk to your CPA before making a decision based on potential tax benefits.
Storing Your Plane
Tying your plane down in the open and using a good quality cover is the least costly method for storage. But it still exposes your aircraft to wear and tear—especially in extreme weather. Hangar rental fees can add up, but you may be able to secure discounts from your FBO by purchasing fuel and services at the same place you store your plane. Another option is to share space with an owner who has room to spare.
If you are planning to build a hangar, a prefabricated steel structure the correct size for your craft is the least expensive solution. Explore our portfolio to see aviation projects.