The 98 Toyota Corolla has a strong history for being a low maintenance, fuel efficient and cheap car. 400k mile reliability if driven with respect and preventative maintenance.

What plane has these qualities with at least a 450 mile range? So I can fly back and forth to flight school instead of driving.

I am sure there are many that will fit the bill but I am looking something for beginners and the cheapest way to fly myself.

Second Scenario: Suppose only using the basic maintenance, without anything more than an oil/filter etc., which plane would last the longest. Obviously simpler plans require less money per nautical mile; of those which would last the longest?

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    $\begingroup$ I think this question is way too broad, and will be heavily dependent on opinions. There are plenty of online discussions out there on choosing a GA light piston aircraft, this isn't the place to rehash the subject. Voting to close. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Airplanes don't measure their use in miles (for a lot of reasons which flight training should make clear), but in engine & airframe hours - that is, the "Hobbs" meter: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbs_meter $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ A basic plane is more reliable than a more complex plane. A small 4-cylinder engine is more reliable that a larger engine. For thoese reasons I tend to think that a basic, all-metal plane like a C150 or even Cherokee 140 is safe bet (though the 140 has a larger engine). If you are normally always VFR with light winds an old tailwheel like a Cessna 120/140 or Champ/Chief could work. Planes of that era may not have the range you want though. The trip will pe painfully slow with every option I've listed, too. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot This is a good answer I would also upvote. I have to come home on the week ends and I would rather fly that trip than drive it. Of the plains you listed which will cost less to keep? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot A complex plane can be way more reliable than a basic plane. The A350XWB can probably do over 100 million miles, between its carbon fuselage, well-proven systems, and high availability (the 787 was a bit more experimental, so might not hit the sweet spot). And across the fleet it will take billions of miles between accidents. Nothing GA will ever come close. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


The most reliable aircraft is the one that is maintained the best, and the simpler an aircraft is, the easier it will be for you to afford to maintain it properly—both because it will need less maintenance in the first place and because it'll be cheaper to buy, insure and fuel, leaving more of your funds available for maintenance.

However, the premise of flying to/from a flight school seems fundamentally flawed. You are almost certainly going to need to store your plane at an airport, and if so, you should get instruction at that airport rather than fly somewhere else for it. You won't be allowed to fly any significant distance (i.e. enough to justify flying rather than driving) alone anyway with just a student pilot license.

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    $\begingroup$ How far away is your flight school? Have you been signed off to solo yet? (You said you were a "beginner"...) And may we assume you've bounced this plan off your CFI and he/she approves? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun - I think you are missing StephenS’s point. Where will the aircraft be based? Is it your home airport? Or, is it your school airport? You will need parking at both locations. Depending on where you are, one month’s hangar rental alone in one location could cost you anywhere from 2 to 10 full tanks of gas in your car. If you plan on living at home and flying to school every day, it would cost you less to get lessons at your home airport. And, I f you do not have a PPL, a CFI might not endorse your solo flights for commuting purposes. They will be liable. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ In the US, a student can't fly solo more than 25nm from their "home" airport without a CFI endorsement for each flight. And driving will be faster for anywhere that close $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun - Well, just by quick math, more than twice as much. I could drive that trip in 6-7 hours on 1 tank of gas costing me 30-45 dollars a tank depending on fuel costs. I could make that same trip in 4 hours on 40 gallons of fuel in a C172. But, at 4-6 dollars per gallon of avgas, that would total out to 200 dollars per one-way trip for gas alone. You still have to factor in maintenance on the aircraft, oil changes every 25-50 hours, hangar fees away from school, annual inspections, etc. You could reduce the fuel cost to 120 dollars per one-way trip in a SportsCruiser. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun - As Michael Hall has said, if you have the money for aircraft ownership, and just want a way of time-building possibly cheaper than renting, then go for it. Just make sure flying is not your only means of commuting. I like the idea of a SportsCruiser for fuel consumption, speed, and avionics options. I would still use avgas in hot climates, and/or high density altitudes, though. A nice C152 would be cheaper cost of ownership. But, you will sacrifice speed. Considering hours are hours regardless of speed, time-building in a C152 might be worth it. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 18:19

No plane has these qualities, planes require a lot more servicing than cars both legally and practically. Similarly aircraft parts have service limits and heavily suggested rebuild times. Most if not all light aircraft require major servicing (or receive major servicing) at the 2000-2500ish hour mark.

There are comparatively little regulations on car maintenance. Most states require only a yearly inspection that boils down to a visual check of brakes, lights and a few other things as well as an emissions test mostly to keep the DEP happy.

Aircraft on the other hand require a verbose yearly "annual" inspection that can take days for a mechanic to complete. On top of that aircraft equipment needs to be routinely tested and checked for it to be legal for certain types of operation. On the contrary no one ever checks your cars speedometer or tach for proper operation.

Broadly speaking aircraft are also grounded if just about anything is not working where as most people often operate their car with small (or even large) issues. If you ever had an engine knocking issue in an aircraft you would be on the ground as fast as practically possible where as I know people that have driven cars thousands of miles with an "engine knock".

Airplanes also change substantially less than cars so small iterative fixes become difficult. If Toyota finds an issue in the 98 Corolla they can easily fix it in the 99 version. Fixing an airplane can require a lot of paper work, or if its a large issue an mandatory AD may be issued and everyone will be forced to fix it while 98 Corollas may still be out with their issues to this day.

If you just want a straight answer... A Piper Archer or a Cessna 172 (let the internet debates begin...)

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, most states don't require ANY inspection, other than emissions: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf i can only speak to the states I have lived in which have all required a minimum safety inspection but that is interesting. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ I have an A&P friend/ co-owner who can sign of on the plane. I can park it in a field or on a lake at home. There must be a set upt that cost less than a car to fly to school then work in the long-run. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun: That's very much going to depend on the car you drive. At a cruise setting, my Cherokee gets around 18 mpg. IF you drive a large pickup or SUV, you can probably better this, more so if the route you drive is winding. Not so if you drive a car that gets decent mpg. Likewise, you can buy an older Cherokee or 172 for less that many upscale pickups & SUVS. (And judging from a friend's experience with multiple Escalades, you might pay much less in maintenance :-)) Even better if you do have a realistic way to park the plane at home, or even at a small field near home. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun - What Jamesqf says is exactly right about it depending on the car and plane compared. A Chevy and a Cadillac will have different costs for the same repair. Even if you do the repair yourself. Although, it is perfectly legal to save money by doing the repair yourself. And, you can get it done the same day. Not much you can do with a certificated aircraft. The OP is comparing a ‘98 Toyota Corolla. Hopefully, he can make repairs himself. Plus, hopefully, he is getting better than 20 mpg (highway) with the car. The plane should be a luxury. Not as your sole means of commuting. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 19:33

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