Frugal Pilots Kiss (and Tell)

It is great to be a part of the general aviation community where pilots share their ideas to help each other with knowledge and kindness. I especially like to see the many helpful frugal tips offered online from readers of my column. They add their own proven experiences that helped them fly more while spending less. For example, many readers have responded with information on their own tax laws after last month's tip on "Reducing Taxes." Thanks to everyone who has contributed. 

I recently received a slew of great tips from Patrick Piper of Houston, Texas. Patrick has been flying for nearly 40 years, everything from a 1946 Stinson to his current bird, a 1964D Cessna 150 that he bought as a basket case and rebuilt back to flying condition. Patrick did what some frugal pilots do: he earned an A&P license to reduce his costs and learn more about his aircraft than the typical owner knows. That makes sense for some frugal pilots, but not for others.

To get an A&P license you need to attend an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technical school, get up to 30 months of experience and pass some written, oral, and practical tests. Others who want to be mechanics on their own plane opt to build an experimental aircraft. Still others simply read a lot about aircraft maintenance and help their friendly mechanic with owner-assisted maintenance.

A New Pilot Makes His First Ever Flight With Passengers! (Video)

Here are some of Patrick's recommendations and my extensions, many of them mentioned in prior columns of The Frugal Pilot (FREE):

  • Keep up with avgas fuel prices in your area as there can be as much as $1 a gallon difference during the current volatile fuel market. Check,, and iPad apps like ForeFlight.
  • Fly at 55-65% power unless you're in a hurry…and most frugal pilots aren't. You can save 10-20% on fuel costs.
  • Find a less-expensive hangar at a nearby airport. Not always an option, but worth checking into. Otherwise, ask your airport for a discount for paying hangar rents annually. Some offer a 10% discount if they don't have to bill you every month.
  • Consider a tiedown instead of a hangar. Many aircraft do just fine outside in temperate climates and you can save $100 or more each month by renting a tiedown – enough to pay for a basic annual inspection.
  • Don't get more aircraft than you can afford. It's the Frugal Pilot's mantra. If recreational flying typically means just you and maybe one friend or relative, opt for a two-seat aircraft rather than four or more. Fuel typically is half, maintenance is less, insurance is less, and your little aircraft can fly anywhere the larger ones can.
  • If you're considering a light-sport aircraft (LSA) for medical reasons (requires a driver's license rather than a third-class medical), opt for a classic LSA, an older aircraft that meets LSA requirements. New LSAs typically are over $100,000. For more info, visit or
  • Don't be shy about asking for gas money. A two-seat GA aircraft burns about $30 an hour in fuel and a four-seater about double of that. You can't legally charge a specific fee to passengers unless you have a commercial certificate and the aircraft meets other criteria, but the FAA is okay with sharing operating expenses between the pilot and passengers. Operating expenses include both fixed costs (hangar, insurance, etc.) and variable per-hour costs (fuel, maintenance). A frugal pilot knows how much per it costs to fly the aircraft. Simply split it equally. It's much easier if you're splitting the costs of a rental aircraft, wet.
  • Find tax-deductible opportunities. If you own a business, how can you use your aircraft in it to expense some of the costs. If you're an employee, will your employer pay shared operating expenses for your flying him or her to a business destination? If you are doing flights for charity, keep good records and use them for tax-deductible donations. For all tax opportunities, keep good records.
  • Review your insurance each year. Report your flying hours to the insurance company as your experience may qualify you for a lower rate. Recheck your hull insurance. Do you really need that much to replace your plane? Or more? Shop around among aviation insurance brokers. Every dollar you save on insurance can go toward more avgas.

One of the most important frugal pilot tips this column points out is that I don't know everything about flying on a budget. You may not either. We all rely on the experience and help of other like-minded pilots to find ways of keeping down the costs of going up. Talk with other pilots, asking them how they manage the expenses of general aviation.

Frugal pilots Keep It Safe and Simple… KISS.