Do fuel prices affect hours flown?

Does the price we pay for fuel have a direct influence on how much we operate our airplanes, cars, and boats? According to an article that appeared in the EAA’s November 2011 issue of Sport Aviation (“My $.02 on $6 Avgas”), the price of avgas is less important than one might think.

Author Mike Busch calculated the annual costs for his 1979 Cessna T310R twin. Assuming he’d fly less as avgas prices climbed from $4 to $6 per gallon, he concluded that the ratio of total cost to fuel cost remained the same at 3:1 for any fuel price. While his choice of hours flown appears to be somewhat arbitrary, his rationale was plausible. Busch concludes with this statement: “Bottom line of all this is that the true impact of $6 avgas is less than I originally thought when put in the proper inflation-adjusted context. Yes, it hurts. But no, it doesn’t hurt enough for me to quit flying or sell my airplane.”

According to this recent report from WINK News of Fort Myers, Florida, not all pilots agree with Mr. Busch. “At Beaver Aviation, Chief Pilot Lubomir Gueorguiev, says he expected prices to take off as we head in to spring and summer, but he worries it will hurt business. ‘The price of the fuel is a major factor of this business, and when the price of the fuel goes up, it kills the business,’ Gueorguiev said.”

Paul Kroppen, a pilot working on his multi-engine rating at Fort Myer’s Page Field (KFMY), agrees: “The gas prices were, in the beginning, around $3, now they’re getting to $5 and at some airports, they’re even at 6, 7 or 8 dollars.” Kroppen says it’s nearly killed his love of flying. “It’s taken the fun out of it.”

The effect of higher fuel prices at the local gas station do appear to having an effect on driving habits. As seen in this chart from the DOE’s EIA, monthly deliveries of gasoline have dropped by a whopping 50% in the past decade, and are the lowest they’ve been since the early 1980s. Clearly people are driving less.

Pleasure boaters, too have reduced the number of hours they spend on the open water as a result of higher fuel prices. While attending the recent International Marina and Boatyard Conference (IMBC) in Orlando, your blogger heard comments from a number of marina owners that more boat owners these days are saving money by spending time on their boats but never leaving their slips!

Since avgas represents less than 0.2% of the total fuel consumed in the U.S., we will always pay a premium for our boutique aviation fuel. Smarter would be to tap into the relatively large production of vehicle fuel, which means autogas. Smarter yet would be to exploit every possible deposit of oil in North America, which is why the news from the Bakken and Marcellus fields gives one reason for optimism.

What about you? Are you flying less with the national average price for avgas today at $5.83 ?

The GAfuels Blog is written by two private pilots concerned about the future availability of fuels for piston-engine aircraft: Dean Billing, Sisters, Ore., a pilot, homebuilder and expert on autogas and ethanol, and Kent Misegades, Cary, N.C., an aerospace engineer, aviation sales rep for U-Fuel, and president of EAA1114.


People who read this article also read articles on airparks, airshow, airshows, avgas, aviation fuel, aviation news, aircraft owner, avionics, buy a plane, FAA, fly-in, flying, general aviation, learn to fly, pilots, Light-Sport Aircraft, LSA, and Sport Pilot.



  1. Mark C. says

    Looking at it from my perspective, I’m just an average working guy who flies as a hobby. I rarely fly anywhere with a real purpose, just sightseeing or the occasional weekend trip w/my wife. There’s a pretty hard limit to what I can spend on flying, call it $500/mo., and that has to cover fuel, hangar, engine reserve, maintenance, etc. $150/mo. for a hangar leaves $350. $100/mo. for an annual leaves $250. $20/hr. for engine reserve, 7gph average for short flights in a C152. At $5/gal that’s $55/hr. or about 4.5 hours of flying a month. At $7/gal we’re at $69/hr. or about 3.5 hours a month. I fudge the budget and buy charts, portable radios, chocks, etc. “off the books”, if I didn’t, we’d be down to 3 or fewer hours per month. I love to fly, but I have other interests also, and my wife certainly doesn’t think cutting back on other expenses to support my hobby is reasonable when those other expenses are things she enjoys, so the bottom line is that as fuel costs rise, flying hours will most likely fall.

  2. Kent Misegades says

    Ask any mechanic – planes are being flown far less these days.  Ask pilots why and most will answer “costs too much”.

    More exploration = More fuel = lower world oil prices = more flying.  Pretty simple really.  $2/gallon sounds very possible if the government gets out of the way, so why not try?   GA airports near oil/gas fields benefit, too.

    Our environment has never been cleaner.   Here’s a great article on the subject, from Wired.

    • gbin says

      “More exploration = More fuel = lower world oil prices = more flying.  Pretty simple really.”

      Except that it’s not working that way now – when we have record production in the U.S., by the way – and there’s not much reason to believe it will work that way in the future, either.  A huge part of oil pricing is speculation based on world events, not just domestic production figures.

      “$2/gallon sounds very possible if the government gets out of the way, so why not try?”

      Aside from the fact that government hasn’t caused gas’ current price (see what I said above about speculation), the oil industry has amply demonstrated that it can’t be left to decide what’s best for such things as human health and safety and the environment.  Current and short-term profit for themselves is understandably their motivation, not safeguarding the present (let alone the future) for everyone.

      Sorry, but I’ll rely on the abundant evidence made available by the scientific community to assess environmental problems and potential solutions, not an article in a popular magazine devoted to promoting technology.  In some ways our environment is cleaner than it was a few decades ago (not than it’s ever been, which is absurd), but in many other ways – including more than a few related to the oil industry – it’s much worse than it’s ever been, and worsening still.

  3. gbin says

    Why would “exploit[ing] every possible deposit of oil in North America” help in any meaningful way if the main issue is that aviation fuel must be purchased at a premium because it is specially manufactured for only a tiny fraction of the total fuel market?  I’m afraid that just doesn’t make sense to me.  It seems clear that the argument for “tap[ping] into the relatively large production of vehicle fuel, which means autogas” pretty much says it all.

    Too, I can think of lots of things that are more important in the overall scheme of things than aviation (or other kinds of) fuel prices.  Human health and safety, for example.  A clean, biodiverse and properly functioning environment, for another.  I’m pretty sure future generations – including future pilots – will wish we’d spent more today, if that’s what it would have taken to better safeguard such things for them and their (and our) descendants.  Whatever happened to that old idea of trying to leave the world a better place for our children, anyway?

  4. Guest says

    Gas prices may not affect owners much but renters see fuel price right away as all rates are usually wet.

  5. Rod Beck says

    Will you ever get over this fuel cost thing as a determinet for how much one flys?
    If the COST out weights the BENEFIT, the fuel is to HIGH. On the other hand, if the BENEFIT out weights the COST, then the fuel cost is to low! And, sir, you don’t need a Doctorate from MIT to figure that out - stick to engineering!

  6. Pipercubj3c says

    You must be kidding. GA pilots are the most tight fisted people I’ve ever been associated with. The sky is empty except for people in the pattern and gas prices are a direct cause of that. Just look at Europe. Avgas has helped kill GA. Thank God for the Rotax engine. I just need to wrap my head around dragging Jerry cans back and forth with leaded auto fuel for the next 30 years.

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