Here we go again …more of the same (and tired) ongoing “discussions” within our “Industry” on “what to do?” …about the graveyard spiral General Aviation finds herself in. (the aforementioned "Slump") And again, for whatever reason, the overwhelming impression continues to be that “they” …the “Industry” …our “Associations”, groups, clubs, memberships etc. …the “Feds”, you, me, us …”we” …just don’t seem to get it !
Once again ...Please forgive the following re-cap and redundancy of a couple previous rants, in previous “comment sections” …but I just can’t seem to put this in any other way;
The original purpose …the “concept” of, if you will, for the birth and growth of the experimental aircraft community, for instance, over the last several decades, which later evolved into the “Light Sport” genera and “Industry” of the present, was to allow for the “Average Joe” with a wife and kids to be able to, over a period of about a year or so, build himself a nice, simple (with at least 2 seats as flight is a thing that’s got to be shared!) airplane at a reasonably (read: sane!) monetary expense that would allow said “Joe” and family & friends to both proliferate and enjoy the wonderful world of Flight! But! …let’s take a hard look at what “we” (US General Aviation) have allowed to happen…
Let’s see …the “new & improved” C-172-SP, recently reviewed in Flying magazine: a basic, single engine, 4 place, fixed gear, fixed prop, simple low HP “Light Airplane”. One whose basic airframe has been around for over half a century and whose R & D, tooling and most all other initial development costs have long since been paid for many times over, decades ago (essentially a (very) old airframe design with a few tweaks, and upgraded to some modern avionics (which should also cost substantially less than their steam gauge, analog counterparts) …all this for ONLY $300,000+ ?!?!?
Oh, but you can get the venerable old “new & improved” Piper Archer for about the same price! ...But wait! …you can get a shiny new Cub Crafters Carbon Cub; an even simpler TWO place, basic, fixed gear, fixed prop, low HP “LIGHT SPORT” airplane” with a basic avionics package for the bargain price of just under 200K!!
("is not that flying costs too much but that flying the kind of airplane that they really want to be flying costs too much.") ???
Of course, Cessna has finally (sort of) thrown a bone to the fledgling new “Mom & Pop” Flight School in the form of a 21st. Century “Trainer”; the C-162 Skycatcher! … available for the much more REASONABLE? “base price” (just recently increased!) of 150K! …which means they should be able to afford at least 3 or 4 of em! The C-172 was available, in 1980, IFR equipped, for the low 30′s (aprox. 90K in today’s dollars) In 1979 the C-152 went for just under 20K (55K today).
...As for the all of those available "Kits" out there today ...Realistically, even a modest, two place, fixed gear/prop with a bacic IFR panel (that by reg, one mostly can't actually utilize for it's designed purposes) 140+ kt airplane most often sports (pun intended) a finished price of close to 100K ...many other almost twice that! And don't forget ...ya have to build it yourself!
Now, throw in the over inflated (and ever increasing) costs of hanger, fuel, insurance, maintenance and all those other “miscellaneous” operating expenses and ask yourself; How can even an “Upper” Middle Class, “Above” average Joe afford/justify such a purchase (especially after tacking on all those actual operating expenses) How can such a sums for such airplanes ever be (reasonably) justified?? And we (and APOPA) wonder why new pilot certification is half what it was just two decades ago?? Why (aircraft) rental rates have gotten beyond the reach of most would be Sunday Flyers? What could possibly be causing this decline in our beloved activity?!?
Most of Europe and all of present day Asia have no such thing as “General Aviation” …solely because of the prohibitably expensive costs. Their citizens have been coming here to pursue that dream we’ve all been taking for granted! (but even that may change …read: practically grind to a halt, now that the new draconian EASA Flight Crew licensing regs have kicked in) Active participation in our wonderful world of “Flight” here in the USA has always been (relatively) on the expensive side, and up until now has remained the best (and only) place on the planet to do so. But take another really honest look at the math. Even if we allow for an additional 50% (a very conservative/generous estimate) to account for the uncontrolled explosion of all the greed laden “Product Liability” lawsuits many (airplane manufacturers) have had to endure these last couple of decades (the ONLY thing Cessna, Piper etc. can legitimately claim to have been “victimized” by) …we should, at most, be looking at somewhere around $130 – 140,000 for our present day (fully equipped) C-172. (a SIMPLE, 4 place 120+ kt. airplane) .…hmm.
are we REALLY reaching for ..."wishing" for too much here?!?
