Though small airplanes offer more conveniences and recreational opportunities than commercial planes, they also bring expenses like repairs, storage fees, insurance, loan payments, gas and oil.
The type of plane you wish to purchase radically affects the price point:
- Ultralight aircrafts, which are single-seat, single-engine recreational planes, may be purchased new, for an up-front cost of $8,000 to $15,000.
- Single-engine planes, which hold two or more people and are more economical to operate and maintain than multi-engine planes, typically cost between $15,000 and $100,000.
- Multi-engine planes run between $75,000 and $300,000.
When not in use, planes must be stored either in hangars or outdoors, at an airport. Outside storage is typically cheaper than hangars and other covered spaces, although this depends on the region and location of the airport. Urban airports typically charge more than comparable rural airports. Meanwhile, the average hangar cost is $275 per month, plus $100 for tiedown gear. Incidentally, residential storage is rarely available to the average small plane owner.
If you finance an aircraft, it’s essential to budget for monthly payments. Home equity lines of credit offer an alternative to traditional financing, but in either case, buyers should shop for the best interest rate and loan terms available to them.
Maintenance and Inspections
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recommends establishing an escrow fund for maintenance, to pay for engine, propeller, avionics and airframe overhauls. Contributing to this fund each time you fly helps cover unexpected expenses that can arise. Small aircraft are required to undergo annual inspections, which range in price from $600 to $1,200, while specialized planes with retractable landing gear cost more to inspect.
Aviation insurance covers aircraft damage and provides liability for anything your aircraft damages. Coverage varies by policy, and aircraft damage is categorized either as in-flight damage and non-in-flight damage. When selecting small aircraft insurance, which runs between $1,200 and $2,000 per year, it’s best to consult with a licensed aviation insurance agent.
Gas and Oil
Small aircraft should have oil changes every four months or 50 hours--whichever comes first. For the average user, this represents three oil changes per year. The average small plane fuel burn rate is five-to-ten gallons per hour. Aviation fuel is significantly more expensive than typical automotive fuel, averaging $5 dollars per gallon.
The Bottom Line
Many costs factor into the economics small aircraft ownership. On average, a $75,000 financed Cessna winds up costing $200 per hour, if flown 100 hours per year, with $80 going toward fuel, oil and maintenance. Similar aircraft may be rented for about $125 per hour.