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- The Piper M350 is the only single piston aircraft currently in production to have a pressurized cabin, able to seat five passengers
- Brand new from the factory, a Piper M350 will cost you anywhere from $1.2 to $1.5 million depending on how many addons you have
- Used prices vary wildly, but are generally in the $1 to $1.3 million range when in mint or near-mint condition
- With an impressive 213 KTAS max cruising speed, the Piper M350 leads the piston pack in terms of speed
- Powered by a single Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A with standard dual turbochargers, the Piper M350 has a fuel burn of 20 gph
The Piper M350 is a retractable gear aircraft typically used for hub-to-rural executive transport. This guide looks at its benefits from a pilot’s perspective.
Piper began producing the M350 in 2015. It costs between $1.2 and $1.5 million, new. It’s famous for its spacious cabin and natural leather seats. When flown at its service ceiling of 25,000 ft, it has a maximum range of 1,343 nm whilst burning 20 gph with a max cruising speed of 213 KTAS.
As an aircraft enthusiast and experienced flight instructor, I frequently fly the M350 as both a pilot and passenger. It is among my favorite single pistons and leads the pack in my view for its simple handling characteristics, inflight comfort and low operating costs.
Piper M350 Background
The Piper M350 is one of two M-Class aircraft that Piper produces. Piper designates the M350 as the PA-46-M350. There are two other stable mates in the PA46 family, the M500 and the M600.
The M350, which Piper introduced in 2015, is the only piston-engine aircraft that is still in production to be pressurized.
As a six-seat aircraft with club seating and double doors in the rear, it lends itself to being a popular executive transport that is as reliable as it is comfortable while not incurring the costs involved in maintaining a turboprop.
Instead, it is powered by an air-cooled six-cylinder engine that is twin-turbocharged. At its height, it generates 350 horsepower, enough to lift all its four-thousand-plus pounds, pressurize the cabin with a 5.6 differential up to 25,000 feet, and inflate the de-ice boots in addition to running the air conditioning.
The M350 comes with a 3-bladed composite prop that mitigates the weight factor of a three-bladed prop that can pull it through the air at a maximum of 213 knots (true) over 1300 nautical miles. You could conceivably make it from Phoenix to Chicago in six hours or Chicago to Salt Lake City in five hours, doing both or either in extreme comfort.
What Are The Specifications of The Piper M350?
How Much Does a Piper M350 Cost?
Piper Aircraft sells its M350 Malibu for $1.2 million. It can escalate to $1.5 million depending on the additional options you decide to get installed directly from the factory. But in its fully equipped state it already comes with a glass cockpit, air conditioning, and de-ice boots for the wing leading edges, as well as the leading edges of the horizontal and vertical tail.
But even in its standard package at the lowest price possible, the Piper M350 already comes with more avionics and equipment than most pilots anticipate. The base price includes the Garmin G1000 Nxi avionics suite. This is a significant upgrade to an already-capable G1000 glass cockpit.
The M350’s G1000 Nxi comes with three high-resolution displays that organize the information and allow easy access in flight, which, when combined with the Electronic Stability Protection System, helps to reduce the pilot’s workload and increase safety. It also comes with significant computing power as well, allowing all that information to appear seamlessly in real-time.
Integrated with the avionics, included in the base price, is the Flight Stream 510 and more famously, the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot. Not only is this a full three-axis autopilot but it also provides a full approach and landing assistance to pilots. Between the de-ice capability and the approach assistance, the Piper M350 behaves more like a corporate jet than a piston single.
The G1000 Nxi also comes with full synthetic vision, GMC 710 AP Controller Yaw Damper System and Ads B capabilities, further adding to the corporate jet-style feel Piper were evidently going with when they were designing it.
It is also worth restating that the Piper M350 is also pressurized with a differential of 5.6 meaning you can speed along at the service ceiling of 25,000 feet while maintaining the passenger cabin is pressurized at a comfortable 8,000 feet MSL.
The Piper M350 holds its value over time. This is characterized by the prices you find on the pre-owned market. A 2016 Piper M350 with under 500 hours since new, with additional options included at the factory during the purchase is currently asking for $1,250,000. This is just $100,000 less than what they paid for it.
Another pre-owned M350 from 2019 is asking for $1.35 million. It comes with a few added options including SiriusXM Weather and the GWX Weather Radar with premium exterior paint.
One of the reasons for the high resale values is the demand for the M350. Being a piston-driven pressurized aircraft that is certified to operate in known icing, it comes with strong capability without the cost associated with the maintenance of a turboprop power plant. So the Piper M350 gets you more bang for the buck over the long term.
Managing the operating costs of the Piper M350 can be simplified if we structure the cost into three parts.
We begin with the long-term issues that we can either foresee because they are fixed or we can foresee based on experience. Since they mostly relate to the maintenance of the aircraft, we will label them as Maintenance Reserves.
Then we have Direct Operating Costs. This section will capture the costs that the M350 will incur while it is flying. This is easily calculated on an hourly basis, or parts thereof.
