Estimated Costs of Aircraft Ownership

Hang out in any aviation forum long enough (five minutes should do) and the topic of airplane ownership cost will come up. There are some good rules of thumb, and even a few Excel spreadsheets floating around. However, the Type-A personalities drawn to aircraft ownership disdain unsupported financial figures, and Excel spreadsheets lack the immediacy of the web. That's why I've webified the spreadsheet I used to make my buying decision. In fact, I bet you didn't even read this paragraph. You're probably already changing numbers and thinking about emailing me nit-picky corrections.

Costs   Airplane Facts
Fuel   Cruise Gal/hr
Tiedown/month   Engine TBO
Annual   Cost to Rent
Overhaul   (Club Dues)
Insurance   Speed MPH
Hourly Reserve   Miles/Gallon #EXPR
Total Fixed #EXPR   Usage
Total Hourly #EXPR   Partners
Per Partner   Hours/Year #EXPR
Annual Dues #EXPR      
(Monthly Dues) #EXPR   vs Renting
Flight Costs #EXPR   (Tach/Hobbs)
Annual Total #EXPR   (Tach Hr Rental) #EXPR
Total/hour #EXPR   Breakeven Hrs #EXPR
Total/mile #EXPR      


The base figures are for a 1965 Piper Comanche 260 based at Twin Oaks in Hillsboro, OR. Try the quick picks pulldown for some estimated numbers for other planes. Send me new entries for the list if you like.

Total Fixed costs are what you'd pay even if you didn't fly. Total Hourly cost is the additional, wet (with gas) cost for each hour flown. The Annual Total and Total/hour are based on the estimated flight hours per year.

To estimate fuel and rental prices in your area, search for a nearby airport on

Tiedown (or hangar) prices can vary significantly from region to region. A tiedown at Twin Oaks is $25 (last I checked) but in some places you pay as much for a patch of dirt as I am for a hangar.

All hours except Cost to Rent are tach hours (time indicated by the meter connected to the RPM gauge that accumulates 1:1 at cruise RPM and slower at idle).

For a comparision with renting, fill in Cost to Rent as well as any Club Dues if applicable. Most rentals are wet Hobbs, so the cost to rent field is in wet Hobbs (cost per hour the plane is running, including fuel). There's an estimated tach/Hobbs conversion factor used in the comparison that you can adjust (set it to 1 if you want to input rental cost in wet tach hours). The Breakeven Hrs field shows how much you'd have to fly your own plane to break even (assuming no unexpected maintenance!) versus renting. Keep in mind that pilot owners tend to fly many more hours than renters.

To include more annual costs just increase the cost of the Annual inspection. You might want to estimate the opportunity cost of your investment, for example. To include more hourly costs increase the Hourly Reserve.

Experiment with the number of partners to see what happens. You'll see the biggest benefit when you add your first partner, and the savings really drops off at 3-4.

For a twin you can just double the overhaul cost, and while you're at it probably the cruse gal/hr, annual, insurance, and reserve. Try to do this while watching a $100 bill burn. If you can do it without flinching, you may be ready to step up to a twin.

And remember...

Owning your own airplane isn't about saving money compared to renting. It's about the freedom to leave any time, stay as long as you want, always find the plane in the condition you left it, know the plane and its maintenance history intimately and to have the opportunity to fly aircraft types that are hard to rent.

If you want to own a plane and you have the means to buy, I recommend you just look at the Annual Total and decide if you can afford it. Then buy the plane and remember that every hour you fly is cheaper than the last...