I am fairly new to aviation - I had never been in a single engine plane until my discovery flight in 2019 and I didn’t know anyone who owned a plane. I had always assumed those that owned airplanes were millionaires. And while that very well may be the majority, it is very possible for the “average” person to own an airplane as well. My husband and I have been airplane owners for about a year and a half now to a Mooney we named Mary. We did a ton of research before purchasing – asked a lot of questions to those who owned a plane and read a lot of blogs of people that shared their costs.
I’ve been getting a lot of messages lately asking about the cost of the airplane and I wanted to be able to share our costs so those that were interested in ownership could determine if it was financially feasible for them. Money always seems to be such a taboo topic, but if it weren’t for others being open with us, we would have never been able to purchase!
Please know that the costs are unique to us – our plane, our geographical area, etc, so please do your own research to determine your exact costs.
How much does owning an airplane cost?
This is a very loaded question, that I’m going to do my best to unpack. There are SO many variables that you will need to consider.
When deciding on what airplane to purchase, you will need to determine your mission. I kept hearing this term “determine your mission” so many times, but it wasn’t until we were actually looking into different airplanes that I truly understood what it meant. There are SO many options when it comes to airplanes. They are all different and each have their own unique features, flaws, characteristics, and personalities. In order to figure out what plane is best for you, determine what you really want out of a plane. For us we wanted low wing, IFR, fast, low hourly operating costs, able to seat 3-4 adults comfortably for a 2-hour trip (that would get us to the beach!) and in our budget (under $100k). My husband did a LOT of research – YouTube, blogs, and talked to people that owned the various planes we were considering. We determined that a Mooney fit our mission and we decided on an M20F. Our plane is $80k. Planes can cost as low as $30k for an okay-maintained 2-seater trainer with an old panel (no new avionics/GPS) or older engine and not the prettiest interior or paint job. The faster and fancier you want and the newer the engine, the more expensive it gets.
For those that have asked – yes, you can finance! The financing works way more like getting a mortgage on a home than a car loan. It is way more detailed than a car loan. When we purchased we were quoted interest rates in the 4%-6% range. I’m not sure of all the terms, but I think you can get loans up to 20 years. We ended up using Dorr and they were great to work with. Tell them I sent you!
Fuel & Oil ($45/hr)
Fuel and oil costs are dependent on the airplane. Our Mooney burns about 10 gal/hr, which is quite low for how fast it goes. We also don’t go through that much oil. Oil usage can be plane dependent as well – not every Mooney M20F is going to burn the same amount of oil and different types of planes use varying amounts of oil. After learning how Mary operates, we plan about 0.2 qt/hr of oil. Fuel prices vary completely. It can be $4/gal one place and be $6.50/gal at the next airport over. We plan for about $4.30/gal in our calculations, which is a little more than our home field price, but less than many of the airports we travel to, so it usually evens out. So, about $45/hr in fuel and oil costs for us.
Engine Reserves ($45/hr)
We are very budget-conscious pilots. Not many are (at least that we talk to!). Engine overhauls for our airplane are in the $30k range. We want to be well prepared to cover that when the time comes. We have a separate bank account that we move money into for each hour we fly (i.e. each hour we are closer to an overhaul) so we have that tucked away when we need it. Therefore, we also plan for $45/hr that we tuck away in that separate account to be prepared for an engine overhaul. Not everyone does this – we are probably in the minority. But again, we are “average” people and want to be sure we are taking good care of our plane. The better we take care of her, the safer we are. So we have money set aside so when she needs an engine overhaul, we do it right away with no worries. If you’d like to set aside money for a reserve, I’d research how much overhauls cost for your airplane and divide by the number of hours until TBO (time between overhauls) to figure out how much you will need to put away for each hour. Just know that you may need an overhaul well before your TBO or you may go a while after TBO before needing anything done. This is just a guess, so if you’re worried about the cost, err on the side of caution and add $10 per hour to the number you came up with to add a little extra cushion in case the engine needs work prior to TBO.
