I'm working on a budget for operating an aircraft and trying to better understand the hourly operating costs. What factors should be included that are often forgotten?

Although this is partially discussed here I'm interested in distinguishing between general cost of ownership (hangar, insurance costs, etc.) with items specific to hourly costs. And I'm not looking for actual numbers - just the categories to consider.

Obviously this list will depend upon the type of aircraft, but to keep the question somewhat general, I'm interested in a light single-engined piston aircraft.

So far my categories include:

  • Cost of fuel per hour
  • Engine reserve per hour
  • Prop reserve per hour
  • Oil cost per hour
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Almost no one - at least, no private owner - counts depreciation and cost of capital, but your local flight school almost certainly does (or at least should). But then no one counts them for cars or boats either, that might take the fun out of it :-) $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Oct 5, 2015 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


Unless you have a private airstrip and have no intention of insuring the craft you need to include the fixed costs as well. Generally you can do this yearly, then divide by the number of expected hours a year. Some fixed costs are

  • Storage (hanger or tie down)
  • Insurance (highly variable)
  • Annual (this will vary depending on whats broken but there is generally a minimum situation to expect assuming the mechanic finds nothing wrong.
  • Anything that has less than a 50 hour life time, if you are in this for ownership or renting you are going to fly more than 50 hours a year (I would hope) so you should budget in things like spark plugs, break pads and other high wear parts that get replaced often)

Other reserves may be

  • Repaint Reserve, this will vary depending on storage and use
  • Landing Gear Reserve this includes but is not limited to, breaks, tires, shocks, rotors, etc. Budget more if its a complex plane, less if its a Mooney...
  • Fluid Reserve (not oil) you may also have hydraulic fluid and break fluid.
  • "Toys" this is money you may chose to add on to your reserve so that you can (down the line) upgrade aging components that may not be broken. For example adding a 430 in place of a radio pair or moving to a full or partial glass cockpit.
  • Interior, if you are renting this plane and expect it to see heavy use you may want to set some cash aside for the interior. Don't underestimate the difference a warn seat will make vs a fresh seat.

Emergency Fund: This is not a reserve to add to as much as it is cash on hand. If you are renting this plane or even relying on it for heavy personal use you may want to have a budget for emergencies. Especially if you are renting and a down plane means lost rentals. What are you going to do if you need a new fuel tank, or you have a bird strike, or something hits the windshield and cracks it?

Odds and Ends Budget: Nuts and bolts, interior finish screws, that dinky little plastic knob, repainting your yoke, a pitot tube cover (for the 10th time because you lost all the other ones...)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These are all valuable things to consider in the cost of ownership of a plane, however, the OP is specifically looking for things tied to hourly costs. Other than fluids, I believe that everything else you mention really isn't specific to hourly use. (Of course, as a non-pilot, I might be completely wrong...) $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 5, 2015 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Generally these are included but simply divided over the time you fly. Aircraft insurance is often paid upfront unlike car insurance. The landing gear is very much an hourly cost as the parts are swapped on hours like all parts on a plane. Insurance can be related to hours since the more you fly the lower your premiums may be. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Oct 5, 2015 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ I would have thought that gear would be cycle-based, not hour-based, but, I'm not a pilot, so what do I know?!? That's why I'm here - to learn! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 5, 2015 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ Some parts are but some AD's may require hour based checks like this one for Mooney M20J gear that " Within the next 100 hours time-in-service (TIS) after the effective date of this AD" $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Oct 6, 2015 at 0:51

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