Frugal flying

We put out a call to our readers for their tips on how to save money flying. Here are a few of their responses:

Roy Fassel: Who needs new? What you need is airworthy: 1979 Tomahawk with Sparrowhawk conversion (125hp), two-place, IFR equipped, 125 mph, 5.5-6 gph, 900 hours before TBO. Purchase price (including tax): $14,500. Liability Insurance, no hull (at $14,500 buy another one). Tie-down at Oceanside Municipal Airport (OKB) in Oceanside, Calif., $125 a month. Last annual: $850. New instructor pilot, $20 per hour or trade time in airplane for instruction, he pays for gas. After you get your license, sell or trade your plane for an upgrade.

Craig Baron: If you just want to fly for sheer enjoyment, buy a smaller plane or an ultralight. I have a Challenger 1 Clip Wing and fly for about $15 per hour, oil included. Sure, it does not have all the bells and whistles but I am in the air viewing what 99% of the public never sees — God’s country from above. Heck, the plane was under $5,000 used. You can hardly buy a good used motorcycle for that price. That is frugal flying. The biggest expense is the $2,400 per year hanger rental that is not figured into the $15 number.

Art Johns: All us pilots can save money by sharing expenses on trips. Divide the total cost by the number of people in the plane. Me and three other friends split every expense, including hotel, meals, and every item that came up on a trip from Spartanburg, S.C., to Disney World and back.

Ron Reynolds: First off, we bought planes because they are fun and get us places fast. Fun and fast has never been cheap with any endeavor, whether it be fast cars, motorcycles or boats. That being said, my advice is to stay in the air as long as possible. Throttle to the firewall! Don’t ever land. Saves on tires, landing gear, tie-down fees, hangar fees, inspections, the drive to and from the airport, excuses why you can’t fly. Most of all you won’t be on the ground to check the mailbox for bills or see the cost of flying.

Trying to save money flying is like spending $3 in gas trying to find a station that will only save you a dollar. Just fly! As much and often as you can — we only live once. No fun going slow, planes weren’t invented for that. Stay up as long as you can because you never know when you will be grounded and then you’ll wish you had flown more. Don’t ever land. That’s my advice.

Jim Klick: About 15 years ago (so the numbers may vary), two friends told me they wanted to learn to fly. I helped them find a good C-150, pointed them to an instructor, and they did the rest. One of them earned his private in 50 days and 45 hours. The other one was married, so it took him 180 days and 51 hours. They sold the C-150 for what they paid for it. Their cost, other than fuel and oil, were two sets of tires and a $600 radio repair. One now owns a C-210, the other a Mooney, in which they have added commercial and instrument. I think it can still be done. It requires the right airplane, and the right partner.

Cody Bias: I wrote an eBook on this subject specifically. It’s called the “Low-cost Pilot’s License”. I wrote it two years ago, and everyone who’s read it found it really helpful. When it comes to saving money on flight trading (or just flying in general) there are several places to cut costs:

1. The biggest portion of the costs associated with flying come from the airplane itself. Your options for access to an airplane include renting, buying (either wholly or in part), or joining a flying club. The advantages and disadvantages of each option depend on several factors, but primarily concern how often you fly (the more often you fly, the better buying is when considering the per-hour cost). Other options include buying an aircraft and leasing it to a flight school for rental use when you’re not using it. That will potentially generate some passive income (depending on the deal you make with the flight school), but your airplane is probably going to get beat up quite a bit. If you get clever enough you may be able to form a legal entity (like an LLC) to own the aircraft and either lease it to a flight school; form your own flying club; or have the LLC ownership divided by a group of commercial pilots and work to get a Part 135 operation approved (this is fairly complicated). The point with any of these options is that you could potentially have a tax write-off for a lot of the flying/maintenance/other expenses, because you would be operating as a business instead of just an individual. Obviously, you’d need to do more research before you dived into any of the more complicated arrangements, but there is certainly an opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of an airplane.

2.If you’re in the flight training side of things, the cost cutting opportunities are tremendous. For one, a lot of folks spend tons of money buying learning materials and information products. In reality you can get all the information you need from free government publications (Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, PTS, etc.) at In fact, that’s where all those $300 “Private Pilot Knowledge Course” DVD packs get the information. Not necessary to buy one, just go to the source yourself. It’s free and in many instances better than the expensive products out there.

Also, another really important aspect of saving costs (with respect to flight training) comes from an efficient training schedule. In other words, if you fly two or three times a week, instead of once a month, you are likely to retain a lot more information. As a result you will dramatically reduce the total amount of flight time/flight instruction (and money) it takes to complete your training.

