My flying costs

This page is all about the costs and expenses of flying G-BSEP, the 1959 Cessna 172 that I co-own with a couple of other pilots at Redhill. Our group is fairly typical of many aircraft ownership groups, so this page gives a reasonable guide to the financial side of group ownership.

The cost of aircraft ownership

Broadly speaking, the costs of owning and running a light aircraft can be split into three categories: hourly, monthly and annual. The table below lists most of the expenses that the owner of a typical single-engine light aircraft (like a Cessna 172) can expect. Obviously if you're thinking of owning a more powerful or complex aircraft then the costs are going to be greater...

CostFrequencyTypical amount
Fuelhourly25 to 30
Oilhourly1 to 2
Landing feesper landing5 to 20
(depends where!)
50 hour / six month checks50 hours or 6 months
(whichever comes first)
Engine replacement2000 hours10,000 to 15,000
Purchase finance
(interest on loans, etc.)
monthlyShop around!
(depends on airfield)
Insuranceannual1500 to 2000
Annual inspectionannual1500 to 2000
(but can be much more!)
Radio licence renewalannual20
Certificate of airworthiness
(the "star" annual)
3-yearly1000 to 1500
(in addition to normal annual)
Repainting10 years or more -
it's up to you
Other one-off costsWhenever things go wrong
or need replacing
If you're lucky, not much!
Unlucky - 10,000 to 20,000
Typically - 500 to 1000 per year

The above table shows that owning and running an aircraft is a hugely expensive proposition in this country, in addition to the purchase cost of 20,000 to 50,000 (depending on the aircraft's condition, equipment and number of hours remaining on the engine). This is why most owners club together as a group to share the costs - usually between three and ten people, but it can be up to twenty.

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Hourly costs

The hourly running costs are those expenses that only accrue when the aircraft is actually flying. The most obvious of these is fuel. Unlike a car, an aircraft tends to burn fuel at a very predictable rate per hour, depending on what power setting the pilot uses. I tend to use a fairly conservative power setting of about 2,300 RPM (or perhaps 2,400 if I'm flying high), which is a little less than 60 per cent of the engine's maximum power output. I also lean the engine whenever I'm settled in the cruise. Overall, I usually get a fuel burn of about 26 litres per hour (which is roughly in agreement with the performance data in the POH, so I must be doing something right!). At the moment, fuel costs about one pound Sterling per litre in this country, so that obviously equates to about 26 per hour.

Oil is another consumable that needs to be taken into account. It's perfectly normal for aircraft engines to burn oil at a steady rate, and most aircraft owners know how frequently they need to add oil. G-BSEP seems to burn about half a quart of oil every two or three hours, which is fine.

Engine replacement is another factor in the hourly rate. All aircraft engines have to be replaced or overhauled eventually, and in the case of G-BSEP this will have to happen when the engine has done 1,800 hours of flight (although if the engine is still running well this time can be extended a bit). Each hour of flying therefore takes you closer to the time when you have to find the 12,000 or more to replace or overhaul the engine. Many groups address this issue by keeping an engine replacement fund, where a portion of the hourly cost goes into this fund.

The table below shows my hourly costs for flying G-BSEP since I bought my share. As you can see, we charge ourselves 35 per hour, which is plenty to cover the fuel bills.

Hourly costs
time (hr)
19/10/02RedhillHeadcorn0.63335.0022.16 22.16 
28/10/02RedhillPopham0.88335.0030.91 30.91 
28/10/02PophamStapleford1.00035.0035.00 35.00 
22/02/03RedhillHeadcorn0.66735.0023.35 23.35 
16/03/03RedhillGoodwood0.66735.0023.35 23.35 
17/03/03RedhillSouthend0.56735.0019.85 19.85 
22/03/03RedhillLydd0.71735.0025.10 25.10 
30/03/03RedhillGoodwood0.66735.0023.35 23.35 
05/04/03RedhillGoodwood1.00035.0035.00 35.00 
15/04/03RedhillLeicester1.33335.0046.66 46.66 
17/04/03LeicesterLeicester2.00035.0070.00 70.00 
03/05/03RedhillLydd0.31735.0022.75 22.75 
04/05/03RedhillBembridge1.45035.0050.75 50.75 
11/05/03RedhillHeadcorn0.58335.0020.41 20.41 
11/05/03HeadcornHeadcorn0.66735.0023.35 23.35 
15/05/03HeadcornSouthend0.50035.0017.50 17.50 
31/05/03RedhillSouthend0.58335.0020.41 20.41 
31/05/03SouthendClacton0.50035.0017.50 17.50 
09/06/03RedhillRochester1.00035.0035.00 35.00 
15/06/03RedhillThurrock0.58335.0020.41 20.41 
15/06/03ThurrockHusbands Bosworth1.16735.0040.85 40.85 
16/06/03Husbands BosworthThurrock1.16735.0040.85 40.85 
28/06/03RedhillCompton Abbas1.16735.0040.85 40.85321.76
Totals:41.8 1,461.29464.111,925.40 
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Monthly costs

