Stating the obvious: Higher fuel costs reduce flying

GAfuels readers won’t be surprised by the conclusions of a new study from MIT graduate student Kamala I. Shetty: Higher fuel prices lead to less flying. The study, “CURRENT AND HISTORICAL TRENDS IN GENERAL AVIATION IN THE UNITED STATES,” included a survey of pilots on their past and future flying habits and what affects this.

The conclusions on page 76 state the obvious: “As also seen in the historical trends, fuel costs and costs in general have had a major influence on the activity levels of those surveyed. The results of the survey echoed what the trends implied — economic recessions and fuel costs are major factors that impede the growth of activity.”

AVWeb’s editors made the additional comments on these results: “Fuel costs, in particular, figured as a major factor affecting flight activity and almost 80% of pilots said they’d quit flying if fuel prices hit $8 a gallon, which is less than the price of avgas in many countries with active general aviation.”

What these editors fail to mention is that, relative to the higher cost of gasoline many pay overseas for their highway vehicles, $8/gallon is far less onerous in some places than it is in the U.S.  Exchange rates play an additional role in this comparison, which is why it can not be made without further analysis of the relative costs of flying in the U.S. and abroad, where a larger percentage of private pilots share costs through large, well-established aero clubs, use far more fuel-efficient LSA-class aircraft than in the U.S., and lower-cost, lead-free ethanol-free mogas is the predominant fuel for sport aviation.

A few months back, an article in the EAA’s Sport Aviation attempted to downplay the relative importance of fuel prices compared to the total annual cost of ownership of an airplane. As this study from MIT shows however, the number of hours flown remains strongly related to the cost of fuel, one of the most compelling reasons to switch from avgas to mogas which is currently selling for $1.50 less than avgas at our airports, according to AirNav’s latest fuel statistics.


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.

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