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Buying an airplane is one of the exciting purchases you’ll ever make. But the costs don’t stop there. Here are the variable and fixed costs of an airplane.
Airplane fixed costs include the purchase price, financing costs, insurance, hangar rental or tie-down space, and annual inspection fees. Some of the variable costs of airplane ownership include fuel, oil changes, maintenance and repairs, landing fees, and airplane cleaning.
For most people, the biggest purchases in your life would be your house and your car. But for us aviation lovers out there, you might be considering adding an airplane purchase to that list. And trust me, I’m all for it! But like all major purchases, the actual purchase price is not the total price you’ll have to pay for it. In this article, we’ll break down both the fixed and variable costs of airplane ownership so you know what to expect.
When you come to SkyTough, we want you to know that you’re getting the best, most helpful content out there. And to ensure that, we combine our extensive knowledge of the industry with hours of research and input from other experts in the field. This way, you’ll get the most accurate picture of the true costs of airplane ownership and you’ll know exactly what costs are coming your way.
What Are The Total Costs Of Airplane Ownership?
Even when you consider your home, buying an airplane could very easily be the biggest purchase that you ever make. Depending on what type of plane you’re buying and what you’re hoping to do with it, you could easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the purchase price alone. On the flip side, you could also spend no more than you would on a used car if you opt for one of the cheapest planes to buy and fly.
But no matter what type of plane you end up buying, it’s important to have an idea of the total costs that you’ll incur through aircraft ownership. Like many other big purchases in your life — like your house or car — there are far more costs associated with buying an airplane than just the initial price you pay.
These costs can all be broken down into two general categories: fixed costs and variable costs.
Airplane Fixed Costs
Let’s start with the fixed costs of airplane ownership. Fixed costs are costs that do not change over time or no matter how often you fly the plane. If the airplane sits for the entire year without moving, fixed costs will remain the same as they would if you racked up hundreds of hours of flight time. These are the five most common fixed costs of owning an airplane.
Without a doubt, the easiest cost to think about when you’re thinking about buying an airplane is the actual purchase price of the plane. Depending on the type of plane you’re in the market for, you could spend anywhere from around $15,000 to multiple millions of dollars.
If you have the cash to buy the plane you’re looking at outright, then the price will just be the price — plus any applicable taxes, registration, title transfer fees, etc. But most people typically won’t be using cash to buy the plane outright, which leads to our next fixed cost.
If you decide to finance the plane that you’re buying, there will be additional costs associated with the financing. The most obvious one here is the interest on the loan, which will increase your monthly payment.
Without getting into the details of how loans work, I understand that some loans have variable interest rates, so the financing costs won’t technically be the exact same every month. But for intents and purposes, interest and any other fees (origination, application, appraisal, etc.) can be counted as fixed costs that you’ll have to pay regardless of how much or how little you actually fly the plane.
I’ll preface this by saying that there are no federal or state laws that actually require you to have insurance on your airplane. But most fixed-base operators will require proof of insurance to fly out of the airport. All of that said, you will certainly want to insure your airplane either way!
You wouldn’t want to skip out on home insurance or car insurance, right? If anything happens to your plane, you’ll be glad that you had insurance and don’t have to cover costs out of pocket. Airplane insurance is typically paid for 6 or 12 months ahead of time, so even if you don’t fly the plane once, you’ll still owe the full price of insurance for that period!
Hangar Rental or Tie-Down Space
Most people don’t keep their airplanes on their own property. Not only are they typically a bit too big to fit in your garage, it makes far more sense to keep them at the airport that you plan on flying in and out of the most.
To do so, you will have to rent a hangar bay or pay tie-down costs. Storage costs will vary, but you can expect to pay around $50 to $300 per month for a basic hangar. If you don’t want to rent an actual hangar, you’ll likely need to pay around $50 to $100 per month for simple tie-down services.
Airplanes are required to undergo an inspection every year to locate any unknown problems and to verify their airworthiness. Although these inspections are mandatory, they are not free and the money has to come out of pocket.
For smaller airplanes, these annual inspections typically range from around $600 to $1200 per year. The inspection fees for more complex aircraft will only go up from there.
Airplane Variable Costs
On the other hand, there are also plenty of variable costs of owning an airplane. As the name suggests, variable costs vary based on a number of different factors. How often you fly, any unforeseen issues, and your own personal discretion and desires will all factor into how much you can expect to pay. The six biggest variable costs of owning an airplane that you should be aware of are as follows.
Undoubtedly the single biggest variable cost of airplane ownership is the cost of fuel. As you may expect, the more you fly your plane throughout the year, the more you have to pay in fuel costs.
The annual cost that you can expect to pay for fuel depends entirely on what type of plane you have, which type of fuel it uses, how much you fly, and what the current price of fuel is. For most personal aircraft, you’ll be refueling with AvGas, which tends to cost anywhere from $2 to $10 per gallon.
The most common maintenance that you’ll need to do to your airplane is the exact same as you do on your cars and trucks — oil changes. Not only will you need to change the oil in your plane more often if you fly it more, but you should change it throughout the year no matter what.
The general rule of thumb is that you should change your plane’s oil every 50 hours of flight time. In any case, you should plan on changing it every four calendar months no matter if you fly it at all. Costing around $100 per oil change, this can add up during the year.
Maintenance and Repairs
Think about your car for a minute. I’m sure you’ve had unexpected issues come up that you needed to repair. That same thing happens with airplanes, and the repair can often cost quite a bit more.
The thing with maintenance and repairs is that you could very well go multiple years in a row without needing to pay a penny. But then as soon as something goes wrong, you could be out thousands of dollars. I recommend setting aside a minimum of $1,000 per year into a fund dedicated to repairs, but costs could be more or less than that in any given year.
If you fly your plane to different airports a different number of times per year, then you will likely come across something known as landing fees. As the name suggests, landing fees are the price that an airport will charge you for landing on the runways at that location.
Like many other fees and costs in this guide, landing fees will vary widely from airport to airport, but most of them average somewhere between $100 to $500. While that may sound expensive, it’s worth noting that some airports will waive the fee if you’re just coming in to refuel.
One final variable cost of airplane ownership is the cost of keeping it clean. This, like many of the other variable costs here, will depend entirely on how often you fly your plane and how clean you want to keep it.
The total price of keeping your airplane clean includes the cost of both the interior and exterior. This includes the cleaner, water, materials, and more. Hiring a company will cost you even more, but if you’re like me, it’s well worth the price!