Victor Nazarian: Fly for the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. You can get yourself and your plane approved to fly under orders, get some valuable training and flight time and serve alongside fellow auxiliary and active duty Coast Guardsmen. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the only branch of the services where you can turn down orders and you cannot be called up into service away from home. The downside, it’s unpaid except for getting reimbursed for fuel, maintenance and a few other things. For me it’s been a great experience and a great way to get some stick time for free. I got such good training I was able to get a better job in “real” life.

Douglas Manuel: Donate your flight time to a 501(c)3 charitable organization (there are many but a couple are Angel Flight and Pilot-N-Paws). It is good for them and your soul and takes some of the sting away from your wallet.

Gary Soucy: Do your own oil changes, keep your plane clean and waxed, lean the engine and pull back on the throttle a little, you don’t need to be at the red line all the time. Also have it fixed now before it causes more problems.

Ray Steinmeyer: Be careful about the leaning part, though. Unless you fly hundreds of hours a year this item won’t save you much in relation to your total investment in your love for flying. However, if done incorrectly, it can end up costing you a bundle.

Chuck LaMonica: Owning an airplane is very similar to owning a boat. There are only two days of tangible pleasure. The day of purchase and the day you sell. So..rental is the most economical way to fly.

Len Assante: Managed, shared ownership is a way to cut the costs and hassles of aircraft ownership dramatically. Sharing means reduced costs, and professionally managed means all the tasks associated with ownership are taken care of.


  1. says

    Some great tips here! It’s hard to beat partnerships for reducing the fixed costs, but he fuel is definitely the issue. I heard avgas has gone up $2.50 a gallon since our current Pres took office. It’s killing GA. I’m looking forward to electric flight. For a lot of folks, it won’t take much of a jump in technology to be viable for training, $100 hamburger runs, towing banners and gliders, etc.

    Brent over at

  2. Mike says

    Aviation’s greatest enemy is itself, the skyrocketing costs of fuel etc. is what stagnant people’s love of flying. Take for example an engine for an aircraft, $20,000-$30,000 just for a freshly overhauled engine. Most generally the engine cost more than the entire aircraft even if that aircraft is in immaculate condition and compiled with some of the newest avionics available on the market. If the aviation community wants to help it self they need to find ways to increase TBO times on newly manufacture engines so as they have a greater lifecycle. We all know that they put the 2000 hour TBO on engines for liability purposes, it’s a check and balance to ensure that everything copacetic. With all of the current manufacturing technologies that is available in today’s manufacturing world there is no excuse why we can’t have engines that have a 6000 to even 10,000 hour time between overhaul. There have been very little advancements in engine technology when it comes to most general aviation aircraft for many years.

    The next key thing that’s completely overlooked is not everyone is rich, aviation companies cater to the individual that are a little better off than the next guy. Aviation should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of if you’re richer not. I understand that companies’ feel that they can charge exorbitant prices for their products if they have a particular trademark name that is normally associated with a quality product. Well, quality products still must remain affordable for the common man. Avionics is a prime example of an extremely overpriced industry, certified instruments and avionics are so overpriced compared to the non-certified versions of themselves, this is completely asinine because they are the exact same product made on the exact same Test Bench.

    I personally do not have a problem buying an aircraft from the 1960s but if I was a buyer that wanted one of the latest and greatest aircraft on the market I would have to remortgage my home eight times over to be able to afford that aircraft. I truly understand aviation has always been a rich man’s game, in today’s world that’s just unacceptable. If aviation is to flourish specifically general aviation it is going to have to be made available to the masses. Manufacturers of aircraft engines, avionics, and so on are going to have to get in the affordable price range for the common man. I truly do not have a problem paying $1000 for a new audio panel or other product but I do have a problem paying $15,000 for a moving map Garman that I have to pay subscription fees etc. Inflated prices and unrealistic restrictions is what’s killing the general aviation movement in this country, there is no way to control the manufacturers because they are truly driven by greed.

    I have worked on aircraft for over 12 years and I’ve had the privilege to work on the latest and greatest that technology has to offer, with that said inflated price tags do not buy you safety. All avionics fail, all engines fail, and all aircraft brake it does not matter what the cost you pay for it.

    • says

      Mike; Apparently, your quite naïve about economics and the “law” of supply and demand when professing the comment; “made available to the masses”. Even if MADE available, the masses would still have to DEMAND it! Your not alone with this idealistic premise; that is, IF “economies of scale” could work for airplanes, the masses would BUY – hello! IF, IF and IF! I suggest you have several strong cups of coffee before making such unrealistic statements. And YES, it’s not just for the “rich” – it’s for those, regardless of social class, who can AFFORD it! Golf or boating anyone?

