What Does Affordable Flying Mean to You?

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EAA's AirVenture 2008 offers much to all who are interested in aviation. However, after a few days of wandering the grounds, this reporter is beginning to get a sense of what might be missing, and it is significant.

Although EAA has made a laudable effort during these financially challenging times to demonstrate that the point of entry for purchasing and building an airplane can be as low as buying a car, the organization seems to be missing the point that most people know that the first check, the one to buy the aircraft, is probably the smallest check they'll ever write for an aviation purchase. It is the cost of maintaining and actually flying their craft that adds up.

Take my RV-10. Sure, building it has been a drain on the checkbook in a steady, significant way over the past four years, but until that engine fired up and the aircraft took to the air those costs were predictable. Then we got the first fuel bills had to replace the electrical components that did not work and a tire. And well, you know where I am going with this.

Forums that have anything to do with engine and/or aircraft efficiency or longevity are packed at this show, which means the people here are definitely interested in learning more about how to build, modify, and fly their aircraft for less money. It is just too bad that there are not more displays by EAA and manufacturers here at the show that can offer these folks some solutions.

I'm a little worried that this key issue isn't being addressed. As pilot numbers shrink, manufacturers make fewer aircraft, oil companies refine less avgas, and the cost must go up. We in the industry must demonstrate both to these folks, who are clearly trying to keep flying their aircraft even as costs go up, but also to those people who are considering learning to fly, that general aviation is an affordable pastime by coming up with solutions to make our aircraft and engines more efficient and less dependent on traditional fuels and materials.

Comments (18)

I could not agree with Amy more. I see people getting dreamy eyed about aircraft ownership and wonder if they understand what they are getting into. I tell people all the time that if all there was to owning an airplane is the purchase price I would own two and still be money ahead. Everyone needs to be talking about the total cost not just acquisition cost.

Posted by: Rod Pollard | August 3, 2008 9:29 AM    Report this comment

As with many hobbies folks are passionate about, it's not the purchase price, it's the upkeep. Horses, boats and airplanes seem to lead the pack. The ultimate dream of persons so afflicted is to live with their horse, boat or airplane in the back yard which is a whole 'nother large financial obligation or geographical inconvenience.

More efficient engines would be great, but at what cost for a Cherokee or 172? The engines I've seen so far cost more than the airframe is worth.

As I see it, we're pretty much stuck with the current situation until someone comes up to market with an LSA that cruises 100 knots, burns 4gph and sells for $50K.

Posted by: Beaux Graham | August 3, 2008 11:50 AM    Report this comment

Actually, there are LSAs that come close to what Beaux Graham wants. In fact, I fly one, a Kitfox IV with a Jabiru 2200cc 80hp engine. It costs about $50,000 in today's dollars to build and cruises at just under 100 knots (100 mph). It sips 3 gph of either avgas or mogas, your choice, or mix. Doesn't seem to care. So, you can find 'em if you look close.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | August 3, 2008 2:10 PM    Report this comment


I should have been more specific by saying a factory built plane. Avemco and Falcon won't insure homebuilts for a flying club. If they did, I'd be organizing a club around two or three RV's. The most they'll cover for an experimental is a five member partnership. Asking them to cover a taildragger partnership will take your breath away!

I don't know about the Kitfox IV, but my problem is most of the planes that fit my budget and flying requirements don't fit me. I used to have the hots for a Zenith 701 until trying the plane on for size at Oshkosh.

I'd happily fly a low cost single seater like the EAA Biplane or Stolp V-Star except my knees can't make it under the panel. I suppose I could modify them but I'd rather fly than build.

Being a happy victim of the aviation bug, I'll just keep saving my money, scour Barnstormers and Trade A Plane and wait until the right plane and/or partners show up.

Hope to bump into you at Oshkosh next summer!


Posted by: Beaux Graham | August 3, 2008 4:42 PM    Report this comment

I agonized over scratch or kit building for years. In the end, I ended up restoring a couple of classics. They were all built to last, flew great and cost no more to buy or insure than nice cars.

Posted by: Steve Zeller | August 5, 2008 6:57 AM    Report this comment

A classic Bellanca Champ or Citabria, or Piper Cub is also a very economical way to get into or stay in general aviation. My neighbor has a 1978 Cessna 150 Aerobat that she adores, and it burns about 6 gph. Annuals are extremely reasonable, as are overhauls. One thing, though--don't ask these airplanes to go fast.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | August 5, 2008 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Mogas, lean-of-peak, and owner performed maintenance are my tools to fly.

The new LSA's are nice, but $100k for a modernized C-150 is not a solution for people who work for a living.

A change that would help me the most would be some way to approve increased owner maintenance.

Parts costs are ridiculous... charging $600 to "overhaul" a landing gear motor when they only install new brushes and bearings, which must only take a half hour at most, is crazy.

Posted by: Dan MacDonald | August 5, 2008 1:48 PM    Report this comment

We have an owner maintenance category in Canada which covers simple planes (fixed pitch prop, fixed gear, etc.). You can move your plane to this category but you do lose a couple of things, one you can't fly to the US anymore as it's not a recongnised category by the FAA, and it drops the resale value. What it does do though is allow much cheaper maintenance and even the maintenance of planes that may not have a ready supply of certified parts anymore.

