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A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Owning an Aircraft Part 4: the true costs

The first month of owning N5536U has produced many learning experiences, the greatest being the importance of remaining patient and being thorough during aircraft research, and the purchasing process. The first 10 hours of the plane being back in service have not been inexpensive by any means, but that is expected of bringing an aircraft back to life that has remained stationary for over a year. We have been incredibly blessed thus far owning N5536U. More importantly, aircraft ownership opens a door for opportunity and freedom which awaits you.Fixed Versus Variable CostsThe first place to start when computing ownership costs of an aircraft is remembering fixed versus variable costs. To begin, fixed costs are expenses that do not fluctuate with the number of hours the aircraft is flown. For example, the price you purchased the aircraft for, financing costs, annual inspection, aircraft insurance, and hangar rental are all costs that will not change regardless of how many hours the aircraft is flown. Variable costs are costs that change in proportion to the number of hours the aircraft is in service. For example, fuel, oil changes, maintenance/repairs, cleaning products, and miscellaneous ramp fees. The variable cost for fuel depends solely on the aircraft and the location at which it is being fueled. For instance, a Piper Comanche will burn more fuel per hour than a Piper Cherokee, and at any given location will be more expensive to fuel. Most general aviation aircraft will fuel with 100LL Avgas which depending on the location can range from $3/gallon upwards to $8/gallon. The location in which you fuel also plays a large role in the variable cost for fuel. Self-serve fueling tends to be much cheaper than full service, and landing at an uncontrolled airport will usually be less expensive to fuel than a controlled airport. The variable cost for oil will also rise proportionally as the aircraft is flown more because one will reach the 50-100-hour requirement for an oil change a greater amount of times than an aircraft that does not fly as much. Owning Versus RentingIncluded above are the fixed and variable costs to fly N5536U for the next year in comparison to renting an aircraft. As one can see, this will be the most expensive year to fly the aircraft solely because of the price of the first annual. As I mentioned in Part 3, your first annual and first year of ownership can be the most expensive, because the previous owner may have knowingly did not repair certain items, or simply overlooked items that needed to be repaired. In the case of N5536U, the reason for such an expensive first annual is because it did not fly for over a year bringing quite a few repairs. Going down the list the price of 100LL Avgas at KORG is $4/gallon with an average fuel burn of 8 gallons per hour. Also included is the price for insurance, hangar rental, annual inspection, and the loan payment per year. The average hourly wet rate to rent a single engine aircraft can vary from $140-$200/hour. As seen from this calculation, even with the most expensive year of aircraft ownership, it is still less per hour than renting. One of the downsides of renting an aircraft is the maintenance point of view. As we can all agree, training aircraft can sometimes not be the most reliable. Not to mention any scheduling difficulties to book a popular aircraft. Aircraft Ownership FreedomsOwning an aircraft can produce pros/cons. Beginning with the pros: it can be much cheaper to own your own aircraft rather than renting from a flight school or a flying club. It all depends on the type of aircraft, age, and overall condition the aircraft is in. For example, a couple of weekends ago my dad and I hopped in 36U and flew from Orange County (KORG) to Angelina County (KLFK), and over to Lake Charles (KLCH), and back to Orange County. The entire trip ended up being 3.2 hours. At the day's end, we fueled, which was 23.5 gallons burned for the trip. We then took this number and divided it by our total time flown and figured right around a 7.3 gallons per hour fuel burn for the trip. The cost of fuel was $94 for 3.2 hours of flying. If you compare this to a flight school, 3.2 hours of flight time at $150/hour would have cost you $480. One of the greatest aspects of aircraft ownership is the freedom it brings. At any point in time, you can drive to the airport, and fly to whatever destination you'd like. One does not have to struggle with a fully booked flight school schedule. You just get in the airplane and go! As far as N5536U goes, the furthest trip it's taken is to Lufkin, but with a trip to Mena, Arkansas (KMEZ) in the near future. Cons of aircraft ownership is the financial responsibility of maintaining the aircraft, and the reality of the airplane sitting if financial funds are not sufficient to spend on required repairs. In the first 10 or so hours of 36U being back to flying, there has been a lot of money spent just to keep it in the air. But referencing the same rent or buy calculator, if one were to insert the average amount for an annual ($2,000-$3,000) the hourly cost to fly the plane per hour is less than $100! It all depends on the amount you fly the aircraft, and how well is it maintained. Aircraft need to be flown because problems arise when they sit for long periods of time. In my opinion, the pros of owning your own aircraft greatly outweigh the cons from both a freedom and cost efficiency perspective. The best piece of advice I can give is to keep your aircraft in good mechanical condition and to have money set aside for any unexpected repairs. Meaning, if you notice an item that needs repair, don't wait until it breaks to replace it. You have to remember that if you treat your aircraft well, in return it will treat you well.RELATEDA First-Time Buyer's Guide to Owning an Aircraft Part 1: the purchasing process A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Owning an Aircraft Part 2: required purchasing documents A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Owning an Aircraft Part 3: the prebuy inspection
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