My question simply is why are GA planes so expensive?

I can understand that an airliner is an incredible money sink simple because of the size, complexity, development cost and especially the certification process.

But I do not completely understand why GA planes are so expensive, because:

  • most GA planes are not luxurious
  • they have considerably less features than modern cars
  • there shouldn't be a lot of development cost to cover because a lot of GA plane designs are quite old and "simple"

Possible reasons I can see are:

  • there are no cheap regulations/certifications for privately used planes
  • the overall production amount is not enough to profit from the economy of scale

Further clarification:

  • I'm interested in the reasons for purchase and operating cost.

  • To narrow down the scope of the question I mean planes in the class of a Cessna 172

  • location of interest is Europe/Germany but a more general answer would be appreciated to give the question/answer more weight
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    $\begingroup$ Are you talking about the purchase price, or operating price? Because, GA planes are much cheaper than I would have imagined. A used 172 can be bought for the price of a mid-range car. $\endgroup$
    – Rob
    Aug 13, 2019 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Rob I think both purchase and operating price should have the same reasons. If not the explanation for the difference (with numbers) would make a great answer. $\endgroup$
    – GittingGud
    Aug 13, 2019 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ Location and aircraft category would help answer this; GA is a nice catch-all but there is a large difference between an ultralight, an SLSA and a Part 23 craft. For the first two categories, you'd be surprised by what gets to fly. $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2019 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AEhere I edited to question to narrow the scope to "Cessna 172'like" planes in Europe. And I will properly ask a question on the lines of "how much money do I need to spend to fly with reasonable safety"(to go into UL and SLSA). $\endgroup$
    – GittingGud
    Aug 13, 2019 at 8:12
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3 Answers 3


Purchase price

Airplanes are times more complex than cars.

The price of an aircraft is not bound solely to its design. Even though not luxurious as an A380, general aviation planes are still expensive because they must also be reliable. You can't just build an aircraft and start selling it. It must be certified by international organizations, such as EASA and FAA, and that is not cheap.

Before a newly developed aircraft model may enter into operation, it must obtain a type certificate from the responsible aviation regulatory authority. Since 2003, EASA is responsible for the certification of aircraft in the EU and for some European non-EU Countries. This certificate testifies that the type of aircraft meets the safety requirements set by the European Union. (source)

Not only that costs money, but also time. On average, a new GA aircraft will take 3 years to be certified (source).

Not just the certification organizations fees that are high, but to test requires multiple prototypes. And if the plane fails any safety assertions, then it goes back to design phase. Every single component, from the flaps to the belts, must be tested under all kinds of conditions.

The demand also counts. Unlike cars, most people don't buy planes because they don't have to. And even if they buy, they don't usually change their planes every year. For example, Cirrus SR22 was first produced on 2001 and until 2016 only ~5000 units were sold (source). It took 15 years to sell 5000 units. That makes this aircraft to cost 629,900 USD (2019).

But still, you can find a Cessna 172 for the price of a 2019 Lamborghini Urus (200,000 USD).

Operating cost

Ok, so you signed the deal and bought your Cessna 172. Now you have to deal with maintenance, fuel, oil, landing fees, hangar rental and all. And of course, insurance!

  1. Maintenance (fuel, oil, landing fees): 17,850 USD (300 hours)
  2. Insurance: 5,000 - 10,000 USD
  3. Hangar: 1,800 - 12,000 USD / year


It's estimated to cost you 29,650 USD per year to maintain your new Cessna 172.

  • $\begingroup$ Your numbers all look pretty high. Where I am, hangars are 500 USD/month, 6K/year. Insurance varies with pilot experience and hull value. I have 900 hours and instrument rating. My plane is not valued at 200K, but insurance is 1000/yr. 2000/yr might be reasonable for a higher value plane. Maintenance - 100 hours of fliying is a lot for many pilots, say 75/hr with fuel, landing fees, oil, that's 7500. Annual maintenance another 2000. If one had the plane for business use, then the flying hours would likely go up, along with the other numbers. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Aug 13, 2019 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads Yes, these numbers can vary a lot. Thanks for the comment though. I got them from an Honeywell Aerospace infographic (aerospace.honeywell.com/~/media/…) $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2019 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think your maintenance costs are way too high. I have the same plane as Crossroads and we pay \$4k/yr for insurance (it's a club with 9 members). Annual is \$1k/yr on a good year.. Unless you fly in Europe or to big airports you don't pay landing fees, so your maintenance costs are off by a good bit. Realistically your costs for a new-ish 172 would be about \$12-15k/year, not \$30k. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 13, 2019 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ "Airplanes are times more complex than cars." Looks like you're missing a word here, probably "many". $\endgroup$ Aug 13, 2019 at 14:13

