The Real Cost of Owning an Airplane

February 10, 2016 | Author: Jeremy Dingman

The other day I came across an article about the most elaborate and expensive aircrafts around the world. These aircraft, owned by some of the richest people alive, contain the most extravagant upgrades available and are worth more money than I’ve ever seen.

I have never considered owning an airplane a possibility. In fact, before writing this, I couldn’t imagine the price tag or the copious amount of maintenance that I thought comes with ownership – heck, I’m lucky if I remember to get my oil changed every 3,000 miles.

So, this got me thinking—is it really that expensive to own an airplane? Is this a luxury exclusive to the wealthiest people of the world?

In my research, I stuck to five fundamental principles that play into the cost of owning an airplane -- the initial purchase price, maintenance and operating costs, insurance, hangar rental space vs. tie-down, and of course, upgrades/add-ons.

For the purpose of this article, I chose the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, the successor of the Cessna 172, one of the most popular single-engine airplanes on the market used for training and cross-country travelling among general aviation pilots. So without further ado, here is the real cost of owning an airplane.

  1. Purchase Price:
    The time has finally come: you’ve completed all of the necessary training to be a pilot, you’ve found a lender that is willing to help you finance your aircraft purchase and now you’re ready to sign on the dotted line to close the deal. So, what is that magic number to officially make you an owner? Of course, you can also save a great deal of money buying used starting at around $30,000 with some hours on it, but if you want the new, never-worn before feel, that’s going to cost you $274,900.

    According to a 2012 article in Flying Magazine, the Cessna 172R, the less powerful of the two Cessna Skyhawk models mentioned, seats four people comfortably, carries 918lbs of “useful load,” has a max cruise speed of 124 Knots True Airspeed or 142 mph and is capable of travelling at 640 nautical miles or 736 miles. And if you were wondering, it comes with the option to add Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast (ADS-B) upgradable traffic so that you’re able to fly in 2020.


  2. Maintenance & Operating Costs:
    Maintenance – the fun part of owning, right? Like every type of transportation, planes needs regularly scheduled maintenance to make sure they’re flying at full capacity.

    According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association, there are a few fundamental maintenance costs that every owner must pay attention to such as fuel, oil, engine reserves/overhaul and landing fees. In an example from an AOPA article, Hypothetical Operating Cost Calculation, a pilot flying 100-hours per year vs. 300-hours per year can make a huge difference so it’s important to note that these calculations can vary based on travel schedule and the condition of the aircraft. Here is the breakdown of the fundamental maintenance and operating costs based upon 100-hours vs 300-hours:

    100 Hours:
    Fuel: $40/hour x 100 Hours= $4,000 (8 gallons/hour X $5.00 per gallon
    Oil: $2/hour x 100 Hours= $200
    Engine Reserves: $1,700 ($17x100 Hours)
    Landings fees= $50/ (varies based on airport)
    300 Hours:
    Fuel: $40/hour x 300 Hours= $12,000 (8 gallons/hour X $5.00 per gallon)
    Oil: $2/hour x 300 Hours= $600
    Engine Reserves: $5,100
    Landings fees= $150

    Although there will always be unexpected expenses, annual inspections and much more, this should give owners an idea as to how much they can expect to start saving as they near ownership.

  4. Insurance(s):
    Similar to every insurance out there, there is a variety of different options for pilots to choose from and a couple of insurances they need to have. Think of it like health insurance – not all insurance plans come with dental, vision and medical – and not every aircraft insurance comes with hull and bodily injury/property damage coverage. It’s also important to understand that there are numerous factors that insurance companies use to calculate premiums such as aircraft hours; where the aircraft will be parked; how it will be parked (tie-down vs hangar); the state that you live in; the age of the aircraft; the amount of coverage needed; and much more.

    On the other hand, there are several ways to save money by obtaining more certifications; undergoing regular training; co-owning the aircraft; and many other options. In the same AOPA example, the owner just bought a 1975 Cessna Skyhawk and was quoted an annual premium of $1,200/year; however, after comparing a few quotes for myself, owners of the new Cessna 172 Skyhawk aircraft can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 on average per year.


  6. Hangar Rental Space vs Tie-down:
    This particular decision seems to be pretty cut and dry since most of us can compare this part of ownership to parking our car in a garage or outside bearing the elements. For many owners, though, there’s usually a significant price difference between the two and is ultimately up to your personal preference. Since there are numerous elements to consider while making this choice, pilots should consider these things when they’re making their decision: the weather conditions the plane will experience; the proximity to the repair shop; the amount of money it will cost if damaged outdoors; and the importance of reselling the aircraft in the future. According to Flight Training Magazine, most owners should expect to somewhere in this range:

    Tie-down: $420-$900/year  Hangar: $1800- $12,000 year 

  8. Upgrades/ Add-ons:
    Last, but not least – upgrades. The amount of upgrades offered in the Aerospace industry are plentiful with options to change out almost every product on your plane – literally. These upgrades are important to account for because many of them are used to increase safety, connectivity or comfort. Although there isn’t a recommended number in this area of ownership, many forums for new aircraft owners suggest keeping a “rainy-day fund” of $5,000 so that you can plan for unexpected expenses or upgrades during the year. Besides, this is the fun part of ownership.

    Upgrades/Add-ons: $5,000/ year

Annual Total for the used and light flying: $12,570
Annual Total for the new and adventurous flying: $29,650

The reality of owning an airplane doesn’t seem to be so impossible anymore with numerous ways to make owning an aircraft affordable. Sure, owning an airplane similar to the some of the world’s wealthiest people isn’t a reality now, but at least there’s options for average Joe’s like myself to get in the air and travel at our leisure. For more information about owning an aircraft, please visit

Jeremy Dingman

Jeremy Dingman

Jeremy is a Senior Channel Marketing Specialist in the Business and General Aviation division of Honeywell Aerospace. Jeremy joined Honeywell in October of 2015 and has a background in copy writing, digital marketing, sales and social media in the financial industry.

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