Fly Cheap: Some techniques and tips for flying without breaking the bank

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How to fly as inexpensively as possible 

Below I outline some things I have learned over the years, plus brought in some new ideas on how to fly without breaking the bank.

This will be centered around the basic requirement of the $100 hamburger mission (2 seats, with several hundred mile range, day VFR)

Before we get into the details, I should be clear that most folks can fly if they put their mind to it. People spend lots of money on boats, cars, campers, & motorcycles all in the name of recreation. The pie chart here represents the TOP END of the kind of flying most middle class folks would do (one hour a week in a high performance airplane). This article will show you how to do it for a lot less, (1/2 or more) if you need or choose to.

Disclaimer: These are my opinions only and the numbers shown are based on rough estimates in 2012 US dollars. Also this article centers around ownership with only a nod to renting and nothing regarding training – the basic assumption is you are already trained.

Generally Strategies

  • Partnerships

A very effective way to cut all your costs (sans fuel) in half – that’s a huge benefit. Bring in more than one partner it is cheaper yet again.  A caveat –  I have only been in one partnership, it was with 4 people and one guy ruined the whole deal and it turned into a mess – your mileage may vary. But if I had to choose between a partner and not flying, I’d take my chances with a partner. Obviously you’ll need to be selective. You’ll want someone that is compatible with your personality and has the financial means to keep up their end of the bargain. This will cut the cost of the airplane and all the maintenance, upgrades, insurance, and hangar in half! If you take this approach do your homework and structure it correctly.

  • Share a hangar with another tenant

Some hangars are large enough to fit two of any type or you can try to find a high wing to mesh with your low wing or vice versa.

  • Do all you own preventive maintenance.

Oil changes, tire changes, etc. Here a good source of details on this topic.

  • Help on your annuals and unscheduled maintenance.

Find a mechanic that will work with you. You save a lot by doing the basic stuff under his supervision. Taking off inspection covers comes to mind.

  • Consult a tax professional for business use to offset the costs of flying (if applicable)

This is a sticky area that I’m not qualified to speak to, but you shouldn’t leave money on the table if you and your type of flying qualifies for some tax benefit that could lower the costs.

Categories and generic pricing (circa 2012)

  • Ultralight $3k-$20K
  • 2 place (LSA or C-152 type) $16k-$40k
  • 4 place (Cherokee, C-172, C-182 type) $40k-$70k
  • HP 4 place (Bonanza, Arrow, C210 type.) $50k-up
  • 2 place experimental $10k – $150k (depends on performance and/or installed equipment)
  • Other- if you just want to levitate there are gliders, hang gliders, powered paragliders, power parachutes and assundry other devices. Most of these are portable and cheap and devoid most of the costs cited here.

Costs: The Big 4 (all prices circa 2012)

  • Hangar Costs $75-$500 we’ll use an average of $200 (varies by region). Seek out community hangars, they are generally cheaper.
  • Maintenance Costs (aircraft dependent $0- up) oil changes, accessory replacements, cylinder replacements, tires/tubes, lights, other misc replacement parts. It is common practice to have a maintenance reserve where you put like $20 in a cookie jar each hour you fly.
  • Fuel Costs $5-$6 gal (varies by region). If you can burn autogas, that’ll save you roughly $1.50 gal. Make sure it is methanol free and complies with your operating limitations.
  • Insurance Costs $500-$2000 (varies a lot and is based on hull cost, aircraft type, pilot experience). Shop around. The quotes for a given product can swing wildly.

Renting: Truth Serum
Ok time to be honest with ourselves. There are very few ownership scenarios that are cheaper than renting. Most of us have airplanes because we want them. Exceptions to this may be that you can’t rent in your area or they don’t have the right kind of airplanes. If you don’t fly because you can’t buy an airplane you are selling yourself short. Renting can be a great experience – kind of like grandkids, when they become a burden you give them back to the parents. There are no financial surprises in renting. One hidden cost is renter’s insurance, something you should consider even if its not required. This again varies by hull value, type, and pilot time.

Other Techniques

  • Bartering – Do you have a skill that can be traded for rental, hangar, fuel, etc? A web-designer is a good example; you can develop the FBO’s website in exchange for stuff.
  • Working part time – As a kid I paid for my private license pumping gas and washing airplanes part-time. I also worked at the local cinema for gas money and went to school!

If there’s a will there’s a way. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.

There are a lot of great articles on the subject, so you should avail yourself to all the available resources.

This is not a complete treatise on the subject so if you have any good ideas to add, please put into the comments section below,



Good series of articles:

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