Many pilots enjoy talking about fuel economy because it is among the factors in aviation over which we have some degree of control. Carefully adjusting power settings and other elements of our flight profiles can cut fuel expenses significantly.
It also pays to consider fuel consumption when buying an aircraft. Like cars, some airplanes seem to sip fuel while others guzzle. More so than with cars, though, finding an airplane with a minimal appetite for fuel often comes with compromises that affect your mission or even scuttle it altogether.
Making light aircraft fuel efficient might mean giving up cabin space, useful load, and several knots in cruising speed. Cars can more easily make large gains in miles per gallon while still carrying the whole family to far-off destinations in thickly padded comfort. Of course, part of the reason for this is that they never have to leave the ground.
Still, there are aircraft that operate in a sweet spot where speed and fuel burn combine to yield far more nautical miles per gallon (range) than other models of similar size and capacity. We looked at performance figures for dozens of airplanes in a range of categories from light sport aircraft (LSAs) to midsize jets and were surprised by some of the differences we found.
While an individual pilot’s technique—and variations even among aircraft in the same model line—can affect fuel consumption, it is clear that certain models have advantages over others.
Using information from operating handbooks, manufacturers’ data, pilot reports and industry analysts, including Conklin & de Decker and others, we compiled the following list of aircraft that top their categories, and their fuel economy in nautical miles per gallon.
Aeromarine Merlin PSA: 28.3 nmpg
As a single seater, the Merlin keeps things especially light and achieves economy-car fuel efficiency. The company notes that many pilots spend nearly all of their time flying solo anyway.
Flight Design F2: 24.4 nmpg
A light sport pioneer, Flight Design struggled for decades to shore up funding for development and production until its acquisition by Lift Air, a division of Lift Holdings, in 2017.
Remos GX: 23.2 nmpg
Like many LSAs, the Remos GX is a European design, in this case from Germany, that is available as a kit for amateur builders or fully built and ready to fly.
Mooney M20G: 15.8 nmpg
The Mooney M20 series was around for so long that not everyone agrees which model is the best. However, the 180-horse versions were famous for squeezing the most speed out of limited power.
Cessna 172P: 15 nmpg
Being slow is among the many things for which the classic 172 is known. Fortunately, it uses very little fuel in the process, so its efficiency is still higher than for most GA airplanes.
Cirrus SR20: 12.9 nmpg
The less-powerful Cirrus piston model is still no slouch. Stepping up to the brawnier SR22T would get you there faster but would also use more fuel per mile.
Tecnam P2006T: 17.8 nmpg
Twin Rotax engines burning about four gallons per hour each help this twin post impressive fuel economy numbers. Many piston twins burn two to three times as much.
Diamond DA-62: 12.6 nmpg
Automotive-derived engines help this twin reach nearly 200 knots while burning only slightly more fuel than older twins with far less performance.
Piper PA44 Seminole: 12.2 nmpg
Long a standard for multiengine instruction at flight schools, the Seminole is still among the most economical twins although modern designs with advanced engines offer more speed for the same amount of fuel.
Daher TBM 900: 4.4 nmpg
The TBM burns about the same 70 gallons an hour as the Pilatus but scores better due to its higher cruise speed—just over 300 knots.
Pilatus PC-12 NG: 3.7 nmpg
Popular for charter service, business, and personal transport, the Pilatus posts attractive fuel economy figures, due mostly to its cruise speed of around 260 knots.
Quest Kodiak: 3.3 nmpg
Piston pilots have to brace themselves for a shock at the fuel pumps when transitioning to turbine power. Even a relatively economical utility model like the Kodiak burns 45 gallons per hour.
Piaggio P.180 Avanti: 3.3 nmpg
This unusual twin-pusher design from Italy is renowned for outpacing many jets while cutting costs. It also makes a unique sound passing overhead.
Piper Cheyenne II: 3.2 nmpg
In the oldie-but-goodie category, Piper’s turbine rework of its long-running Navajo still has a following, in part, because it represents a relatively inexpensive route to turboprop speeds.
Beechcraft King Air B200: 2.7 nmpg
Among the many King Air models, this is about the most economical to operate, burning just over 100 gallons of fuel per hour.
Cirrus SF50: 6.0 nmpg
It took a while to certificate the unusual Cirrus single-engine jet, but many feel the wait was worth it in order to have a jet that nearly doubles the fuel economy of some turboprops.
HondaJet HA-420: 4.2 nmpg
Honda definitely brought some of its economy-car experience to the jet market. Its HA-420 is among the fastest light jets but manages to keep the fuel burn reasonable.
Embraer Phenom 100: 4.0 nmpg
Embraer’s decades of experience building economical military trainers and regional jets translated well to its Phenom series, which set a high bar in the small-jet category.
Cessna Citation II: 2.0 nmpg
Arguably the jet that started it all, at least for economy-minded operators, the Citation models from the 1980s continue to be among the least expensive to operate.
Gulfstream G200: 1.9 nmpg
With seats for eight, this long-running Gulfstream model has the range to make Atlantic crossings. It made its first flights in 1997.
Hawker 900XP: 1.7 nmpg
This model, built from the late 2000s to the early teens, was popular for its roominess— comfortably seating eight—and its reasonable overall operating costs.