With variable costs, obviously the more you fly the more it costs per year. We currently plan to fly 75-100 hours per year, so that turns out to be about $7,000-$9,000 per year for us.
We knew we wanted to hangar our plane. Hangaring the plane will cost money each month, but it could save a TON in maintenance. The sun does a number on your paint job, birds and bugs build nests in various parts of your plane, and the list of potential problems goes on. It can also affect your ability to resell in the future if it hasn’t been hangared and your insurance may be higher. In our area, the hangar situation is tough. There are almost never available hangars at any of the 3 surrounding airports. When we purchased our plane, there happened to be an opening in the community hangar at our home field, so we took it. We pay $150 per month for a spot in the community hangar. If a personal hangar comes available at our field, we’ll take it – and take the price increase. Community hangar spots are cheaper, but there are definitely disadvantages. Hangar prices will vary greatly across the country. I’ve seen personal hangars as low as $100 per month and heard of them being over $1,000 per month in some areas. If you’re seriously considering purchasing a plane, I’d call your local airport(s) and ask about pricing and even be put on a waiting list for future available hangars if they’re in high demand.
Insurance for your airplane can be the most challenging thing, in my opinion. There are very few companies that insure general aviation aircraft. With so little competition, prices are high. Shop around and continue to shop each year. The more hours you have PIC and in Type, the lower your insurance will be. Since we have a complex aircraft, insurance is higher. The more expensive your airplane, the higher hull value (the value your aircraft is insured), thus the higher the price of your insurance. (Side note – from someone that is a former property & casualty insurance agent, please oh please don’t skimp on liability insurance for your aviation policy. Please.)
In my experience, some things that can potentially increase your insurance rates include: a more expensive aircraft (higher requested hull value), low PIC time, low time in Type of aircraft being insured, complex aircraft, aircraft that is not hangared.
Some things that may help reduce your insurance costs: hangar your aircraft, be an AOPA member (we got a discount for that!), participate in the WINGS program, get your Instrument rating.
When we first got our airplane we spent around $3,500-4,000 per year for insurance. Now we’re sitting under $3,000. In theory, that cost will decrease as we get more time in the aircraft.
Annuals are not optional, as you probably know. The price of annual varies greatly depending on your location, mechanic, and type of aircraft. We budget about $2,500 as the BASE price of our Annual. This means, that’s usually the cost if nothing is wrong, nothing needs to be fixed, or changed and no troubleshooting needs to happen. Let me be clear: that never happens! There is always a part that needs replaced, a system that wasn’t functioning properly, or something that needs troubleshooting. Just because the base price is $2,500 doesn’t mean that’s all you’ll be spending.
We change our oil quarterly and budget about $800/yr. This is something you can potentially do yourself as owner maintenance if you had a hangar. We may do this in the future, but for now we pay someone else to do it. Oil alone for a single oil change is around $80, plus oil filter, etc. We also pay to send our oil in for analysis each time.
There are various miscellaneous expenses that we have every year, some of which include:
- Garmin – We have a Garmin 530W and choose to keep the databases updated for IFR, costing $325/yr
- ForeFlight – We love ForeFlight and pay for the $200/yr subscription. The upgrade is worth it for us.
- AOPA – We love what AOPA does for the general aviation community and both myself and my husband have upgraded AOPA memberships
- Savvy – We pay for SavvyAnalysis to analyze our engine monitor data at $129/yr
- Taxes – Taxes are state/county dependent, but don’t forget to check! In my area, they are the same percentage as car taxes and dependent on the assessed value of the plane (so the higher the price of plane, the more expensive the taxes!) Be sure to budget this for your purchase as well – some states require you to pay sales tax on the purchase price on your aircraft. That can be a hefty bill!
- Other – There seems to be a revolving door of miscellaneous expenses that quickly add up, so we budget about $5k/yr for the miscellaneous things: medicals, BFR, pitot static checks, any additional ratings, written tests, or time with a CFI, and anything that needs to be fixed/updated at annual.
A few questions I’ve received:
Q: Can you rent out your airplane to reduce costs?
