I realize one can expect to pay upwards of $10k to receive their Private Pilot certificate. Understood entirely.

However, my question revolves around the everyday expense of your average Joe pilot who wants to go out to the local airport and take up, let’s say, a Piper Arrow for a nice relaxing local flight around the area (we will say Kansas City Wheeler Downtown in this case). As a hobby. Maybe take a couple friends or family if they chipped in.

How much money could an average Joe pilot look to spend per flight, taking up a small craft, just because?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if there's any realistic answer to this. Rental costs can be dramatically different based on location (are you in the US?) and aircraft type. Then there's insurance, software updates and all sorts of other costs (potentially). If you know the training cost per hour in your location then just deduct the instructor's time and that's a good start. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Mar 1 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ It’d be Midwest US. $\endgroup$ – Jon Mar 1 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ I see. I’m putting back $$ for flight school in the future, and was considering whether it’s be worth the investment if flying on an average day was a really expensive thing in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Jon Mar 2 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ It isn't a cheap hobby. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Mar 2 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Jon - Flying being worth the investment is a very subjective thing. Any hobby a man can have can turn expensive. Before flying, I was a semi-serious cyclist. A good road bike can be over 10k dollars. Add 100 dollars for each set of togs. Race entrance fees vary. If you fish, A bass boat will be expensive. Traveling to fly fish even more expensive. Deep sea fishing even more expensive than that. Rebuilding cars, riding motorcycles, scuba diving, etc. can all be expensive. You find ways to cut costs or have your hobby fund itself. In flying, you can do that by becoming a CFI. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Mar 2 at 14:21

It depends on your location. It will vary based on cost for tie-down or hangar space, fuel costs, maintenance costs, etc. In order to compare apples to apples, let’s boil it down to a wet-Hobbs-rate.

Wet-Hobbs-Rate is an all-in rate (minus tax) for the use of the aircraft to include everything except away-airport landing fees where applicable. That includes fuel, oil, home-airport landing fees, etc. Wet-Hobbs-Rate is charged on the time that the engine is actually running. Although some Hobbs timers run off of the time that the electrical system is on, most run off the oil pressure sensor of the engine.

Here are some real world examples of the Hobbs Rate costs of rental aircraft in my area.

Cessna 172S with G1000 and autopilot - $175/hr wet-Hobbs.  
SportCruiser with Dynon and autopilot - $125/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Piper Apache - $250-300/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Piper Cherokee - $145-155/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Piper Comanche - $225/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Cessna 150/152 - $100-125/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Cessna 172E-N - $125-175/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Robinson R22 - $250-300/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Beechcraft Duchess - $250-500/hr wet-Hobbs.  
Piper Aztec - $400-600/hr wet-Hobbs.

Wet-Tach-Rate is another way to measure aircraft cost. Wet-Tach-Rate is similar to wet-Hobbs-rate. Except that wet-tach-rate is more like an odometer that calculates time by the amount of engine revolutions. The less RPMs at which you run the engine, the slower the clock moves. More RPMs mean more time calculated. Typically, this means that you can cut your costs down significantly. Your calculated time can be around 75% of your actual time running the engine or less with good engine management.

Most of the flying clubs in my area use Tach Rate as the basis of their costs. In order to rent aircraft from them, you have to be a member of the club. Membership ranges from 30 to 100 dollars a month.

Here are some real world examples of the Tach Rate costs of rental aircraft in my area.

Cessna 150/152 - $50-100/hr wet-tach.  
Piper Archer - $75-$150/hr wet-tach.  
Piper Cherokee - $50-150/hr wet-tach.  
Piper Arrow - $125-150/hr wet-tach.  
Cessna 172 - $50-150/hr wet-tach.  
Cessna 182 - $75-175/hr wet-tach.  
Piper Cherokee Six - $75-150/hr wet-tach.  
Beechcraft Bonanza - $150-250/hr wet-tach.

