The Cost of Flying Is Down
Every time any of us here at Flying notes the decline in the pilot population and the drop in overall flying activity we hear the same thing from many who say the reason is that it costs too much too fly.
I have been at Flying for 34 years and that chorus hasn't changed its tune. When the pilot population boomed in the 1970s and early 1980s they said flying was too expensive. When the continuing decline in the number of pilots began after reaching a peak around 1984, the blame was placed on cost. And when Cessna boss Jack Pelton pointed out a couple weeks ago that the dramatic drop in the number of student pilots threatened all of aviation I heard from many of you with the same observation that it was high costs that keep new pilots away.
And you're right. Flying is expensive, and always has been. But the rare bit of good news to come out of the current recession is that the market value of existing airplanes is way down. The selling price of some used airplanes may be half of what it was in early 2008. All models are down some, and a fleet wide average drop in price is at least 25 percent.
For many years, the value of used piston airplanes had been increasing with at least the rate of inflation. That very unusual market behavior came to an end several years ago and used airplane prices began to drop, or at least stopped increasing. The impact of inflation has raised the value of most airplanes to a dollar number greater than when they were new, which is unusual for any type of machinery, but that is no doubt true because the price of most new airplanes rose faster than inflation over the past 30 years or so.
The used airplane price drop means you can buy a solid two-seat piston single such as Cessna 152 for around $20,000. A Piper Tomahawk is available for even less. Or, you could spend around $25,000 and buy a Cherokee of the same vintage. These airplanes are a little over 30 years old, but are still entirely viable and maintainable. My first airplane, a Cessna 140, was born three years before I was and I paid $3,000 for it in 1970. That same airplane today would probably sell for around $15,000 which puts its price increase very close to the overall inflation rate. So that same airplane is as affordable, or not affordable, to a young person today as it was to me 40 years ago. And I managed on the meager salary of a newspaper sports writer.
My point is that the cost of flying is, was, and always will be an issue. But it's not the primary deterrent for new pilots. I don't know why learning to fly lacks the same allure as it did for many of us decades ago and I am sure there is no single reason. So, for those of you who find the cost of flying to be too high, you need to understand that it is actually lower than it has been in a number of years and it cannot take the blame for the decline in pilot population.