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It's easy to go online and look at prices of a Cessna 172, but what are some examples of how to break down the real world costs of ownership?

  • How much other maintenance should you plan for?
  • How much does an engine overhaul cost?
  • Insurance
  • Hangar
  • etc..

It would be great to also get some typical costs and ranges, since some element are more predictable than others. Obviously the costs will vary based on individual aircraft and location, as well as over time, but I'm looking for information that would help someone make the buy/rent decision.

I'm asking for the structure of the costs to start making a plan for cost analysis and diligence. For example, with an IFR aircraft, what costs are involved with keeping it current?

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    $\begingroup$ To anyone who voted to close or down voted, please comment about why. I think this is a common question among pilots, and it seems relevant, but if there is an objection to the question, I'd like to know what that objection is. $\endgroup$ – kevin42 Dec 18 '13 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ I think this one is way too broad. I'm familiar with these costs and the variation is absolutely huge. I can't see any valid results coming from this. $\endgroup$ – Brian Knoblauch Dec 18 '13 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, I disagree, but your comment is fair enough. What if the question was narrower to ask for a list of ownership costs? In other words, what costs are there, without regard for how much those costs are? $\endgroup$ – kevin42 Dec 18 '13 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ While asking for an actual estimate is too broad. I believe asking for a list of possible costs and for information about where to go to get quotes or to find out if a particular cost would apply to you would be appropriate. $\endgroup$ – jColeson Dec 18 '13 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Great discussion of the cost of ownership of a Cessna 150 called "The affordable airplane": realcostofownership.blogspot.com/2013/08/… $\endgroup$ – Garrison Neely Dec 19 '13 at 17:11
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I've heard it said that the break-even point for owning vs renting is 200 hours/year. I fly a lot less than that, but I don't like sharing my toys, so I own anyway.

I make it a point to not actually count my cost of ownership, because it wouldn't be fun any more, but I'll give you some rough numbers.

I bought a 1962 Mooney for \$30,000. That's about as cheap as it gets, and this was reflected in the condition of the plane and the high-time engine.

In the first year had it, I spent \$18,000 on an engine rebuild, new prop, new carb, new magnetos, new oil pump, and all the other firewall-forward upgrades that were required when I got the new engine. Five years later, I spent \$14,000 on new paint. It still needs a new interior, but that can wait. I spent about \$3000 at West Texas Aero installing speed upgrades.

Budget \$10/hour for your next engine rebuild.

Annual inspection typically runs \$3000 to \$6000 depending on what they find wrong. I'm getting a tank resealed this year, so it's going to be an expensive one.

Parking runs typically \$50-\$100/month, depending on where you are.

Insurance for my old crate runs \$750/year. Expect to pay more for a nicer plane or if you have less experience. Note: get a commercial license; it will pay for itself in reduced insurance in the long run.

I think gas will typically run \$5-6/gallon, depending on a lot of factors. My Mooney burns around 9.5gph, and flies 142 kts so it's really economical in that respect (and the main reason I don't upgrade).

Light twins are cheap to buy, but that's because their cost of ownership is through the roof. A low-time pilot can expect to pay \$12,000/year for insurance and the annual inspection will also be a back-breaker.

I used to have money. Now I have an airplane.

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    $\begingroup$ I used to have money. Now I have an airplane. hahaha, I love it! $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Dec 18 '13 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ Or more precisely: you had money, now you have Mooney. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Dec 20 '13 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ The rule of thumb I was always told was "If you can afford the buy 3 airplanes, you can afford to own 1." $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 27 '14 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that annual cost. Rough! Is that pretty standard for Mooneys? $\endgroup$ – egid Oct 14 '15 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ Retracts and constant-speed props add a lot to the annual inspection cost, so it's going to be more than for say a C-172, but overall, I'd say I'm getting off cheap compared to a lot of other airplane owners. $\endgroup$ – Edward Falk Oct 14 '15 at 16:15
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I have been looking into this recently and have some numbers on hand from people I have spoken to,

I now fly out of KDYL but was perviously flying out KPNE, I always asked around for costs at both and this is what I found out. KDYL is a typical small strip in suburban PA, KPNE is a big airport in the northeast corner of Philadelphia (its not Philly international)

Hanger: I met a guy at KPNE who co-rented a hanger with 2 other guys from the major FBO there. They were paying 2800 a month (split 3 ways, so just about 940 each). The hanger fit 3 GA planes but was made for a larger regional jet. A tie down at KPNE was a but north of $150 a month from what I heard. Up at KDYL there is a 9 year waiting list for a Hanger (if you can even ever get one) so the thought of renting one there is out. I have yet to get a price on them since they are so hard to come by. Tie downs seem to be under 100 a month there.

