The Frugal Pilot: Multitask flying

The retail price of avgas continues to climb with fewer refineries supplying it. Aircraft parts, never cheap, increase in cost each year. Smaller airports close and larger airports raise hangar rents. Fewer private pilots are flying today than 10years ago, reducing economy of scale. Flying is getting too dang expensive.

However, flying remains an unrivaled pastime. It literally offers a third dimension over two-dimensional recreation, such as boating, motorcycling, and RVing.

Flying also offers opportunities for multi-purposing: Combine a business trip and vacation, practice slow dutch rolls on a long flight, use a pleasure trip to practice for an upcoming flight review.

Flying challenges and rewards. Frugal pilots discover new ways to reduce the costs and increase the joy of flying. One of the ways is by combining flight goals. Here are some suggestions:

Flying for Pleasure

Many pilots fly because it is not related to what they do during the weekday. Pilots I know work in lumber mills, operate a pharmacy, run a back-hoe business, publish newspapers, work in city government, and are retired civil servants. For some, flying is their release from the stresses of their day job. For others, flying is a controlled adrenalin boost.

Most private pilots fly primarily for fun. We seek the best $100 hamburger, attend fly-ins, fly to vacations, and inspect clouds. But we sometimes get into a rut, flying to the same airport grease-shack each Saturday or flying the same loop to the same airports once a fortnight.

Frugal pilots discover new ways to fly for pleasure. They offer a ride to anyone who will buy them lunch and maybe chip in for fuel. They take their boss up for a flight to improve work relationships. They take friends to a fly-in for the cost of fuel. They repay social debts by offering airplane rides. Frugal pilots find ways of covering flying expenses and increasing the fun.

Adding Business to Flying

Many pleasure pilots find business reasons to help pay for their flying. They buy and sell aviation parts or related products on Barnstormers or eBay or at fly-ins.

They use their private aircraft to attend professional conferences. They fly people or packages that their employers needs urgently delivered.

The IRS allows fuel and other aviation costs as legitimate expenses for people who have established a for-profit business, no matter how small. Of course, pilots flying for business must obey FAA requirements regarding a commercial pilot license.

Flying for Training

To remain proficient, pilots need on-going training and experience. Frugal pilots don’t have to stop what they’re doing to perform training. They can multitask and improve flight proficiency while flying for other reasons.

If flying for pleasure with an experienced pilot, they can practice unusual attitude recovery. Flying with a more experienced pilot offers an opportunity to learn advanced techniques from another aviator. Flying for whatever reason offers opportunities to practice takeoffs and landings you typically don’t do, such as simulated short field and soft field. You also can take a few minutes at your destination airport to practice a few landings.

Flying for business or pleasure also offers you time to review and practice safety procedures. Pull out your Emergency Checklist and review what to do if there is an engine fire on the ground or in flight, a cockpit fire, an engine loss on takeoff, engine loss during flight, a rough-running engine, high oil temperature, or other potential in-flight problems. Go through the motions, checking instruments and identifying the steps needed to resolve the emergency. There may be a day soon that you will be tested. Meantime, you will be building confidence in yourself and your aircraft.

Another procedure to practice from time to time is the emergency descent. As you are nearing a familiar airport, perform a forward slip of your aircraft to descend at 1,000 fpm or more. Caution: Don’t try this with passengers without letting them know first and making sure that they will be comfortable. Call the practice off immediately if any passenger is uncomfortable.

There are many ways that a frugal pilot can expand aviation horizons while reducing flying costs. Frugal pilots know that multitasking their flying is a practical way to get more fun for less money. That’s what frugal flying is all about!


  1. Ben says

    GA is simply too expensive for most but the super rich to enjoy a lot. Consider maintenance costs. New engines for high performance planes cost 60k. Avionics easy 50k. Avgas $6 plus a gallon. Plus the FAA keeps making it more restrictive it’s going the way of Europe.

  2. SR says

    To continue, I manage a small airport. Hangar rents and a small fuel margin keep the light on…..not much more. We are privately owned, but open to the public. Even the training/rental aircraft do not make much profit for the owners. As a note on fuel…you have to buy large quantities to get lower costs, but you must sell enough to bd able to buy a lot. Some of the things you point out as waste of money are required, others attract business, and some improve safety. Check the positive comments about small airports on Airnav to get a feel for things that matter. I am not saying all are good money spent, but you need to get a deeper understanding of the behind the scenes effort needed to keep an airport alive…or any aviation business. If you find a group of folks with deep pockets who want to have a private facility, great, but it is doubtful they will not seek some return on their investment.

  3. SR says

    Kent, you make some fine points. You do need to understand, publicly owned airports are eligible for the type of funding necessary to help maintain a quality facility. Private ones open to the public can get some of those funds, but must meet the reliever airport status (not necessarily to relieve air carriers)…check out the requirements. Another thing, in this high cost, lower flight hour world, private airports have a very tough time making ends meet…particularly if they want to cater to the public (open to the public, not restricted). You cannot expect to make a large profit on fu ed l if you expect to sell any…margins are small at small airports, ev ed n public ones.

  4. Robert Stansfield says

    While I understand the economics of scale, the cost of flying and or owing an aircraft is becoming too high for the average person to afford. Renting a C-172 in North LAS Vegas costs $185 / Hr. Do you think a guy who scrimps and saves to fly 25 or 50 hours a year is going to pay that rate? At Centennial in Colorado renting a technically advanced aircraft like a Cirrus is in the two hundreds. Even a low cost flight club with older Cessna aircraft is $100 plus an hour. Newer aircraft cost as much as a home. A new C-172 for $300K+ ? Even if one is fortunate enough to own an aircraft, now the cost of maintaining and feeding it per the regulations is a concern. I love flying and will continue to do so as long as I can. However the can see the writing on the wall and fairly soon I will have to give up my wings. Maybe I should buy a canoe.

  5. Kent Misegades says

    Another major factor, in my opinion, is the fact that nearly the entire aviation infrastructure is government-owned. Counties and cities own most airports. Airport managers are government workers whose primary interest is protecting the jobs of government workers, not making a profit and growing the business. They work hand-in-hand with crony capitalists who suck money out of the federal AIP program for things that do not make flying cheaper or more fun, for instance high fences with barbed wire, oppressive airport security policies, restrictions on use of hangars to build aircraft, Taj Mahal terminals that few people use, claptrap solar farms that require massive taxpayer subsidies to exist, restrictions on club use of facilities, aerobatic boxes, young eagle rallies, etc. Want to find a GA-friendly airport? Seek out a private one looking to profit from its facilities and services.

  6. Mooney says

    Add medical certification for private pilots. Cost include the hassel factor, the unbelievable inability of the FAA to perform timely, FAA policies based on the assumption that all people with medical issues are suspect. No wonder people are giving up. Do I sound frustrated, you bet, the FAA wants me to sit around for 6 months and wait while my board certified cardiologist who is totally up to speed on my medical history says I am good to go. For you self doubters, join the highway with me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *