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The real cost of aviation (or why I still fly a simulator)

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Joined: 06 May 2005
Posts: 50

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 8:59 am    Post subject: The real cost of aviation (or why I still fly a simulator) Reply with quote

Every once in a while I get the urge to start logging "real" time again and I think about owning and flying my own aircraft. This impulse usually doesn't last long when I start running the numbers. Let me give you a "for instance". I've always been a fan of the Burt Rutan Long-EZ experimental aircraft. It’s a two seater with a canard up front, a swept wing, and a pusher prop in the back. It always reminded me of an X-wing fighter from Star Wars. A friend of mine built one and I had a chance to ride in it as a passenger years ago and the desire to own one has never left me. I was cruising the web for EZ's and came across one being sold out in the Midwest. The cost of the airplane was $31,500. The exterior condition was pristine, and the interior of the cockpit was well appointed and clean. The engine puts out 115hp and it cruises at 148 knots while sipping about 6gph. Sweet. 31 grand doesn't sound bad, does it? I mean we're talking about an airplane that hauls a** and looks cool. Hell, some bass boats cost that much, but take a look at the costs:

Financing- AOPA has some competitive rates and the loan itself would be relatively painless. You can get 7.1% loan for a 20 year term with 10% down. That works out to a monthly payment of about $217.99/month. Not too bad at all… but wait, there's more.

Insurance- As a low time pilot that puts me in the "you've got to be kidding me" category for insurance carriers (sim hours don't count). The estimated cost AOPA gave me was for $4,000/year. (The fact that the aircraft is an experimental doesn't help) That works out to be another $333.00/month. Grand total so far $550.99/month, but wait, there's more.

Operating and fuel costs- The standard fuel for GA aircraft is 120LL avgas. The current local price per gallon is $5.69 full service or $5.19 self service. Lets say you fly five hours a month at 6 gallons per hour and use the "cheap stuff", that adds up to $155.70/month in fuel costs, but wait, there's more.

Hangar fee- A composite aircraft, even a white one, should be hangared to avoid the possibility of delamination. It’s a good idea to hangar an aircraft anyway to avoid things like birds building nests in your cowling, plus the wear and tear of the elements. Hangar fee $300.00/month. BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE…

Engine Overhaul- Aside from the routine maintenance fees and oil that you have to take care of, the engine has have a major overhaul. For a Lycoming O-235 the TBO (Time Before Overhaul) is around 2400 hours. The particular plane that I was looking at only had 340 hours on it, so that means 2060 hours of flight time before a major overhaul. The engine overhaul goes for… wait for it… $30,000! The way that most aircraft owners pay for this is by costing our maintenance and TBO as a part of what they charge themselves for hourly operating expenses. So, lets look at the math. $30,000 divided by 2060 gives you a cost of about $14.60/flight hour. At five hours per month that adds another $73.00/month. Not too bad, BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!

Miscellaneous- Routine maintenance, annual inspection fees, and unknown expenses can run into significant money as well. (like you need a new transponder, or a new GPS, or a new prop, or… OK, you get it) Rough estimate… add another $4,000 per year or $333.00/month. OK, I think that's it, (I didn't figure in the cost of gas too and from the airport, I had to draw the line somewhere) so now lets see the tally as a per month cost:

Loan- $217.99/month
Insurance- $333.00/month
Fuel- $155.70/month
Hangar fee- $300.00/month
TBO cost- $73.00/month
Maint/inspec/oil $333.00/month

Drum roll please, and the grand total is- $1,466.69/month OR an annual cost of $17,600.28/year!

That allows you to log about 60 hours/year.


So, the next time that your significant other starts to wonder how you can justify spending your hard earned dough on the 737 you have growing in the basement, have a little chat with her about the costs of "real" aviation and she will probably be relieved that you went the way the rest of us crazies have.

And yes, this was just one seriously long rationalization for spending more money on this hobby.

I think I need a shrink, or better yet a nice set of dual yokes and rudder pedals.

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Jon Boe

Joined: 16 Feb 2004
Posts: 397
Location: Centennial, Colorado USA

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


That is too funny! And unfortunately, true. The fact is you can't even begin to consider owning your own bird unless at least 200 hours can be flown per year. Anything less and you're better off renting.

I had a retired 747 captain over last year to "fly" my 747 sim. After finding out what I have invested he commented that "you could buy a real airplane for that". True. However, burning "electrons" is a whole lot cheaper than AvGas. Plus all the other expenses that you mentioned.

I did fly "real" airplanes once upon a time. A few hundred hours and an instrument rating accrued over 20 years. I gave it up when the turbo 182RG I was flying in solid IFR started turning into a popsicle with rime ice and even with static wicks on the wings, my radios kept popping in and out. There is nothing more lonely than being in the middle of the Mississippi River (10 feet under) with no navigation or communications, going 180 MPH. I mean, I couldn't even see the end of my wings the clouds were that dense.

After we landed in Denver my "bride" informed me that that was absolutely, positively, her has airplane trip. So, a couple of solo cross countries after that on personal business and that was it. Last flight logged in 1986.

Now , after "flying" 747's I'd start my flare at 50 feet and I'd scare the H*** out of a flight instructor.

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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 122
Location: Madrid

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice post, Chris,

I also have an A340 pilot friend who made the same"you could have got a CPL for that money" comment about the 145.

I reckon the folks are just jealous - we don't have to worry about layoffs, rising fuel prices and all the other ills the airline industry has at the moment!

In fact, it looks as though the sim industry is not suffering from any recession at all - maybe I could convince my boss to get me a video conference link at home, and I could spend all the hours I spend in the back end of airliners going to meetings flying my sim to the same location, then have a virtual meeting, and fly home.

Come to think of it, I could probably finance an FDS PRO Airbus on the savings on hotel rooms! Very Happy

edit: if I added the savings in flight costs, I could finance a fleet of FDS Airbuses, and start my own virtual low cost carrier...

EMB 145 project
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Joined: 24 May 2005
Posts: 536
Location: australia

PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2008 1:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

had everything sorted to do a fast track to ATPL. all i had to do was sign up and hand over the cheque

then we found out we were having a baby and her indoors would be off work for ages.

went from being suicidal to being an angry monster to being a shell of a man.

deep sadness.

age is creeping up now.

Crying or Very sad
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norbert bosch

Joined: 07 Jul 2004
Posts: 68
Location: netherlands

PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2008 6:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are absolutely right. Owning and flying your own plane is only for the very rich, and even then it is not economical.

I live in the Netherlands, avgas is more then 10€ / gallon. I think it is not good for the condition of a plane to be used 5 hrs a month. Together with 19 PPL pilots we bought a new Diamond Star with Diesel engine (it uses Jet fuel, 5 gph). Now we can share insurance, hangar fee etc.

At start everybody paid 1/20 th of the price of the plane. We use a internet reservation system. The price / hour is € 60 including fuel and a bit reserve to pay maintenance , engine overhaul etc.

Hanger/insurance fee is about 500€/participant/year.
The plane flies everyday (when wheather is oK), and makes about 1000 hrs/year.

I think this is the only right way to operate a plane in a economical way. Now I can do my nice VFR flights in the Diamond, and fly on IVAO in a IFR environment in my sim and do thinks I can never do in real life.

In the meantime our organisation was so succesful, that we have 3 diamonds and 60 participants. There is already discussion about buying the 4th one.
If you are interested look here: (in Dutch)

Norbert Bosch

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Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 314
Location: YSSY Sydney - Australia

PostPosted: Sun Jun 29, 2008 5:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Dave,

Congrats on father to be, Condolences on not getting ATPL.

I thought if someone was going to get into aviation "now" ( thats 6-12months ago ) was the time to do it. Pilot shortage, big growth in airlines etc.

If fuel goes up to $200 + barrel, not many will fly Sad
You have saved yourself a big mountain of money.
I'll be out of a job but you will still be employed and flying the YOUR sim Smile

Sorry to see your dream fade Dave, ....

Now back to sim building ..... yep we will only need electrons to get the baby into the air.

If it aint a Boeing,..I'm not going!
Sydney Aust.
S33 56.6 E151 10.8
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Joined: 04 Feb 2006
Posts: 1087
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Sun Jun 29, 2008 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

age is creeping up now.