  3. Jay says

    1. Regarding the comment, “The FAA mandate includes a requirement to “promote” aviation”, my understanding is that used to be true, but is no longer in the FAA mandate / mission statement. Only safety. Thus cost is not in the cost/benefit equation.

    2. Buying USED does not apply if wanting to fly Light Sport (LSA) for the vast majority of the airplanes in the used market out there. (Yes, I know there are some, but please notice I used the words “vast majority”.) All C-150’s, C-152’s, Piper Tomahawks, etc. are currently excluded. I eagerly await FAA approval of the EAA/AOPA Medical Petition so I can join the ranks of aircraft owners at a price point I can afford. I trained in a C-150. I feel safest in a C-150, and it fulfills my mission. Remember “AFFORDABLE light sport”?

  4. Bruce Billedeaux says

    Its all about the mission. If you want to travel, fast is good. If you want to just enjoy the idea of flight, then there is no reason to go fast but stay up as long as possible. I trained in a rented 152 and we paid by the hour on the Hobbs. Fuel was included, so we flew as fast as possible.
    I now have a 1966 Cessna 150 that I share with another owner. Recently we have figured out that we can reduce our costs by 40% is we fly our local sightseeing and pattern flights at much reduced RPM. This reduced our fuel burn from 5.5 gph to 3 gph. We fly at 80 mph instead of 90 mph, but when you are just flying for fun who cares.

    Like others have said, its the mission. We have decided that 90% of our mission only needs two seats. For the few times we need 4 seats, we can just rent at the local FBO. Expensive, yes, cost effective also. Don’t get more seats then you will use most of the time. It is likely that you don’t need more then two, and these small two seat planes are quite a value.

  5. Samson Jones says

    I’m surprised that so few people address the often idiotic rules and expenses that the FAA imposes on us. For example, it is because of FAA bureaucracy that an “approved” sparkplug can cost $60 or so while the EXACT sparkplug at an auto store is a couple of bucks.

    Another really goofy FAA rule pertains to sharing expenses. If you rent a plane wet you’re allowed to share all the expenses. But if you own a plane and take someone for a ride you’re limited to fuel/oil, even though the real hourly expense is much higher. This nonsensical FAA rule not only means we can’t fly as often as we like (and stay more current and safe) but also punishes people for airplane ownership.

    The FAA mandate includes a requirement to “promote” aviation. Unfortunately, the FAA bureaucrats seem obsessed with imposing expenses, bureaucracy, and generally burdensome smothering regulations.

    In the long run, the best way to cut the expense of flying (and enhance safety as well) would be to put a collar and strong leash on the FAA.

  6. says

    My experience as both a flight instructor, past pilot center owner and aircraft owner for the last 40 years is that you have to fly an aircraft at least 40 hours a month to beat the local costs for a rental aircraft. For lower costs per hour look for the local club or FBO around you. If you want to own you will pay a lot more per hour flying just a few hours a month unless you find yourself at least 6 or more partners to share the costs.

    • Jesse Garman says


      So 40hr/month at $120/hr (my local FBO price for C172) equals $4800 per month ($57600/yr) to fly??!!! I don’t think so. Tiedown+annual =$2000/yr where I live. Mogas 8x$4=$32. I don’t understand your math. Maybe you meant 40hrs per year

  7. Tim Parr says

    If you fly alone regularly (like many of us do), share your ride with someone else. Let them fly a portion of the trip and split gas costs. You meet new people and help promote flying while saving money.

  8. Barry says

    I save for seven years to buy, seven years to build and now, sixty dollars an hour for fuel to fly. That’s the problem!

  9. says

    If you want to make a real impact on cost we need to bring mogas (ethanol free auto gas) to more airports. Many airplanes, including my RV-6, actually prefer this type of fuel to the higher coster and higher pollutant 100LL.

  10. Greg W says

    Roy Fassel,and Craig Baron, Your sentiments are right on. The big problem I see is that people do not consider the type of flying they truly want or will do. Far too many buy too much airplane, do you need six or even four seats? do you need to be IFR equipt, or even have that mode “C” transponder? Buy the plane that will get you off the ground affordably and rent the bigger machine for the once a year trip.

  11. says

    This is a topic near and dear to me and there are a lot of great tips. As a flight instructor the 85% drop out rate in training is a frustrating proposition for the industry. The biggest tips I can offer to students to is fly often (minimum 2x a week) and don’t nickel and dime when it comes to finding an instructor. The right instructor (young or more senior) is of course a great teacher while having your best interest in mind. For example, if you are not scheduling frequently enough a good instructor should remind you of the negative progress from not training.

    ~Tom “TC” Freeman, CFI and author of “How to Save Money on Flight Training” (Amazon).

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