Flying Costs (Initial & Operating Costs)

Flying Costs (Initial & Operating Costs)

Welcome to Frugal flying. We know why you are here. You want to be able to fly an airplane for as little as possible, right? As with most things in life, the cost is a huge factor to consider and will influence your decisions. The good news is that flying doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive.

Today we will talk you through how much it could cost to get your wings and give you an itemized summary of flying costs. We also address the difference between one-off payments and expenses that are longer-term.

Pipistrel LSA

Flying Costs - What's the Deal?

An important consideration when deciding whether to learn to fly is how much it's going to cost.

And, just as with cars, there are several expenses. In flying, there are several different types of cost:

  • Initial costs
  • Ongoing costs

What's the difference between the two?

Check below to see…

Initial Costs - the Big' One-Offs'

The initial cost is how much you pay for the plane (including any loan interest or fees).

The term 'initial' literally means "occurring at the beginning", as a general rule, these are expenses you will pay only once. Initial costs aren't just about the aircraft, however. There are quite a few other things that you might need to buy. These can include:

Ongoing Flying Costs - Little and Often…

Flying certainly isn't about making a one-off payment before blasting off into the sunset. In fact, the ongoing costs given enough time can start to get pretty substantial.

There are plenty of things that count as ongoing costs. These could be things like:

  • Hangar or tie-down rent
  • Insurance
  • Maintenance

Fortunately, here at Frugal flying, we have one or two tricks up our sleeve to reduce these costs as much as possible.

A suggestion right off the bat?

You could consider renting an aircraft instead of buying one outright. You have a much smaller initial cost if you're renting, but your ongoing costs (rent) are higher.

Still, sounds a little too much?

How's about another idea?

Join a flying club.

If you're in a flying club, you'll pay a smaller initial fee and lower rents.

Flying Costs - How Much Can you Afford?

There's one person that will dictate your flying more than any other. No, it isn't the chief pilot, air traffic controller, or even your flight instructor.

Have you guessed it?

That's right. It's the bank manager.

The best place to start is to determine how much discretionary income you have for your newfound hobby.

It can be a little bit of a balancing act. And there are several ways you could approach it. Essentially, it is a decision between:

  • A large initial cost, followed by reduced ongoing costs
  • A small initial outlay, but ongoing costs will be higher

This all depends on your own personal circumstances.

Do you have minimal money saved up but can spend a couple hundred dollars a month on flying?

Or do you have a larger chunk to put down to keep monthly costs to a minimum?

Your bank balance will dictate which approach will work best.

Let's look at some flying costs in a little more detail…

Initial Costs of Flying - Which Option is Best?

Again, the initial costs depend on how you "own" your wings. Here are your options in order of which costs the most:

  1. Buy outright
  2. Partner or join a group
  3. Lease
  4. Buy

For most folks, the initial investment dictates ownership form. More money invested equals more ownership. The more you have saved, the greater your options.

If you really don't have enough saved up for a down payment or initial lease payment, you're stuck with renting.

If you do have more in the piggy bank, your options grow. In addition, if you have good credit, your options increase because you can get a low-interest loan on your wings.

Operating Costs - a Detailed Breakdown

Wait, what are operating costs? I thought you said there were initial and ongoing costs?

Indeed, I did…

But here's the thing… Operating costs are part of the ongoing cost of an airplane. Whether you rent, buy, lease, or even borrow, someone, somewhere, will have to pay the operating costs.

Operating costs are things like…

  • Fuel
  • Oil
  • Maintenance costs

Operating costs, generally, have a linear relationship with how much the aircraft is flown.

In basic terms…

The more you use the aircraft, the higher the operating costs.

Even maintenance?

Yes, absolutely…

Scheduled maintenance is an operating cost if it's required based on how many hours your plane has flown.

A tachometer or Hobbs meter on the control panel will tell you how many hours the engine has been in use. You must perform maintenance on it at regular intervals.

However, you need to remember you are at Frugal flying… There are a few ways to reduce operating costs.

How to Reduce Operating Costs - Perform Your Own Maintenance!

Did You Know That You Legally Can Perform Some or Even All of Your Own Aircraft Maintenance?

You can do all of your own maintenance if you build a craft that is certified "experimental."

You can do some maintenance if you buy a new Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) and get an LSA maintenance certificate, requiring some training and a test.

Any Other Ways to Reduce Operating Costs?

Don't fly!

Yeah, right.

Actually, there are numerous ways where you can further reduce operating costs… Some of which you'll actually do when airborne!

An example?

Learning how to 'lean' the mixture in your aircraft. Never heard of it? Don't worry. Here's a quick rundown…

"The mixture" is the term used to describe the ratio of fuel and air going into the engine at a given time.

  • When you put more fuel into the engine, "the mixture" is described as "rich" (quite apt as it costs you more money).
  • When you put less fuel into the engine, the mixture is described as "lean". Less fuel into the engine means more money in your pocket.

And here's the thing. It's all about ratios. At altitude, there is slightly less air, so you can get away with using slightly less fuel! Throughout a sustained flight, you can make a significant fuel saving!

I should add, leaning is a common and very safe procedure… in fact, "running rich" can be bad for the engine!

Keeping track of all of these different expenses can be challenging.

The answer?

Most pilots keep an aircraft expense log, similar to an automobile expense log, to help them track and manage operating expenses.

Frugal Flying - How Fuel Efficient are Small Aeroplanes?

About as fuel-efficient as smaller cars!

Depending on how you fly, how efficiently you operate your aircraft engine, whether you carry a passenger, and other factors, you'll find that you'll get 20 to 35 miles per gallon of fuel.

Some of the ultralights get 50 mpg or more.

Yes, avgas (aviation fuel) is more expensive than autogas, but it's much more fun to (nearly) empty a tank!

Much older aircraft may be legally operated on auto fuel — if they have the appropriate paperwork, you can find non-ethanol auto fuel.

How Much Do Sport Planes Cost?

If you've got a nest egg saved, then you might be looking to go all in and buy an airplane

So, you'll want to know the prices of sport planes.

Depending on what you're looking for, you can find a dependable airplane priced from $15,000 to $150,000.

That's quite a range, so let me break it down:

  • Used ultralights (these all qualify for sport pilots) can be purchased for $10,000 or even much less.
  • Kit aircraft require you to invest from 200 hours to many hundreds of hours of building time. Costs for these start at about $25,000 and go up to about $75,000, depending on the engine you select.
  • You can build a basic airplane from plans for under $25,000 and a lot of sweat equity.
  • Used general-aviation aircraft that qualify for sport pilots (Aeronca, J-3 Cub, Luscombe, etc.) sell for $20,000 to $45,000 or more.
  • Quick-build experimental LSA kits (you add the finishing touches) can be purchased for $40,000 to $80,000.
  • Ready-to-fly planes built under the new LSA rules are priced from $80,000 to $150,000 — about half the price of many new FAA-certified aircraft.

Those are the ballpark figures.

For more specifics on current prices, get a copy of Trade-A-Plane or AeroTrader or visit or and start learning.

In Summary

As you'll have seen, acquiring an aircraft only forms a small part of flying costs. There is a whole lot more to think about. Maintenance, ongoing costs, and operating costs all play a huge part in how expensive (or cheap) your flying will be.

My tips, such as how to "lean" an engine, are only a small sample of ways in which you can make your flying significantly less expensive. For more ways to reduce your flying costs, be sure to check out articles such as this, where I discuss how to cut the cost of actually owning an airplane.

How Much It Really Costs to Own and Operate Your Airplane (Video)