Renting vs. owning

For many private pilots, renting makes more sense than buying an airplane. The ongoing costs of compliance, maintenance, and storage — added to the rising costs of fuel — can bring the hourly cost of flying your own aircraft within the range of renting one.

In some cases, it works; in others, not.

The availability of well-maintained rental aircraft in your area may be extensive, limited, or even non-existent. You may discover your near-perfect wings at a nearby airport and buy a discounted block of rental time to save money. Or you may have to drive an hour each way just to fly for an hour. Or local FBOs may not rent the type of aircraft you want to fly.

Or you may just decide that renting someone else’s wings doesn’t make flying as much fun for you. Maybe you’ll decide to pay a premium to fly your own aircraft over one that is rented to every Orville and Wilbur with a license to fly.

One of the problems faced by aircraft renters is that they typically have to get a checkride with the FBO before scheduling their first rental. Depending on the renter, the pilot may need a checkride in each plane that he wants to rent, especially if he has under 300 hours logged. It makes sense, as the renter is given keys to a large investment for a relatively small fee. serve as a middle-man between renters and rentees, prequalifying the rental aircraft and potential renters. A renter can earn a Universal Pilot Checkout to make credential verification easier and either reduce or eliminate the need for a checkride before rental at airports throughout the country.

On the other side of the transaction, owners of rental aircraft can list their inventory as available and include costs and requirements. Rental aircraft can be owned by individuals, partnerships, FBOs, flight schools, or flying clubs. The service brings the renter and rentee together, as well as manages the liability insurance. Their fee is paid by the renter.

Decisions, Decisions

Renting vs. owning is a frugal pilot decision that only you can make as your situation is relatively unique. You may only want to fly high-performance aircraft on long trips, or ultralights above the tree-tops, or a classic light-sport aircraft to regional fly-ins, or an experimental aircraft that you built.

In all cases, you can apply the principles of Frugal Flying to your decisions. As outlined in the past columns of The Frugal Pilot, they include: Remember why you fly, keep it simple, manage your needs and wants, learn from your experiences, learn from smarter pilots, shop smarter, barter and trade, and multitask your flying.

The most important takeaway is that a frugal pilot is not a cheap pilot. Nor is a frugal pilot unsafe. A frugal pilot is one who makes common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar. Fly more and spend less as a frugal pilot.

Advanced Frugal Flying

Frugal pilots have additional options for funding their fun. It makes good sense for many pilots who fly less than a 100 hours a year to consider what are broadly known as partnerships or flying clubs. The fixed costs of aircraft, maintenance, and storage are reduced. Only the cost of fuel burned remains the same.

Let’s get more specific:

Co-ownership typically includes two or three pilots who all have their names on an aircraft registration. Obviously, co-owners are selected for their personal and aviation compatibility, an option not typically available to FBO aircraft renters. Co-ownerships make sense for pilots of less-expensive simpler aircraft.

Partnerships can be of any number, but practically have three to five members. The legal structure is a little more complex than a co-ownership, as it should be with more folks involved. The insurance policy is more expensive than for a single pilot, but not prohibitive. For a majority of pilots who want to fly a more expensive aircraft, a partnership makes good sense.

Flying Clubs can be of any size, but usually involve two or more aircraft and six or more members. As you can imagine, aviation liability insurance at this level becomes much more complex and expensive. With opportunities come intricacies and smart flying clubs have worked out all the bugs over the years so that members can focus on what they love the most: Frugal flying.

Are one of these options right for you? Maybe. In the next column of The Frugal Pilot, I’ll start a series of articles on how you can partner with other pilots to dramatically reduce the costs of flying with co-ownerships, partnerships, and flying clubs.

See you in the pattern!


  1. Tom Chivari says

    Over the years there has been much discussion about reducing the cost of recreational flying. Then came “Sport Aviation” and whatever iteration of that.
    What was proposed where aircraft available for $150K plus, with glass cockpits with SVS and all the gadgets. I contend that someone should make a business out of taking 150’s, 152’s, 172’s and similar abundant airframes and re-manufacture to the desired extent of an owner. Have available drop in metal instrument panels to replace the terrible plastic ones and make available G430’s and/or other abundant plug in gauges and radios new or used, replacement door panels, etc. Or just forget anything beyond a basic Nav/Con and let the pilot bring along their Ipad, whih they probably will anyway. And if regulations could be tweaked for aircraft for “recreational” or whatever defined limitations, you could have an abundance of very serviceable, economical aircraft for sale or rent.
    Many pilots would love to have a Cirrus or Mooney or Bonanza available. But if not, would love to just be able to afford and have available to fly the aforementioned type aircraft regularly and maybe stretch it into a modest 300-400 mile journey.
    There are less and less aircraft out there to rent. Maybe one should ask; Is GA better or worse off and can things improve as they are going?

  2. M20CPilot says

    When I first considered buying a plane, I was told that it didn’t make sense unless I was flying 100 hours per year; I was averaging less than 20. Ten years ago my wife and I bought a Mooney M20C (regardless what the pundits said) and last week we just went over the 1000 hour mark in it. My hourly cost is probably in the same neighborhood as it would be if I could rent a plane with the same performance, but since I’m flying over five times as much, of course the expense has gone way up. It’s worth every penny! We bought a 2nd house in Bend, OR last year (we live near San Fransisco), which is something we couldn’t even consider if we didn’t have our own plane. Once you have your own magic carpet it’s hard to imagine going back to the rental fleet!

  3. Brian says

    Good article, but it would have been more helpful comparing numbers, cost, expense between owning an renting a specific make and model of plane. Just a little too generic to be helpful.

  4. Ray says

    Yeah, glass cockpits are a fancy excuse for driving up costs. Aviators don’t need them and they make pilots lazy. Personaly I LOVE interpreting anolog instuments, spotting trends and using charts. If you want to know where the weather is look out the damned window!

  5. Lee Ensminger says

    Dan, I have to agree with Tom. If you want to fly recreationally just to practice, or go to a nearby airport for that ever-more-expensive hamburger, renting is fine. You pay your rental and walk away. But to use an airplane as a way to get to a destination, to travel, to vacation, you have to own. We started out with a beautiful C-172 for 7 years, and went to a C-182Q so all four partners could go places together with some luggage. Nothing beats knowing exactly where you stand on maintenance, condition, etc.

  6. Tom says

    Good article Dan. It’s interesting that you choose to own your own 150 rather than rent and that’s exactly what I do. To me there is no comparison. When I used to rent it just wasn’t convenient at all and I was always trying to figure out a way to do a distant cross country but had to get the aircraft back within a short period of time that seemed to me to negate the usefullness of rented aircraft. Who just wants to rent an aircraft to bore a few holes in the sky every once in awhile? I want to go places and stay for a week or so and that doesn’t seem to work with renting. Even at less than 100 hours a year there is no substitute for having my own airplane at my disposal 24/7 and the 150 is a real jewel of an airplane and always has been. Who needs “glass cockpits”. I’ll take a vacuum operated 6 pack over anything out there. (P.S. Mine has a 150 horse engine and a 118 knot true airspeed at 10,500).

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