In the late 70′s, I struggled to put myself through school (let’s not even get started on the costs of a college degree these days!) and pay for my flight training (mostly through loans) to pursue a dream of being a Professional Pilot. Now 36 years later, after having been fortunate to have flown everything from parachutes to 747′s, this subject has been a particular heartbreak for me, as I seriously doubt I could succeed in that endeavor today …and wonder how any of today’s young folks (of even “above average” means) ever could as well.
I’m afraid these greedy times we’re a livin’ and the EXPONENTIAL rate at which that expense is accelerating, will only serve to hasten the time when the final nails are driven. We’re rapidly destroying “General Aviation” in this country …making it solely a “Rich Mans sport”. “Why” …the rapidly decreasing pilot population? …the rapidly downward spiral of total logged hours? …a Pilot shortage?? …”sluggish sales” factors?? …very, very sad indeed.
Does Flying Cost too Much?
Please ...PLEASE ...Lets get real!
I'm a Champ owner also. What is happening to this industry makes me sick.
A typical 4 place like a 172 cost $15,000 in the early 1970's (about $90,000 in today's dollars). A replacement 172 today costs $300,000 in today's dollars. When you triple the costs of anything with minimal added value markets will be lost. Aviation is cost elastic! Overhaul costs on its engine have doubled in real dollars.
I believe I read in your magazine that since the 70's, our government has added over 1000 regulations applying to Part 23 airplanes like a Cessna 172. Some manufactures are lobbying right now for a different approach they claim can cut costs by nearly 50% and improve safety significantly. The efforts need serious grassroots support. Without serious change our business will continue its slow death!
Private pilot flying costs "too much" because government regulators prevent them from sharing even the direct expenses with their employers or the small business that they own. Well I am leading a grassroots initiative to unravel the gordian knot of byzantine regulations and FAA General Counsel legal opinions that have slowly strangled private pilots over the last 30 years. We have been working with members of the US House of Representatives to draft and introduce legislation in the 113th Congress to reset the clock. It is called "Restoring the Freedom to Fly for Private Benefit Act of 2013".
The postulate is that if private pilots were able to obtain some cost relief in the form of reimbursement for direct operating expenses associated with the use of their own airplane or one that they rent, in connection with employment or business, private pilot operations would increase immediately and dramatically.
In its present form, the draft bill has four components that shore up the firewall between private operations and commercial operations, the principle concern of regulators and which has motivated the present hodgepodge of rules and opinions. We wholeheartedly agree that this firewall must be preserved and enhanced if possible, but not at the expense of arbitrary and capricious denial of fundamental property rights.
We would have preferred to go down the NPRM road but the circular logic of case law and FAA legal opinions that now surrounds regulations like 14 CFR 61.113 has made statutory relief imperative.
If anyone would like the details please contact me and I'll provide a brief white paper and the draft bill that you can use to present to your own congressional representatives.
Timothy F. McDonough, Ph.D.
SMU Dept of Economics
3300 Dyer, Suite 301
Dallas, TX 75205
I actually signed up for an account just so I could answer this question.
The answer is an emphatic YES, but there are also a few other factors. At this point in my life, I went from saving up $10,000 to get my license to having 3 children under the age of 5 and a loving wife whom I cannot imagine life without -- nor an untimely departure from -- which is also why I gave up my motorcycle license.
A flying club represents the least expensive option I know of in our market today. However, even the least expensive plane in our area -- a 172L -- is $92/hour (plus $100 monthly club dues and annual fees). I wouldn't want to fly as a new pilot unless I could dedicate 10 hours per month to stay current, safe, and familiar with the aircraft. Now we're up to a house payment.
