Frugal pilots aren’t cheap nor unsafe. Their buying and flying decisions are based on getting the greatest VALUE for each aviation dollar spent, not on squeezing every dollar until Lincoln yelps.
Frugal pilots aren’t poor. They may or may not be financially rich, but they do know the significance of money and that a dollar saved wisely can be a dollar spent on more avgas or iPhones or retirement.
Frugal pilots aren’t alone. There are many thousands of us who fly comfortably within a budget for a variety of good reasons: to go somewhere, to go nowhere, to see the world from above, to discover ourselves, to share recreation, to overcome fears, and/or to build an aviation career. At my airport, I hear many stories from grinning pilots who started out mowing lawns, washing airplanes, or taking on a second job to afford flying lessons. Over the years, these veteran pilots have logged thousands of hours in their owned or co-owned aircraft by being frugal – and safe.
What are their secrets? No secrets, just seeking VALUE for each dollar traded for aviation. They rent, buy, or share their wings based on smart economic decisions made after clearly understanding WHY they fly. They keep it simple, manage their wants vs. needs, participate in aircraft maintenance, learn from their own experiences, learn from smarter pilots, shop smart, barter when they can, and combine purposes for each flight.
Some frugal pilots decide that their best option is to rent their wings as needed. For many, it’s the right move – especially if they find an FBO with affordable, well-maintained aircraft nearby. They may find one or two favorite planes, purchase renter’s insurance, and work a deal with the owner to prepay – or even barter services – for flight time.
Frugal pilots also consider sharing their wings to get the greatest value from their aviation budget. Few recreational pilots fly as many hours as they plan to when first getting into general aviation. The initial goal of maybe ten hours a month, often erodes to just a couple hours a month. Meanwhile, their plane sits alone in a hangar or at a tie-down awaiting the next annual inspection. The pilot is off with other activities until the next biennial flight review. Meantime, the fixed operating costs keep adding up and spouses question why.
Sharing Flying Costs
Eventually, it occurs to frugal pilots to consider sharing their wings with other frugal pilots. They determine that they can fly more and for less money if they share the fixed costs, operating costs, and reserves with other like-minded aviators. They may establish a co-ownership with two or three other pilots who all have their names on an aircraft registration. Or they find three to five members and go in for a more complex partnership to share a more complex aircraft. Or they start or join a flying club with a wider variety of airplanes and pilots with which to share. Each structure has its own advantages and disadvantages to fit the needs of most frugal pilots.
Share Your Frugality
That’s a summary of how and why frugal pilots fly on a budget. There are many variations on these ideas with dozens of examples of each.
So it’s YOUR turn! Please take a few minutes to share your experiences, suggestions, and tips on being a Frugal Pilot so that I may share them with readers of this column. Why do you fly? How many hours do you fly each year? What type of flying do you do? How do you keep down the costs of going up? How do you participate in your aircraft’s maintenance, if at all? What are your experiences, good and bad, with sharing your wings?
Flying is a community and your experiences can be helpful to other frugal flyers.