A: Potentially, yes. You could do a rent back to a flight school OR you could do some sort of flight club. There are many people that choose to do this, but we chose not to do this for a variety of reasons. Let me explain…
- Insurance is going to be sky high if you rent to those learning to fly (pre-PPL). Even not, you’re going to have multiple people with a variety of skill level flying your airplane and it will increase insurance costs. This increase may be able to be covered or split, though.
- Maintenance costs will be higher. The airplane will be flown harder (new pilots), more things will break more frequently, and more inspections will be needed.
- We didn’t want to buy a training aircraft, as we were afraid it would affect our ability to sell our aircraft in the future. We purposely did not entertain aircraft that had previously been trainers because we knew they took a lot of wear and tear from those learning to fly. Therefore, if we let a flight school use it, we knew others might think the same things when we went to sell.
- Even if you interview the people that will be flying your airplane, you won’t be there with them every time. Unfortunately, not everyone will take care of your airplane like you want. If you don’t believe me, or just want to learn more about these potential risks, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWQuv3elMyg
I am a safety fanatic, so not being 100% sure who did what to my aircraft when I’m flying the people I love… I just couldn’t do it.
- One of the reasons we wanted to purchase a plane was to be able to go fly whenever we wanted. By having it in a club or letting a flight school use it, we limited our use of our own plane. We just didn’t like that idea personally.
There are many people that have their plane in a club or rent back to a flight school and do so very successfully. For us, it wasn’t worth it. Between the increased insurance, higher maintenance, not knowing how others will handle or care for our plane, and not being able to fly it whenever we wanted, we chose not to go that route. If you’re interested in doing so, I’d reach out to AOPA to get some more information about the possibilities.
Q: Can you have a partnership?
A: Short answer, yes. For those that don’t know much about partnerships, it is how it sounds: you are partners in the ownership of the plane. Much like business partners with 50/50 split of the shares. You have to make joint decisions on every aspect of the plane and work out a deal on who gets to fly it when. In our situation, we were (and still are!) new to the aviation community and didn’t know anyone interested in a partnership at the time. We didn’t want to jump into partnership with someone we didn’t know very well because of many of the same reasons above. We would have to trust that they would take the same or better care of the airplane as we would and have similar goals. I can’t think of much worse than a person that is so hard on your airplane (or takes unnecessary risks, doesn’t preflight, etc) or that refuses to get that Garmin 650 upgrade that you’re just dying to get. We love having the freedom to get what upgrades we want, use the plane when we want, and know how our plane is being used. For us, it is a huge investment and a plane we plan to keep long-term so we don’t want to have to share it with anyone else. There are a handful of pilots we would love to have a partnership with though, because we trust them, but timing wasn’t right. I could for sure see us having a partnership for a second plane, though.
Q: What types of things should you keep in your hangar?
A: Well, I’m not sure since I don’t have a personal hangar! Ha. But for those of you that are like me and don’t have the luxury of keeping things in a hangar, I’ll link what we keep in our plane and other things we keep at our house to take to the plane as needed. In our plane we have a clear tub that everything fits in that stays in the baggage area.
In the plane:
- A roll of shop towels (https://bit.ly/3gg2Jmc)
- 2 Quarts of oil as backup & disposable funnels (https://amzn.to/3gbXO5L)
- Microfiber cleaning rags – I usually keep about 5 in the plane and rotate them out as I take them home to wash (https://bit.ly/3ilMoPn)
- Window cleaner (https://bit.ly/2Rs5PLo)
- Wash & Wax (https://bit.ly/3vXAD5D)
- CleanWing (https://bit.ly/34Uu4F6)
- Towbar & chocks
- First Aid Kit
Stored at the house:
- Creeper – great for cleaning the belly of the plane (https://bit.ly/3geMQfJ)
- An easy way to air up your tires – this thing is amazing & lightweight (https://thd.co/3vXP5Ld)
Our particular plane cost about $80k and we budget about $25k per year for various costs of flying and ownership.
If you have more questions about airplane ownership, I’d be happy to answer them! Just send me a DM on Instagram (@faith_hooper)