Mate...I know what I'd be doing If I was ONLY 33.... Wink

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Joined: 24 May 2005
Posts: 536
Location: australia

PostPosted: Mon Jun 30, 2008 1:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

yep, ga private flying is truly only for the rich property developer rock stars....(like nat). Very Happy

oh well, i still have two arms and legs and good health ..touchwood.

but i do get a tear in the eye when a light twin flies over....thats no joke.

thanks mark. next time you are in bris...
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Joined: 06 May 2005
Posts: 50

PostPosted: Mon Jun 30, 2008 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


My last time flying also involved my bride. We had been married for about a year when I finally convinced her to take a flight with me to Kill Devil Hills to visit the Wright museum. I thought it would be a scenic flight and a great introduction to aviation. I had been renting a Diamond DA-20 at the time and thought that she would enjoy the spectacular views that the wrap-around canopy provides.

We departed VFR to the South and the first thing that happened was that the radio died. I tried to explain to her that with rental aircraft something like that wasn't unusual and that we were still technically legal, but having a malfunction clearly unsettled her. As we flew South from Chesapeake the cloud deck was steadily moving lower and lower. I'd estimate that it went from 2500 down to about 1200 in the space of twenty miles. I didn't like the idea of scud running and thought that the deck was probably lowering to around 700 feet up ahead, so we did what my instructor always told me to do when in doubt... a 180 turn back home towards the field. It was in the middle of the day and we bounced a round a bit. The DA-20 is like flying a kite and responds to every ground wave with a little hop. My wife was quiet as a church mouse through the flight although she did reach over and clutch my arm hard after a good bump from turbulence. As we turned North for home I discovered that a standard rate turn was even too much excitement for her. When I glanced over to see if she was OK she was white as a ghost and had a single tear coming down her cheek. All along the flight I had been talking away and pointing out landmarks to her naively thinking that she was enjoying the view. It turns out that she was terrified from about the time we hopped in, she was just trying to please me because she knew how much I liked flying. Oddly enough, she likes to mountain climb and is fearless when we go hiking, but she has a real fear of little airplanes. We landed uneventfully. I made an effort at greasing it in and that prompted her to remark with surprise that she thought the landing would have been bumpier. I learned a valuable lesson as a husband and a pilot that day. You really have to take the time with a new passenger and make sure they are comfortable every step of the way. My error was in assuming that my wife had the same enthusiasm for aviation that I do, it turns out she was just trying to make me happy. Talk about a guilt trip.

Any way, since that flight she has been an enthusiastic supporter of my simulator building efforts. This weekend I went up with a friend in his newly purchased Cessna-182 (the wife stayed home). I was aboard as a safety observer so he could get his IFR currency. He shot approaches into Norfolk and I got bitten by the Issue again, but once down to earth and a quick recap of the costs associated with ownership I felt contented to go home and fly a few touch and goes on the sim. I've probably invested enough in my simulator to have bought an old nifty-150 or that Long-EZ I was looking at, but I know that years from now I'll be able to launch the 737 in the virtual air long after avgas has reached astronomical prices.

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Joined: 22 Oct 2007
Posts: 28
Location: sweden

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 11:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

haha that was great!
Even taking flying lessons in a cessna is pretty expensive!

Remember that your equiptment was built by the lowest bider...
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Joined: 06 May 2006
Posts: 89
Location: Newcastle Australia

PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi All,
just thought i would share a story as well, seeing as we are all crying about past experiences.LOL. I Started working For QANTAS airways as an apprentice aircraft tech. When i started the first thing i did was go to Bankstown airport and sign up to do my PPL. This was June 1996. After obtaining my ppl i continued flying and building up hours and eventually left Qantas. I then went to work on light aircraft at Camden and loved it. There i did my tail wheel endorsment on a Citabria, and had the pleasure of flying a Boeing Stearman bi-plane.
Retractable undercarrage and constant speed prop endorsment followed in a Piper Arrow. Then came the big guns. The Twin Rateing. Wow was that a buzz. Then i did my aerobatic endorsment and night rating. All this over an 8 year period and clocking up more than 260 hours. Then in August 2004 i joined the forces and got married and had a child ( now second one is on the way) and have never had the money to to do any real flying again. ( well the simm has taken care of that, and had a big part in the lack of funds.) lol. I realized that building my simm would allow me to fly in the comfort of home, have my wife bring me drinks and still be able to spend time with the kid(s). I look back and still miss flying the real thing, but maybe one day i can start again ( when i win the lottery and become a milloinare)

All the best and happy simming all
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