Small planes are statistically riskier than flying commercial, but they offer far more conveniences and recreational opportunities. Small planes require costs such as storage fees, repairs, insurance, loan payments, gas and oil, and they also come with many unexpected costs.
Decide on the type of plane to purchase. Ultralight aircraft are single-seat single-engine planes that are only used for recreational purposes. Ultralights have low upfront costs and can be purchased new for $8,000 to $15,000. Single-engine planes can hold two or more people and are more economical to operate and maintain than multi-engine planes. A single-engine plane typically costs between $15,000 and $100,000. Multi-engine planes run between $75,000 and $300,000. In all categories, premium planes run well over the average purchase price.
When you are not using your plane, you will need to store it in a hangar or outdoors at an airport; residential storage is typically unavailable. Outside storage is more affordable than hangar and covered spaces. The exact cost of storage depends on the region and location of the airport. Urban airports typically have higher fees than comparable rural airports. The average hangar cost runs $275 per month and $100 for tiedowns.
If you finance an aircraft, factor the financing costs and your monthly payments into your budget. It has become easier to finance small aircraft, as prices have stabilized and begun to rise. Home equity lines of credit offer an alternative to traditional financing. In either case, it is worth shopping around for the best interest rate and loan terms.
Maintenance and Inspections
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recommends establishing an escrow fund for maintenance to pay for expensive engine, propeller, avionics and airframe overhauls. By contributing to the fund each time you fly, you will be better prepared for any unexpected expenses that may arise. Small aircraft are required to undergo annual inspections. These annual inspections vary by plane type; for small aircraft, the inspection ranges from $600 to $1,200, with specialized planes (with retractable landing gear) costing more.
Aviation insurance covers you for damage to the aircraft and liability for anything your aircraft might damage. Coverage varies by policy, and damage to your aircraft is usually segregated between in-flight and non-in-flight damage. Small aircraft insurance typically runs between $1,200 and $2,000 per year. When selecting insurance coverage, it is best to speak with a licensed insurance agent who specializes in aviation insurance to ensure you are properly covered.
Gas and Oil
Small aircraft should have their oil changed every four months or 50 hours, whichever comes first. For the average user, this represents three oil changes per year. Different types of aircraft will have different burn rates for fuel. Typically the burn rate for small aircraft is 5-10 gallons of fuel per hour. Aviation fuel is significantly more expensive than typical automotive fuel and is averaging between $4 and $5 per gallon as of November 2015.
The Bottom Line
There are many costs that go into the economics of owning a small aircraft. An average $75,000 financed Cessna adds up to around $200 per hour in costs if you fly it for 100 hours per year. Of the $200 per hour, around $80 is just for hourly costs such as fuel, maintenance and oil. The rental of a similar aircraft in this category runs around $125 per hour. Renting has its limitations and may not fit your travel needs. Weigh the cost of owning your own aircraft as opposed to renting it, especially if you plan on using the aircraft for fewer than 100 hours per year.