And, finally, there are items that we classify as Fixed Costs. We capture things that are not incurred hourly but come to us in annual or quarterly payables. Things like insurance and hangar costs come under this heading.
We begin with the cost to overhaul the engine. The LycomingTIO-540-AE2A engine has six cylinders and comes with a twin-turbo that boosts the engine to higher altitudes.
While it is nowhere near the cost of a hot section or a turbine engine overhaul, the cost to overhaul a piston engine on a pressurized plane also has de-ice boots and air conditioning.
This means that every overhaul you incur with the Malibu will not be the same as the last. Your first overhaul will very likely just require new cylinder heads without having to swap out the core.
In this case, the overhaul will cost approximately $40,000. A total engine swap will cost about $60,000. It is very likely that you will alternate with just having to get new heads on one cycle, then having to replace the whole thing at the next overhaul.
This means it will cost $100,000 for 4,000 hours. That works out to be $25 per hour that you will have to set aside.
You will also have to overhaul the propeller every two years or 2,000 hours. The Hartzell prop costs $2,000 to overhaul and $5,000 to replace. It is fair to assume that you will get a new prop every 6,000 hours. As such, the total cost for two overhauls and one new prop in a 6,000-hour period is $10,000, or $1.67 per hour.
The next item on the list is the 100-hour inspection. You only have to include this if you are renting the plane out or running it for commercial reasons. While you may not be compelled to do it if you are operating the Malibu for private use, it is a good idea to conduct a hundred-hour inspection and an oil change at the same time.
A hundred-hour inspection on a Malibu averages $600 excluding an oil change or $6 per hour. The cost of the oil change is captured in the 25-hour oil changes that are accounted for in the Direct Operating Costs below.
An unscheduled maintenance reserve should also be a part of your budget. For this, Malibu owners vary in their opinion as to the quantum of the reserve. I suggest $1200 a year which, if you fly 400 hours a year, will be $3 per hour.
Whether your Malibu is up for rent or otherwise, you will also have to conduct an annual inspection to remain airworthy. A typical Annual Inspection with the usual maintenance that entails can cost between $1,200 and $2,000 for a Piper M350. Since we’ve decided that you will be flying the Malibu 400 hours a year, you should set aside $5 an hour towards this. It’s also a good idea to set aside $2 for subscriptions, medicals, refreshers, charts, and maps.
Finally, you should paint your Malibu every five years. A good paint job including anti-rust treatments for a Piper M350 will cost about $15,000 or $7.50 per hour.
In total, you should set your hourly maintenance reserve to $50.17.
Direct Operating Cost
The Piper M350 has an average fuel burn of 20 gallons per hour. AvGas is currently $6.50 per gallon, making the cost of fuel $130.00 per hour.
The Piper M350 does blow some of its engine oil out the breather tube but it's not as bad as the smaller engines, A survey of Malibu owners reveals that the average is about a quart every 4 hours. At $10 a quart, that’s $2.50 per hour.
I always have my oil changed every 25 hours and coincide my 100-hour with the fourth 25-hour oil change. An oil change on the Malibu costs $150 which averages $6 per hour.
In total, the Direct Operating Costs add up to $138.50 an hour.
Finally, we have the costs that occur in bulk, periodically, regardless of how often or how long we fly. The largest of the lot is the insurance premium.
There are two possibilities when it comes to insuring your Piper M350. You can either just cover the aircraft's liability. Or, you can cover it for liability and hull damage. Do note, however, if you are using a bank loan to purchase the Piper M350, you will have to insure the hull as well.
Covering your Piper M350 for just $1,000,000 in liability will cost you approximately $1,200 a year for low-time Malibu pilots and can go down to as low as $850 annually for pilots with over 1000 hours of time in type.
If you decide to add a million-dollar hull policy without a deductible, then that will alter the premium. A pilot with previous time in the Piper M350 will have a lower premium. A pilot with 1000 hours attracts a premium of about $18,000 a year.
On the other hand, if you have less than a thousand hours, your insurance premium can be as high as $36,000 a year. It is also possible that your insurer might not insure you if they believe your time in type is too low, you have an accident history, or you don’t have an instrument rating with a high-altitude sign-off. Since this is a pressurized aircraft, you will need to have that.
The second Fixed Cost that you will have to remember, is that you have to hangar the M350. Assume $8,000 annually for a hangar.
In total your fixed costs now add up to $44,000. For 400 hours a year, that works out to be $110.00 an hour.
When we add the other two categories, we find that the hourly cost to fly the Piper M350 is $298.67.
How Fast is The Piper M350?
The Piper M350 is a powerful plan, evident from the time you power up and release the brakes. Those 350 horses do launch the plane briskly. Even at MTOW, you will find it accelerates nicely down the runway. A notch of flaps is always recommended with the Malibu, especially when fully loaded.
Be prepared to rotate at 69 knots if using 20 degrees of flaps, but never sooner. The long wingspan makes the Piper M350 extremely susceptible to ground effect and this will make it feel like the plane is ready to lift off when it is not. Hold the pressure off the nose wheel but wait till rotation speed or even 3 knots above.
