4. Rent, Lease, Borrow
As I mention elsewhere, you don’t have to own an airplane to fly. Flying a lot is a bit more problematic but still doable in many cases. If you crunch the numbers, renting makes a lot of sense for a lot of pilots. If you fly a moderate amount, let’s say 75 hours a year, a decent airplane — we’ll budget $150 an hour — will cost you $11,250, a reasonable cost for a good amount of flying. There are potential roadblocks here, though. In some places it’s hard or impossible to find decent rental airplanes at any price. And if you travel, well, many flight schools put strict limits on how long you can have the airplane. Policies are generally less restrictive at flying clubs, though you do need to pay dues, and depending on the size of the club and the number of airplanes it has, availability can be dicey. That said, the flying club that I belonged to when I lived in Connecticut had a number of nice airplanes that were well-managed, and the availability was quite good.
Instead of renting, you could also take that same chunk of change you’d pay for a rental and see if a friend might want to let you use his or her airplane for a block of time. For an owner looking for some cash to underwrite his ownership, selling a block of time can be a tempting option, especially if the additional pilot is well-qualified and a known quantity.
Recurrent training is one of those things you simply don’t want to put off (though I suspect it’s one of the first things some pilots stop doing when money is tight). The good news is that there are some great ways to cut training costs while still getting the same (or better) benefit. One is using an advanced aviation training device (AATD). These low-cost training devices are not only cheaper than renting an airplane and an instructor, but they also can be used to fly your required IFR procedures to keep your instrument proficiency up to standards. Moreover, simulators are a very efficient way of getting training done. Instead of droning in an airplane until you get to the initial approach fix, in a computerized trainer you can just fly the approaches, getting more done in less time. And it’s fun, to boot.
6. Ditch the Hangar
Pilots with hangars, especially those who live outside the Snow Belt, should ask themselves how much they really need a little house for their airplane. At a typical rate of $250 a month — it can be much more in some areas of the country — you’re talking $3,000 a year. For a few hundred dollars you can get a very nice cover that will protect your airplane’s cabin from the sun and the rain, and for a couple of hundred more you can get wing covers. The overall savings will be a couple of thousand dollars a year. Granted, it’s hard to leave the hangar life once you’ve experienced it, but if your airplane’s paint wasn’t that good to begin with, it’s a great way to save a couple of thousand dollars a year.
7. Hunt for Cheap Gas
You don’t have to be a hedge fund manager to figure out that fuel is a big part of the cost equation in flying. If you fly, for example, 75 hours a year at a typical single-engine fuel flow of 15 gallons per hour at a fuel cost of $5 per gallon, you end up spending $5,625 a year on fuel. If you can cut the cost of your fuel by a dollar a gallon, you can save more than a thousand dollars, even figuring in the extra time it might take to stop for fuel somewhere short of your home airport. Pilots of twins or turbines, it goes without saying, can save a lot more. The key is in hunting for that cheap fuel, and there are a number of good ways to do that these days, including on websites, portable navigators and flight planning programs. The difference in prices can be substantial, and given current pricing, the $1 a gallon discount goal is easily attainable.
8. Go Portable
If you’re thinking about getting an avionics upgrade so you can have charts or XM Weather in the cockpit, one way to save a lot of cash is to go portable. As much as I love nice, panel-mounted avionics, for a lot of owners it makes sense to buy a portable device — there are many good ones available — and get your XM Weather, charts and even, with some units, traffic there. There are nice holders available from suppliers like Air Gizmos on which to mount your “handheld” to the panel, giving you all the convenience of a panel-mount unit at a fraction of the cost.
9. Go Paperless
Paper charts, whether from Jeppesen or the government, are expensive and a hassle. One way to save some green (and go green in the process) is by getting your approach information digitally. I love my Jepp charts and get them via Avidyne’s CMax electronic charts in the panel of my PlaneSmart Cirrus (itself a money saver compared with a paper chart subscription). But if I had to buy charts separately, I’d cut costs by getting government charts electronically, most likely through an electronic flight bag (EFB). Even given the cost of the EFB, you can save hundreds of dollars a year (not to mention the weight you save in the process) going with e-charts instead of binders.