Insurance: This is highly based on you and your time in type and time over all. Its hard to ballpark

Annual: Most of the Cherokee/172 people I talk to (fixed gear simple stuff) say their annual can be as low or lower than 1500 if nothing is wrong, up to 3000 if a few issues are found and the sky is the limit after that. I have been told by many people at KDYL to find an A&P that will allow owner assisted annuals (you open up and close the plane) which greatly reduces the cost. I have also heard that folding gear can almost double the annual cost but this seems mainly to be when comparing planes like an Arrow and Archer (almost the same plane with the exception of the gear).

My buddy has a beautiful '95 Saratoga HP he likes to say that any time anything on the plane breaks its a thousand bucks no matter what it is...

Engine: Most people in the 172/Cherokee world seem to put aside about 10-15 for engine maintenance but more importantly most of these planes actually make it to published TBO numbers. You can read up on it here but how much you set aside depends on when you buy the plane. Think about it like this, the idea is to set aside enough for a full overhaul when the engine needs it so a nice equation is

(TBO time - Time On Engine at Purchase)/(Cost of Overhaul) = Hourly Engine Set Aside

Other Maintenance: Some people set aside a prop reserve much like an engine reserve. Other things like breaks, spark plugs, tires wear out predictably and may need replacing. You should always have an emergency reserve for when that strange thing breaks that you didn't anticipate.

IFR: there is a nice checklist here and the full regs here but the general aircraft IFR requirements are

24 Calendar Months

  • Static pressure system
  • Altimeter
  • Encoder
  • Transponder

30 Days

VOR check

  • Airborne +/- 6 degrees
  • Ground +/- 4 degrees
  • Dual VORs w/i 4 degrees of each other

28 Days

  • GPS database
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Impossible answer...but I'll try. I owned a 1976 V35B and it cost between 15k-17k per year to own and fly 50-80hrs/yr. This range included some non-standard repair items and if I REALLY tried I could have been sub-14k but that would have required some serious owner-assisted maintenance that I just didn't have time for.

Hangar rent can range between 100 and 1000 per month. Outdoor parking can range from 0 to 200. It all depends on where you live.

Insurance is the big hurdle for many new pilots. I'd expect to pay no more than 500-800/yr for a mid range 172 and really good coverage. The 12k cited in the Mooney example for a new pilot in a medium twin is an extreme example. You won't see that.

A 172 should cost no more than 1000 for just the annual inspection. Parts and additional repairs can put you over 1k, but the inspection itself shouldn't be a bear. Most 172 owners I know escape with sub-1k bills. Shoot for 55-80/hr for labor. Now, extra parts and other uncommon (but necessary) maintenance may add to the total cost.

Budget fuel at 50hrs/yr AS AN ABSOLUTE MINIMUM. Plan for 75-100hrs/yr if you live in a humid environment (like the gulf coast or mid west). Consider this a maintenance expense. You MUST FLY the plane. Letting it sit sounds cheaper...it's not. Parts dry out, corrosion sets in, maintenance cost sky rocket. A flying plane is a happy plane.

A Cessna 172 engine (Continental 300, Lycoming 320/360) will cost a pretty penny to overhaul. 18k cited in the Mooney example is a bargain! Count on 25k minimum including removal and replacement of the engine. Spread that cost out over 2000hrs for cost planning. It's reasonable to expect a well maintained engine to run happily beyond the overhaul recommendation number (called TBO)...which is mostly just a BS number. Flying beyond TBO is standard practice; I planned to run my IO-520 up to 2500hrs if it let me. TBO for my engine was 1700hrs. Every now and then a low time engine goes bad and needs an overhaul. Ya' pays your money and ya' takes yer chances!

A fixed pitch prop is a low-maintenance item. Maybe plan a few grand for an overhauled prop if yours becomes unservicable.

DO NOT fall for the glitzy avionics. There is nothing wrong with a pair of King or Collins radios and an older GPS unit. The fancy cockpit panels are nice, but are more for show than function in my opinion.

To answer your question...I'd budget 12-15k per year to own a decent Cessna 172. High cost areas (like NYC, San Francisco, Chicago) may see that bleed into the 18k-20k range.

My planning:
-2400 per yr hangar (not covered parking)
-800 per yr insurance (1m smooth)
-1200/annual (plan for minor maint issues)
-2000 per yr fuel - 5 dollars/gal at 8gph
-800 per yr engine & prop (added some padding)
-1000 per yr for misc work
-2400 per yr (assuming a 200 per mo payment)

...and we're about 11,000/yr without breaking a sweat! Toss in an unplanned maintenance event, like a starter or battery or alternator or magneto or cylinder or (insert component) and you're crossing 13k real quick. Now, that does include 50hrs of flying, so you got that going for you...which is nice.

Please note I only pay 200/mo for a hangar (large city of about 1m people). I'm absurdly fortunate. The same hangar at a nearby airport is 450. Might be over 700 in the bay area. Needless to say, plan the budget with real numbers from shops, fuel providers, and hangar providers at the airport you intend to fly from. Call a few insurance brokers and get real quotes, too.

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