With a positive rate of climb established, you are free to retract the gear but continue to leave the flaps as they were during the takeoff roll. With a plane as bulky as the Malibu, speed is your only ally and you have to be sure you don’t go below the V speeds for each segment.
Set your pitch along with the correct power setting so that you aim for Vx which is 110 KIAS. The Malibu responds well to this formula. Once you reach pattern altitude, approximately 1000 ft AGL, you can transition to Vy, which is 125 KIAS. Do this after you have retracted your flaps.
Keeping your speed at Vy for the duration of your climb is fine, just keep an eye on your temperatures. It's not so bad in the winter, but in the summer you could reduce the climb rate to increase airflow into the engine compartment. It’s not so much about the ambient temperature, but the angle of the plane's ascent that reduces airflow through the air-cooled engine.
The Malibu has a never-exceed speed of 198 knots (indicated.) You can’t really reach this speed unless you are in a dive. There is no point on the flight envelope that attains this speed. The fastest you can reach under your own power in straight and level flight is approximately 205 knots (True Airspeed) on a 20 degrees C colder-than-standard day.
Unlike a normally aspirated engine that has a sweet spot in altitude when it comes to speed, the standard dual turbochargers on the Lycoming TIO-540-AE2A give you almost sea-level power all the way up to 25,000 ft.
The one thing you have to remember is that your manifold pressure is not going to edge back down as fast as a normally aspirated engine, so you will have to pull it back when you set your cruise power.
The Piper M350 is generally quoted by Piper as having a max cruise speed of 213 ktas, which firmly puts it in first place in terms of single piston speed.
How Much Fuel Does The M350 Burn?
In the climb phase with full throttle, 2500 RPM, and mixture set full rich, it will take the Piper M350 17 minutes to get from sea level to 20,000 feet with a climb speed of 110 KIAS. The fuel burn for this phase of flight is 42 gallons per hour for a total of 12 gallons, used.
On a warmer day, with a higher density altitude where it is at 50 degrees C at sea level, the climb to 20,000 feet will take 21 minutes, and burn 15 gallons of fuel for a fuel burn rate of 43 gallons per hour.
Conversely, on a colder day, it will take 14 minutes to climb to 20,000 feet while using 11.5 gallons of fuel. This gives you a fuel burn rate of 49 gph.
In the cruise phase of flight, a high-speed flight will require you to set the manifold pressure to 32 inches and set the RPM to 2500. To get the best results, lean the mixture until the turbo’s turbine inlet temperature is at its peak. This will result in a fuel burn of 20 gph.
For a normal cruise setting the manifold pressure to 29 inches and the RPM to 2400 RPM will burn 18 gallons per hour. 25 inches and 2400 RPM will result in 15 gph and if you really wish to stretch your endurance, set it to 20 inches and 2200 RPM. This will give you a fuel burn of 11 gallons per hour.
For your descent phase, pulling your throttle back to 25 inches and setting your airspeed to 165 KIAS will get you to the surface in 20 minutes. During this time, you will burn 8 gallons of fuel.
If you assume a fuel burn of 20 gallons per hour then a 30-minute reserve means you need 10 gallons in the tank when you land, giving you a total of 110 gallons to use for the takeoff, cruise, and landing phases of VFR flight. The takeoff, climb, and descent phases of flight on a standard day add up to 23 gallons, giving you 87 gallons to use for your cruise segment.
At an economy setting, with a fuel burn of 11 gph, that gives you 7.9 hours of flight while at a high-speed setting, you will get 4.8 hours of flight time. For calculations, I find it best to use a 20-gph fuel burn assumption in costing and other rule-of-thumb situations.
As far as most aircraft are concerned, that’s a pretty consistent fuel burn, especially when you factor in different altitudes as well.
Flying in The Piper M350: An Experience
Even just by walking up to the M350, you can tell it is designed to be 165 cu ft (4.67 cu m) of pressurized comfort. In fact, it’s probably the most spacious Piper aircraft on the market!
Its cabin space holds a total of six seats - one for the pilot, five for passengers - all of which are made from natural, hand selected leather. These leather seats, according to Piper, are designed to offer not only luxury but practicality for those looking to work in flight.
To that end, the cabin space also features a work table for every seat, which can easily fit a standard sized laptop, series of papers or whatever else potential passengers may be using to work. Similarly, there are also multiple USB charging ports so your phone, laptop and watch never run out of charge.
The warm light LEDs aren’t just one of the many handy safety features on the M350, but actively help you work, particularly on night flights, providing you with enough visibility to work without being overbearing.
For those looking to relax more in flight, the M350 is also designed to meet your needs too, having seat controls, beverage holders, adjustable backrests, and lighting controls, allowing you to relax no matter how you do so.
The cabin class seats are also set out in such a way that all passengers, no matter where they’re sitting, have easy access to the interior baggage compartment, which is great for both work or relaxation.
The only real downside to the cabin is its lack of cabin digitization. On many of its newer competitors, everything can be controlled through an app on your phone, from cabin lighting to temperature, and even have the ability to play music and the like. Whilst some models have been retrofitted to have this, the majority do not, which is definitely a downside.