My household currently owns a whopping total of 2 cars, and both of them have over 150,000 miles on them. Financially, we don't have more than a few hundred extra dollars per month to use for anything "fun" -- and that could disappear when it is time to buy a replacement car.
For the same money every month as it would cost for what I feel would maintain flying proficiceny, I could buy a vacation home. Or a fleet of ATV's for every season. Or a luxury SUV. Or a boat. Or a really nice motorhome (trying pulling over and having lunch in an airplane). Or an investment property that would pay me back over time. And, the perception (whether justified or not) of there being less risk doing any of those things instead of flying nips at my heels.
The truth is, I want to fly some day -- but it will have to wait due to the limited funds, significant cost & perceived risk. I'll continue my Flying Magazine & Aviation Consumer subscriptions and be an aviation enthusiast from the ground (if there is such a thing).
Are you on crack Goyer, or what? You are like Nero fiddling with Rome burning al around him.
Need XM weather? Pay every month, or you just might fly into a storm and buy the farm. Can't fly on cloth seats? Nope, my fanny needs leather, even if it adds a ridiculous $15,000 extra to the sticker price of my ride. Want AC. That'll be another 15 large. Need IFR enroute charts? Buy a new set every 56 days, because some airport in Alaska changed the direction of the instrument approach path by one degree. Steam gauges? Not in my plane, I wanna spend enough for a new car on flat panels with software that will become outdated in just a few years and cost me a ton more to upgrade.
The reasons everything in aviation is inflated well beyond its real value are:
1) Small markets equates to huge price tags. In the 1960s and 70s the markets were huge, so the price was affordable. Parts are ridiculously out of scale compared for similar parts for cars, trucks, snowmobiles, even boats. Insurance companies require insane amounts of time on type, to fly a retractable, even when isn't terrible more dangerous than a plane with the wheels down and welded. Because a few of us forget to pull the lever every year. Pay $1200 a year to watch an AME check many things you could for the cost of your time on a weekend. Ridiculous prices for digital flight decks, which use the same kind of flat panels as Steve Jobs did on the IPad. Corrugated aluminum hangars are worth so much more than their component parts. Maybe we need more "homebuilt" hangars. Get your BFR every 24 months even if you've been flying regularly, because you might be a bit less competent then you would otherwise. This despite the government issuing you a licence that says you're qualified to fly any single up to 4,000 lbs. It's cha ching, every where you look. I quit and took up golf, which also throws money down the drain but a least you won't orphan your kids if you screw up.
2) Regulators who claim to act as a representative of the citizens but in fact are little more than pencil pushers and defacto agents for the industry. How long have we had those stupid, WW-2 era weather hieroglyphics, when plain english would prevent mistakes in interpreting the weather. Regulators make every new design heavier, more expensive and less marketable, as evidenced by Roy Lopresti's recent attempts to bring back the hopped up Globe Swift and Viking aviation breathing life into the Twin Otter.
3) Wage stagnation, which has reduced many peoples' purchasing power to the point where flying has become a luxury item, like cruises or jewelry.
4) The uncertain future of low-lead avgas. Look at Beech and Cessna, with recent announcements of switching iconic models to jet A. Why would somebody buy a new or used plane burning 100LL, when he can wait a couple years and buy a deisel 182 with much improved efficiency and lower operating costs?
5) An aging shift in demographics, wherein aircraft owners cannot save for their advanced years and slip the surly bonds, Meanwhile the younger generation can't afford new cars, much less buy or rent planes.
Goyer longingly evokes the past and fails to mention any of the above challenges for industry and aviators. He doesn't, and can't speak for most of the flying public. All he does is to continue to shill for what has become an increasingly moribund light aircraft industry for legacy manufacturers.
Surrey, British Columbia
It is wearying to hear the constant drone of this question over and over. I also registered in order to comment to this article. I'm a former subscriber to Flying and it seems to me that writers in these periodicals, and AOPA USA, must have their heads in the sand most of the time. One might surmise that this question gets asked as a media stunt or that there is some glimmer of hope that reality can be rationalized with the fantasy of justifying general aviation's hyper inflation. It's obvious, even to the casual observer, that GA math does not add up. $300K+ for four seats? In a vessel designed over 50 years ago?