One thing to consider when deciding to join a club or not is their overnight policies. Most rental airplanes are run several hours a day, every day. They do not want to have their airplanes sitting on the ground. During slow season you can rent overnight as long as you pay for a minimum number of hours Hobbs-time each day usually starting at three hours each day.

Most clubs have enough downtime for their aircraft that they will allow you to have the their airplanes for multiple days. Their per day hourly minimum can be as low as one or two hours per day. If you time it right, you can be the last person to sign the plane out after hours on day one. Fly the plane the club’s minimum number of hours the next day. Then sign the plane in the following day before working hours. That would conceivably be 40 hours of use with only a one day minimum to meet.

Something else to consider is that you will have to factor in a minimum of 30 minutes of non-flying time each flight for which you will have to pay. That will be engine or electrical time doing tasks like:

  • Starting your engine
  • Getting your ATIS and clearance
  • Taxiing to the runway of use
  • Run-up of the engine
  • Taxiing back to the hangar after landing
  • Shutting down the engine

You will pay less in Tach-time than you will in Hobbs-time because the engine RPMs will be averaging a much slower rate.

As an aircraft owner, your variable hourly operating costs could be similar to the lower end of the club rates. This would include your fuel, oil, maintenance and other costs. In addition to that, You would have fixed costs for the aircraft of:

Hangar space ($200+/month);  
Or Tie-downs ($50-100/month);  
Inspections ($1000-2000/year);  
Major Overhauls ($10k-$20k at any time)

Lastly, insurance for a renter can be anywhere between 100 and 500 dollars a year depending on coverage. And, more for helicopters. Electronic Flight Bag subscriptions range from 100 to 500 dollars a year. You will need at least two hours of flight instruction every two years to meet flight currency requirements. And, you will need an FAA AME flight physical (time varies by age and privileges desired) unless you want to fly under Basic Med Class III reform or Light Sport Aircraft only. A Medical Certificate will cost around 100 dollars.

You can cut costs dramatically by flying gliders and ultralights. The glider club in my area has a 30 dollar per month membership with its lowest cost glider renting for 10 dollars an hour. You will have to research Ultralight costs yourself.

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  • $\begingroup$ tach rate not applicable for helicopters for obvious reasons... :) $\endgroup$ – Michael Mar 2 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ what are the obvious reasons? $\endgroup$ – Swiss Frank Mar 2 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ @SwissFrank I'd assume lift (and fuel consumption) being mostly controlled by collective (rotor blade angle) rather than the RPM of the rotor. $\endgroup$ – towe Mar 2 at 9:02

I can speak to this from personal experience. I fly the Piper Arrow and have rented from various FBO's on both coasts in various economic areas over the years. The average price I pay per hour is $145 an hour wet. All of the Arrows I have flown have been similarly equipped and of a similar vintage. They have all had at least a single axis auto pilot a 430W and are in fairly decent shape.

The cost really depends on your mission. If I'm just flying the local area with some friends its far more likely I (and many others like me) will fly an Archer which holds the same number of people as the Arrow and is about 25Kts slower. The average price I have paid for an Archer over the years is $119 an hour wet. All of the FBO's I have ever rented from have had both Archers and Arrows (or Warriors) available and if you are checked out in the Arrow most places will let you fly the Archer (slower and non retractable) without an extra checkout.

The Arrow tends to be a "go places" airplane so the flights are a bit longer which will cost you more on a day to day basis but less on a per mile basis (the Arrow is more efficient).

My average \$100 hamburger mission (hey that's me) ends up costing about $225 when all is said and done. If you want to keep it right at \$100 see my answer here. There are lots of great little trips from my home base that are under an hour but with taxi, IFR clearance if I need it, routing, a denied bravo clearance, the scenic way home, or just letting my buddy take the controls for a bit it ends up taking just about an hour of Hobbs time for each leg.

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  • $\begingroup$ How cool is that? Did you notice we even have a question about the $100 hamburger? $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Mar 2 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck yes I did notice that, did you notice I had answered that one as well? $\endgroup$ – Dave Mar 2 at 19:17

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