Posted by: Terry Cooper | August 6, 2008 11:47 AM    Report this comment

I use my aircraft for business travel, my choices are usually to drive or fly direct to my customers who are almost all located in small towns with an airport within 10 miles of my destination. They usually will pick me up because they are surprised at how fast our response is to support the product we have sold them. The cost is usualy close to driving because hotels are necessary if I drive and the time saved excludes the need for another sales/support person. If I hire an extra person his/her travel and wages etc are 2-3 times my basic cost of keeping a Mooney Rocket at the ready and flying 15-20 hrs a month.

Posted by: DONALD SHAPANSKY | August 9, 2008 7:28 PM    Report this comment

Amy, you need the Hershey's Bar Economics 101 Course. Get a new gold dollar coin and buy a Hershey's Bar. You'll get a lesson in what your dollar will buy. Your money has been devalued due to the national debt and the deficit. BTW , the cost of energy effects everything! I fly an Experimental 51% A/B kit amphibian. The Rotax engine sips Mogas. It's cheap flying if you have a lot of those gold dollar things.
Frank Gracy
USAF Retired
Leesburg, Florida.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 24, 2008 8:14 AM    Report this comment

Norman is absolutely correct. It costs more to fly my Kitfox than before. But get this--it actually cost less to fly my RV-10 roundtrip FL-OHIO than to fly my Cessna 182, not because the RV-10 burned less gallons per hour, but because the RV-10 was so much faster than the Cessna that we spent 3 fewer hours in the air. And that was with headwinds in both directions. I was astonished. Even with expensive fuel, I saved $100 on what I thought the trip would cost. Sometimes faster is better, I learned.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | August 24, 2008 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Amy, I would take a RV-10 over a Cessna 182 evertime. The difference is to build a RV-10 Kit and do the routine maintenance on it yourself. If I were 15 minutes younger, I would live an a farm with it's own hangar and airstrip.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 24, 2008 10:10 AM    Report this comment

There is more difference. I could not put everything and anything I wanted in the RV-10, and had to pay more attention to CG. That Cessna 182 is a real heavy hauler with a ton of baggage / cargo room. The RV-10 is set for four FAA legal folks and a couple of light bags. Also, my Cessna carries 88 gallons, so it has longer legs (longer than my personal legs). It will be the right airplane for a growing family, and for about $50,000 less (used, one older gps and king radios) than the RV-10 cost. That's a lot of gas you could burn. So, always two sides to the story.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | August 24, 2008 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Amy, it sounds like you are into driviing airplanes than flying them. One of these days,down the road, flying quailities,and life style will be important. I've done my share of the heavy hauling, night IFR etc. Its cheap fun quality flying--it's the journey not the destination. I'll let the younger crowd do that other stuff. Remember, below 10,000 feet its see and be seen and keep it simple!

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 24, 2008 1:16 PM    Report this comment

Staop fretting about the variable costs. There's little anyone can do about it. But we *can* reduce the cost of flying by attending to the fixed costs.

1. Organize the clubs or group similar to a Part 141 School, and establish flight minimums to qualify for entrance.
2. Pay an experienced aviator to professionally manage and dispatch the entire activity.
3. Faithfully record the performance of the members and aircraft.
4. Hold mandatory club meetings (certainly at least every 3 months)
5. Require mandatory recurrent training that exceeds FAA requirements and is tailored to the fleet of aircraft

For those of you that are keen to what I'm suggesting, none of this is new. The organization of any flying activity -- and the willingness for the members to comply with established policy -- directly affect the flying activity's fixed costs.

Flying has *never* been cheap, nor will it ever be cheap. So, "... straighten up and fly right."

Posted by: Phil Derosier | August 25, 2008 4:55 AM    Report this comment

Phil D.I had the experience of comparing a 1961 Corvette to a C-150. The C-150 was cheaper to own. I owned both. There's a lot that can be done to make flying affordable. I get the imppression that flyers accept what's served up instead of buying what's needed. All I know is there's more expensine hobbies out there--Bass fishing and golf comes to mind!The above comment sounds like a commercial operation--been there done that! So far, the LSA/Sport Pilot/51% AB experimental kit category is a start.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 25, 2008 7:54 AM    Report this comment

I've learned in business school that "the cream will always rise to the top." People will naturally gravitate to the activity that is more efficient, because efficiency is that which most nearly serves their needs: i.e., "do more with less."

Yes, my previous comment does emulate a commercial operation. But truthfully, that's really the way you want to conduct business--that is, if you're in it for the long haul.

Any activity that underwrites inefficiency is destined to fail--not if, but when. Heck, look no further than the former Soviet Union.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | August 25, 2008 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Phil D. did they teach you in business school that you can make a small fortune in aviation if you start with a large one. Here's what's getting lost in all businesses; Service after the sale and customer service in general. As for the USSR, It's called socialism in the first stages. Cheer-up Phil, there will always be Cessna types that rather fly than build.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 25, 2008 10:48 AM    Report this comment

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