No, Mr. Goyer, "Let me explain."
As an expat living in Europe, I have flown in Germany and the U.K. as a club member or in a shared ownership scheme. The real cost of flying light GA planes here is at least triple that in the USA but so highly regulated as to render it marginally useful as a means of private transportation. Many European pilots travel for a two week holiday to the US on Luftthansa to get their flying fix for less total expense than renting aircraft in their home country for an equivalent number of flight hours.
In 2009, while stationed in Germany, I got back into flying after 13 years of non-activity. I found the owner of a fractional ownership company in Frankfurt that contracted one of his N-registered Diamond DA-40s to me on an hourly basis. (The cost of buying and maintaining a 1/8 share was just too much for me to justify - over $25,000 initial and $11,000/yr. + hourly operating costs) The dry rate to rent was 179 Euros/hr., 100LL cost 2.06 Euros/liter and the instructor's rate was 25 Euros/hr. After 7.0 hours of flight time, I tallied over $2,400 to get current. I also had to drive two hours from my home to get to the aircraft's home base.
Then, I joined a military flying club in Mannheim (a mere 90 minute drive) in 2010 to save a few dollars. The club has 3 antique Cessnas, a 152 at $100 and two 172s for $120/$130 wet. For over six months in 2011 they were all out of service for various reasons. Maintaining aircraft on the FAA register in Europe is becoming more difficult. See the EASA comment in Flyinb's post.
After recently relocating to the UK, I joined a nearby flying club where I set out on my journey to obtain the JAR-FCL PPL because there are no N-registered aircraft within reasonable commuting distance of my home or office. Our antique fleet of C-152's go for about $172/hr. wet. An old Warrior runs $205/hr. and our Arrow costs about $240/hr. We also have a Duchess that rents for $464/hr. Instructor fees are approximately $58/hr. On 12 September, after 14 hours of dual, four written exams, a two-hour O&P and over 1,500 pounds sterling ($1=.62 pence), the flight school sent my application off to the CAA. Nearly three months have passed and no word on the application, no response to queries and there is no temporary UK CAA license. They did, however, manage to charge the $300+ license fee promptly enough. The UK adopted EASA Part FCL on 17 September 2012 and there is no small confusion involved about it all. Short of a personal visit to Gatwick, I'm beginning to doubt I'll ever see a license.
Indeed 'there’s more to the “flying costs too much line.”' The fact is that in Europe GA is a sport rather than a means of personal transportation for all but the true blue-blooded types. It is over-regulated, extremely structured and there are fees for even thinking about something aviation related. God forbid you bust a noise abatement area - neighbors call their local airport daily to complain about the traffic. All fields are required to be staffed by trained personnel and are closed when not staffed. Very few aerodromes are open outside the hours between sunrise and sunset; there are steep penalties for operating on a closed field including license suspension or revocation. Some stay open until 21:00 one day during the week for night flying (an additional rating not included in the basic PPL). To a greater degree than in the US, people would rather see the real estate occupied by flying fields put to other uses.
"Truth be told, no matter what I did for a living, I’d find a way to fly. I just would." I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in GA no matter where I am or whatever the cost. It is way too expensive and the windows of opportunity to go flying in England, weather not withstanding, make it unreasonable to expect to maintain proficiency, so, 99% of my flight time is dual. "Even with a minimum wage job, I’d find a way to get into the air" - to put my flying history in perspective, I could fly more often in new aircraft when I was getting my license in the early '80s while working after school in a part time sub-minimum wage job. Now, I earn a very respectable salary and am scarcely able to scrape by on an hour or two each month.
As for "flying the kind of airplane that" I want to fly, the only justification I can reasonably accept personally would be to fly for personal transportation. Our household is a family of five which excludes much of the reasonably priced used market and everything new. I cannot come to grips with flying a powered kite just for fun, besides, I prefer substantial structure around me in the air. I am an A&P and could build my own plane, but, that isn't presently an option where I live. Even if it were, how many kits have a 1 + 4 cabin?