Simple: short production numbers. If light airplanes were as common as motor cars, manufactured by the millions, they would be much cheaper...


New planes? They are indeed luxurious, with panels that make a modern car look simple. Have you seen the multipanel displays that are going in? The instrument panel alone is worth more than a new car. A car can be assembled on an assembly line in about a day, yes? With components all trucked in from here & there feeding an assembly line. Planes don't sell in that kind of quantity.

Look at the data here: http://www.fi-aeroweb.com/General-Aviation.html

As of 2019, there are more than 446,000 general aviation aircraft in the worldwide fleet, ranging from small training aircraft and helicopters to intercontinental business jets. About 213,000 of these, or 48%, are based in the United States. There are more than 5,000 public airports in the U.S. vs. fewer than 400 airports served by commercial airlines.

2019 Worldwide plane deliveries: 2,443.

Can manufacuturers dwarf that number.

Toyota’s motor vehicle production reached almost nine million units in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/267272/worldwide-vehicle-production-of-toyota/

And that's just 1 manufacturer. VW, GM, Ford, they're all huge.

Another factor: Just about anyone can get a drivers license and drive a car, with many multi-car households. It takes a fair bit of dedication to get a pilots license, months of training, and then ongoing practice and a minimum of bi-annual recurrency testing/training to keep that license, along with keeping somewhat medically fit. And then supplies like charts that are updated every 6 months, down to 2 weeks for approach plates. When's the last time you updated a car map? I only use the GPS moving map in my car.

Older planes can be retrofitted with the latest and greatest avionics, with equipment costing more than a new car (example, a new Avidyne IFD550 GPS/NAV/COM can be over $15K USD - plus installation).


An engine flown for 100 hours a year can last 20 years, and then it can be overhauled, or replaced for $50K or more.


Planes get inspected annually, and much more thoroughly than the inspection a state may impose on car owners for 39 a year. Some states there is no inspection at all.

Aluminum planes can be repainted, a thorough process where by everything that can be removed is, and all the bits cleaned & repainted individually, then reassembled. A paint job can cost the same as buying a small car. Repainting a car by comparison is dirt cheap and is done in a few days, https://www.maaco.com/services/auto-painting/

Vs 6-8 weeks for an airplane for disassembly, prep for stripping, cleanup where stripping missing, alodyne to treat the aluminim, primer, finally paint, and then reassembly. Composite planes, I don't know the process.

Operating: planes use a lot more fuel per hour to cover ground a lot faster. Say you had a 180 HP plane burning 10 gal/hr and going 125 mph ground speed (into some headwind). To go 300 miles will take about 2.4 hours, 24 gallons of gas at roughly 5/gallon = 120. A car might average 60 miles/hr, taking 5 hours, and getting 30 mpg, so 300 miles = 10 gallons @ 3/gallon, so 30 in gas.

That 300 mile road distance is almost always fewer air miles. Example, it is 183 nautical miles (210 statute miles) to fly from my home airport to Bangor, Maine, a trip I am making in the next month or two.

1 hour, 26 minute flight. ~15 gallons of fuel $75. (www.skyvector.com)

Driving, 245 miles. 3 hour, 44 minute flight. $25 in fuel plus tolls. (maps.google.com) Longer if there are construction delays (and it is summer construction season where I am) or traffic delays from accidents.

The time savings: 2 hours and 18 minutes. What's your time worth? $50/hr? So $115 saved by flying. Makes up for the difference in fuel cost.

Am I taking my 1973 plane with new paint job and avionics? Or my 2016 car with moving map? The plane for sure.


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