In our group, we split many of the annual costs and budget for them on a monthly basis. So as well as the genuinely monthly costs (like parking), we include things like insurance in our monthly costs as well. We do the same for the "50-hour / six-month" check because historically G-BSEP has tended to do much fewer than 50 hours of flying in six months - so this is therefore a "monthly" cost for us, although this may have to change because this year the old girl has been busy and will run out of hours well before the six months are up.

Like most groups, we charge ourselves a fixed monthly fee to cover these sorts of things. My one-sixth share means that I pay 60 per month...

Monthly costs
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Annual costs

The table below illustrates my share of the one-off costs that usually happen once a year. Most notably this includes the aircraft's annual inspection.

Annual costs
DateAmountAmortised amountComment
Oct-02100.0075.00To cover an initial insurance short-fall
Jan-03460.00230.00Annual inspection

All aircraft owners are interested to know what their "hourly rate" is so that they can compare it against the equivalent hiring rate from a flying club. Clearly the 35 per hour is only part of the story, and it is necessary to take into account all the other costs as well. To make it easier to calculate what my effective "hourly" rate is, I like to use an "amortised" figure for the total annual expenses. Accountants will wince at my abuse of terminology, but I'm illustrating the effects of spreading the one-off costs over a twelve month period so that the costs are "smoothed" and don't cause the hourly rate to fluctuate so much.

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The bottom line

So how much does my flying hobby cost me? And how does group ownership compare against hiring an aircraft from a club? The following table sums all the costs from October 2002 to June 2003:

Total amount spent:1,925.40
Total hourly flying cost (excluding landing fees):1,461.29
Total monthly costs:540.00
"Amortised" annual costs:305.00
Total flying time:41.8 hours
Effective hourly rate:55.24

For the sake of comparison against club hiring, I've excluded landing fees because they would be the same regardless. The hourly rate of 55 compares very favourably with the rate I'd have to pay a club for a Cessna 172, which would be at least 100. Of course, it should be pointed out that my "hourly rate" depends on how many hours I actually fly - the more the better - and it would probably be true to say that I do more hours than the average PPL (50 hours last year, and it'll be more this year). Roughly speaking, the "break even" point for group ownership is usually about 15 to 20 hours per year.

The table above shows that in the nine months from October 2002 to June 2003, I spent a grand total of about 1,900 on flying. This is just over 200 a month, which is still quite a lot of money but it's an amount that many people would be able to afford. Flying in the UK is hideously expensive compared with some other countries (particularly the US), but group ownership makes it possible to enjoy lots of flying even if (like me) you're not especially rich!

The pro's and con's of ownership

Financially, it works out cheaper to be a group-owner provided you do at least about 15 to 20 hours of flying each year. However, the financial burden can be uneven - I often go for several months doing lots of hours at 35 per hour thinking "wow - this is cheap", but then the Annual hits and it's necessary to fork out a fairly large lump sum.

There is financial risk, too. Just occasionally, something expensive will break and if it's deemed to be normal wear and tear then the insurance won't pay up. Or perhaps your engineer will find some corrosion during the Annual that requires lots of corrective work. If you're a club hirer, you don't care about this because these risks are carried by the club. As an owner, however, you need to be able to cope with finding a grand or two if you're unlucky.

There are non-financial advantages to group ownership. Probably the greatest of these is the availability of the aircraft. Not having to book the aircraft weeks in advance is a huge advantage, and most groups are happy for you to take the aircraft away for a few days with no minimum flying time - try that with your club! On the other hand, the availability will sometimes be worse, because your aircraft will disappear for a few weeks each year to have its Annual - at least a club has several aircraft and you can keep flying even when one of them is away for maintenance.

The sense of freedom you get from turning up at the airfield, untying your aircraft, jumping in and going wherever you want - without having to sign the aircraft out and get approval from the club - is something that just can't be quantified, as is the pride in looking after "your baby". I don't think I'll be going back to club hiring!