We are still very blessed in the USA - there is no place like it on earth to partake in our sector of aviation. I am looking forward to returning home before the "death spiral" has come to its conclusion.
Finally, I wish the aviation media, including AOPA USA, would pull their collective heads out of whichever dark place they are sticking them. GA is too expensive and we all know it - you can stop wasting our time, your prose and all the surveys to study the matter any further.
The problem with flying is not that it is flat out unaffordably expensive - because, as you point out, it's not - but that it is much more expensive than pretty much everything else a normal person might spend money on.
Most people - especially people with some disposable income to spend on flying in the first place - expect a certain level of quality and "intactness" from things they buy. The massive improvement in consumer goods quality in the past 30 years contributes to this.
So, when they look at the kind of automobile they can buy for $40,000 - say, a 2008 Porsche Boxster S with 20,000 miles, in which everything is solid, well put together, sleek and modern, etc., and compare that with the quality of an airplane they can buy for $40,000 - perhaps a 30-year-old Cessna with cracked, warped plastic paneling the color of various types of baby vomit and a set of avionics that would look at home in the ENIAC - they balk. They just can't justify spending that much money on an ancient relic that appears to be falling apart around them, even if rationally they know it is perfectly airworthy. If they saw a car in the same kind of cosmetic shape they probably wouldn't pay more than $1,000 for it.
The minimum amount someone has to spend to purchase an airplane that does not resemble their dad's beat-up old Buick in one way or another is about $100,000. This is for a Skyhawk made after the production restart (although they still have a pretty iffy interior to my eyes, just with better colors), or better yet an early Diamond DA40, or maybe a lightly-used LSA. This will not be a luxurious interior by any means, but it will at least not make potential passengers run in fear for their lives.
Yes, you can technically fly for less money. But a lot of people don't want to fly around in a 40-year-old airplane. And I don't think that's unreasonable.
There are two costs associated with flying - dollars and time. For me the dollars are manageable but the time is not. I feel that to stay safe I need to commit 2-3 hours per week of study on top of the time associated with any particular flight. As a VFR pilot, the times that are available for me to fly are not unlimited, so that both the window for flying as well as the hours required are significant.
With two children in the house, I am not willing to trade off my time with them for flying. Hopefully when they are older I can bring it all together, but for now the time is the cost I cannot afford.
Robert, I agree with you 100% that until the day I find myself on Welfare, I will always find a way to fly!
Having said that, I think you have to concede that flying is much less accessible than it has been in the past. The cost of flying has risen far faster than inflation - both the cost of the aircraft and operating costs. The complexity of airspace has also grown enormously in our urban areas ... here in Vancouver, BC, there was one control zone around YVR (Vancouver International) - and that was it! Now, we have some of the most complex airspace in Canada. Cost, complexity, security ... all conspire against casual GA pilots.
My final comment is that if you Americans think flying is expensive ... come see what we pay here in Canada!!! How about $7/gal for avgas? And Canada, in turn, looks cheap compared to Europe...
So: yes, flying is less accessible in the past. However, America is still the heart of global GA, so don't complain too much!
I agree that almost anyone can find a way to fly something, if they have the desire and the time.
I think, though, that there is a more direct meaning to the statement that flying costs "too much", which is that it costs far more than people expect it should, when they compare it to other manufactured products that seem generally comparable in terms of capacity and function.
A hang glider "should" cost about as much as a single-handed sailboat. An LSA "should" cost about as much as a small economy car. An SR-22 "should" cost about as much as a large, luxury SUV (or maybe two of them), and "should" certainly cost less than a motorhome (although not fast, these are large, are built in small numbers, and have large engines and complex systems).
Instead, the flying machines cost about 5x as much as what people intuitively think they "should". That's what "costs too much" means.
Put the other way, if you consider some of the toys or activities you can get, for the price of even a simple airplane, the cost of the airplane is painful.
