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Private Aircraft Ownership: What are the perks of having your own plane?

by John M. White |

Mooney M20TN In FlightPrivate aircraft ownership can be a great thing for anyone who loves to be free and travel in style. Over the years I have owned many aircraft and enjoyed the freedom it gave me and my family.

Private Aircraft Ownership

What follows is an article written by Andrew StaggAndrew Stagg, Commercial Pilot:
My private aircraft ownership experience is with a complex (retractable gear) single-engine piston (Mooney M20) and I respectfully disagree with other posters that the ownership cost is "enormous." It is certainly non-trivial, but the value and convenience it provides are significant as well. To give an example, I commute every week or two between Baton Rouge, LA and Dallas, TX. Commuting on American Airlines from Baton Rouge to Dallas would require the following: First, I'd need to arrive at Baton Rouge airport at least an hour early if I wanted to bring more then a carry-on. There's no free parking so I'd either have to take a cab or park for $10/day in the airport parking garage. If I wanted to check a bag, I'd need to wait in line, hoping I'd actually see it again at DFW. Next, I'd need to wait in another line for the privilege of being felt up by the TSA (of course after removing my belt, shoes, watch and all my electronics and liquids from my carry-ons). Once I got through the TSA, I get to sit at the gate and wait, hoping the flight isn't running late (on time performance rates of 50% and less are not uncommon for regional flights into hubs like DFW). Finally, I'd get on the plane (if anyone has flown on an Embraer 135, spacious and comfortable don't exactly come to mind) and wait some more... ground delays are very common for regional flights going into DFW. Once we get up in the air, the flight time is hard to beat in a single engine (about an hour), but you never know who you get the pleasure of sitting next to. Arriving at DFW, however, is another story, taxi times are an average of 10 minutes, but can go much higher. Getting off the plane usually takes another 10 minutes (I usually go for the exit row on Embraer's for the leg room so I'm in the middle when deplaning), then it's a long walk to baggage claim. And finally, there's the wait for bags, usually about 10 minutes assuming they arrive at all. After all that, I'd be at DFW, but still a half hour drive to get to downtown Dallas... From door to door, assuming everything is on time, that's about 4.5 hours. The cost would be around $375 for a non-refundable round-trip ticket. Commuting in my own private aircraft is a little different: From the comfort of my home, I go on to file an IFR (instrument flight plan) from BTR (Baton Rouge) to RBD (Dallas Executive) then I call the FBO (Fixed Base Operator - basically the private terminal at the airport) asking them to pull out my plane and tell them how much fuel to add. While driving to the airport, I get a text message on my phone with my expected routing to Dallas then I park a short walk from the FBO's front door for free. I usually arrive at the airport about 30 minutes before my planned departure time, help myself to free cookies and coffee at the FBO and walk out to my plane to do a pre-flight and load my bags. There's no lines and no TSA. After checking everything is in working order, I start the engine and call for my IFR clearance and taxi instructions. After a quick run-up at the end of the runway I am almost always cleared for takeoff immediately (there are few delays to Dallas Executive and Addison airports compared to DFW and Love Field). I usually hand fly the departure and after leveling off at my assigned altitude, I turn on the autopilot. Until I'm ready to start my descent, I spend the flight talking to ATC and monitoring satellite weather and fuel consumption while getting a great view (unless I'm in the clouds) of rural Texas and Louisiana. My flight time averages 2.5 hours from takeoff to landing. When I get close to the airport, I'm cleared to start a descent then given either an instrument approach (due to clouds or visibility) or a visual approach. Due to the small amount of traffic at Dallas Executive, usually I'm cleared to land immediately. After landing, I taxi directly to the FBO and park directly out front. Someone is usually outside to help unload before I shut down and my plane is safe in their hangar within minutes. There's no long walks to baggage claim, no waits for baggage and the facilities at most FBOs rival most airline lounges. Usually from door to door, this takes about 3.5 to 4 hours and my variable cost (fuel and engine overhaul reserve) is $320 round-trip. While there is a time and cost savings, the real benefit is the enjoyment of the trip over flying commercial and huge flexibility it offers. I can change my plans at any time and if I decided to make a last minute trip, my costs stay the same, while on American I'd be paying from $500 to over $1600 for a last minute trip. For those interested in purchase and operational costs, here's a rough breakdown: Purchase Price: $35,000 to $100,000 for a used single-engine piston with a cruise speed of around 150-200mph. While brand new airplanes can be over $300,000, a used airplane can be found for much less and due to the strict maintenance requirements for aircraft, an airplane built in 1950 can be just as safe today. The purchase price for used aircraft is often less than for new experimental aircraft or kit planes that have a much worse safety record. Maintenance: $2000-$5000/yr for a complex single-engine. Engine Reserve: $10-$15/hr. Most engines have a TBO (Time Between Overhaul) of around 2000 flight hours where it is recommended to overhaul the engine. The costs of this are high ($20,000-$30,000), but these overhauls are a primary reason why older planes stay safe (my airplane was built in 1970, but has a 2004 engine) and broken down hourly they are more reasonable. Also, most private pilots fly under 100 hours per year, so engines can last for over 20 years. Insurance: $1000/yr assuming the pilot has several hundred hours of flight time and instrument rating (my car insurance is actually more than my plane). Parking: $35-$100/month for an outside tie-down space. Fuel: varies, I last paid $5.25/gallon (for a plane burning 10 gallons/hour, that's $52.50/hour). In terms of weather, it's true that there are times when the airlines are flying, but single-engine piston aircraft are on the ground, but generally in the southern US that only happens during extreme conditions. If the pilot is instrument-rated, the only big concerns are storms (which can be avoided with onboard satellite weather), severe winds and icing conditions (flying in clouds or rain when the temperature is below freezing).

What Is Your Private Aircraft Ownership Experience?

If you found this article interesting, then please share your own private aircraft ownership experiences with the rest of us. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!

About John White

John White a/k/a JetAviator7 is an ATP pilot with an MBA in business who enjoys all things aviation and as an online entrepreneur loves providing exceptional products combined with exceptional personal service. Find out more about John on Google+ Share this post on Google+

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