Here’s how I’d group GA flying cost

Pilots as a group tend to be orderly and systematic. We use checklists. We know each type of plane has different performance characteristics. But this tendency is not always carried over with our flying costs.

My desire is to take what is many times confused and disorderly and organize it into something coherent and orderly. Here’s how I would group general aviation flying cost:

Organizing Flying Cost – 3 Groups

  1. Pilot cost
  2. Operating cost
  3. Acquisition cost

Pilot Cost includes your medical, professional instruction, subscriptions, books, memberships and regional or national meetings. You could also add into this group your time commitment. A pilot license is a license to life-long learning.  So recognize the time you need to set aside from other activities to study and train.

Operating Cost is the focus of this series “Cost of Ownership,” and in particular for Cirrus Aircraft.  For planning and budgeting purposes, operating cost can be divided into two categories: variable and fixed.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly Virginia, photo credit wikiWings
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly Virginia, photo credit wikiWings

Variable expenses are tied to actually flying the plane. Variable cost increase with the number of hours flown. Examples include: fuel, oil, tires, brakes, magnetos and pre-TBO cylinder maintenance.  In a shared aircraft ownership, the hourly rate charged to members should cover all the variable cost. Even though some of those costs, such as, magneto IRAN or cylinder work may not be incurred until a future year.

Fixed expenses are incurred regardless of the number of hours you fly. Fixed costs include: hangar, insurance, loan payments, and life limited components, such as, CAPS or AmSafe seatbelt airbag EMA controller. In a shared ownership, these costs are divided equally.

Scheduled and unscheduled maintenance are not budget categories and neither term helps to bring order to flight cost. For example, one objective in a shared ownership is to have a zero dollar invoice to members after the scheduled aircraft annual is finished. How can that be? Many expenses in an annual are variable cost.  So those expenses should already be in reserves. If you’re in a shared ownership and get billed after the annual for spark plug replacement, brakes, tires, etc. then check your member hourly hobbs rate. It’s probably too low.

If you’re new to GA flying then consider renting instead of owning to keep your cost controllable.   Finding a plane at a reasonable rental rate may be your best option. This month, a student pilot told me he had access to a Cessna 150 for $50.00 per hour dry!  He said the plane was in good shape and recently had a new engine installed.  Sounds like a great opportunity to build flight hours within a set budget.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly Virginia, photo credit wikiWings
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Chantilly Virginia, photo credit wikiWings

Acquisition cost vary based on the aircraft you target to buy. And, the type of aircraft you choose will affect your operating costs.  During 2014-2015, wikiWings published a 16 article series on pre-owned Cirrus Aircraft asking prices.  If you’re trying to set a budget for the purchase of a plane these articles should help. You can find them grouped together by clicking on the weblog “Categories” drop down list – look for “Asking Prices.” The select by Category is located in the upper right column of the wikiWings Home page.

Flying is expensive but you can create a coherent and orderly budget.  Gaining a clearer understanding of your cost can help identify ways to save, which can extend your flying budget.

Blue sky!

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