Does flying cost too much for “normal” pilots to afford? That’s a question we hear at Flying a lot, and it’s an interesting one, though I suspect that the people asking it have a hidden message. Let me explain.
Flying can be expensive. Clearly, flying a Falcon 7X costs too much for me to afford, but, thank goodness, there are other planes in the sky or I’d be writing third person stories about this stuff instead of giving you views from the cockpit of my airplane.
Flying doesn’t have to cost a lot. Truth be told, no matter what I did for a living, I’d find a way to fly. I just would. Even with a minimum wage job, I’d find a way to get into the air, whether it be via an ultralight, flight sharing, wingsuit insanity or bumming rides from friends. Flying is an integral part of who I am. True, if I were slinging lattes at Starbucks, I wouldn’t be flying an SR22, an amazing airplane that has come to define the state of the single-engine piston market, but, as I said, there are other kinds of wings in the sky. I’d find a way.
That said, the idea that flying today costs too much for people with modest incomes is pervasive. Every time Dick Karl complains about the cost of an annual or we mention how much avgas a P-51 puts through the engine every hour, we get letters from readers who complain that flying costs too much.
Do they have a point?
I guess that depends on your definition of “too much.” There are always going to be people with limited means for whom flying is an extravagance, or out of reach altogether. Are there challenges? For sure. Does avgas cost too much? Yes. Does maintenance cost too much? (I’d argue this one, but for the point of my pitch here, I’ll say that, “yes,” it does). Does insurance cost too much? Well, okay, let’s say that it does too, and hangars and oil, and headsets and, well, you get the idea. We can gripe about the cost of all this stuff. At the same time, I’d argue there are bargains galore for pilots today thanks to new technology and exceedingly clever tinkerers.
Back to affordability. My bar is this. Can a person who makes a decent wage and is not burdened by big debt afford to fly? The answer is clearly and unambiguously, “yes.” You can rent. You can share. You can join a club. I’d propose that you can indeed buy an airplane, a relatively capable, IFR equipped one at that.
But as I said, there’s more to the “flying costs too much line.” This week at Flying we got not one but two emails from readers who fly Aeronca Champs. For some reason, they both expressed dismay at the current cost of flying. My question is, why? After all, they are both flying. Is it costing them too much to put 100LL in their Aeroncas? To keep in the hangar? To get that $300 annual? Maybe so, but if that is the case, it’s a very low bar indeed.
There are also, clearly, pilots whose circumstances have changed, who can no longer afford the airplane they have. That is a complaint for which I have great sympathy.
In most cases, however, I’d propose that the real complaint — the complaint behind the complaint, if you will — is not that flying costs too much but that flying the kind of airplane that they really want to be flying costs too much.
As I said, I agree. Falcons cost too much. Not for everybody, but for me they do. Doesn’t really seem like much of a complaint, if you ask me.