I understand the reasons, which largely have to do with the fact that sport aviation is a cottage industry. But, unless airplane manufacturing can get its cost structure to a place that is more in line with cars and boats, private aviation will continue to fade away. I actually believe the cost structure is starting to move in the right direction - it will take time, and it may be too late already - but there are now two sophisticated non-fabric-covered LSAs available for $80k or less, and we are seeing avionics and engines benefit from competition and lower regulatory burden.
But those costs have to come down more - a lot more - before "costs too much" stops being a fair complaint.
I agree that for those of us who love it, we'll find a way. I don't care if I have a Champ I fly out of my backyard, I will always be flying. It's a great recreational activity for me.
But where is the segment who wants to use GA for business? We all know the business case for using small planes on trips under 500 mi. But most of the people I know who own airplanes don't really have a business case for them and they don't bother trying to justify it that way.
I recently had a 30+ year manager of an FBO tell me how, back in the 80's, it seemed like every morning, they had several piston aircraft leave for business reasons and not return until evening. Now you never see that at my field. (Although you do see about a dozen jets a day bring in owners of 2nd and 3rd homes here in this tourist destination.)
Did cheap long distance and videoconferencing kill the need for travel that much? Or did GA just get too expensive (in total) when compared to driving or taking Southwest ?
The Aerolite sounds like great fun. Enjoy!
what really set me wondering was the comment by 'uglyamerican' when he said, "I feel that to stay safe I need to commit 2-3 hours per week of study on top of the time associated with any particular flight."
and that begs a question for all of us: what would the accident rate for GA be if every single pilot flying committed to 2-3 hours per week simply 'studying'?
ya gotta admit - fasinating concept.
but it also leads into...when costs Must be cut to keep flying - where do you cut.
and under those circumstances it's easy to see why training takes a backseat when the alternative would be to be a very well trained pilot flying ... a couch.
Flying isn't cheap but it is affordable. I work in the racing industry and racing is also not cheap but it can be affordable. You don't have to race Formula 1, you can race karts or a Mazda Miata. It's all relative. I hear the same cost complaints in my industry but if you truly love it you'll find a way.
I'm in the same boat as "uglyamerican", lack of time not funds. I personally feel that if I can't devote a decent amount of my time and attention to flying it's best if I just step back, which is what I have done. I hope as time goes on and I get a little older I can step back from my business some and spend more time on one of my first loves, flying!
Here we go again; it appears that the financial aspect of aviation is unavoidable, because it is the biggest reason for the predictable pilot shortage.
Is flying expensive?
Hell yes! (Hope not stepping the line on the language for blogging rules here, but just have to vent my frustration).
Talking about everything is inflated when it comes to GA; I was just reading the Airways section of the new Flying Magazine when I came upon new winglets for Cirrus for $59,000! That is appalling; whoever gets one should as well light up the cigar with the hundred dollar bill.
The problem with the current GA industry is that we need more competition; we need a lot less rules from the feds to allow entrepreneurs to go ahead and create new airplanes that are not based on aluminum frames from 1950s. Power plants engineering industry also needs a revolution to include alternative sources of fuel, far away from our good old 100LL. I don’t want to sound repetitive, but we have to look at the car industry and just wonder how aviation industry can’t follow the same path. Of course people by more cars than airplanes, but the way things are going, the aviation industry must have to receive governmental support to thrive. They need to find a way to cut down costs in legislation approvals without compromise safety.
I am hopeful though; there are fine examples of new technologies coming to light through companies like Pipstrel, Rotax, Diamond, (European companies see the trend here). The LSA and Kit Building industry in US has a lot of promising stuff. And look at people like Randall Fishman, EAA Dr. August Raspet Award winner, Burt Rutan’s creativity and talent that we can only wish to have more people like him contributing to our GA industry.
I do believe we could request our senators and congress representatives to put out legislative actions to promote the growth of aviation industry in general which would benefit everyone creating a win-win situation with job creation and economic growth in our current financial crisis.
I was flying airplanes when I worked as a "box boy" at the local grocery store 30 years ago and found it to be reasonably affordable back then. Now I earn 5X as much and cannot even dream of renting airplanes on a regular basis due to the insane cost of flying these days. The question should not be "Is flying too expensive", but "Who can afford to fly in 2013?"