Short answer: Probably not.
For this discussion, I will be comparing the operating costs of a rented Cessna 150 and a Cessna 150 just for personal use.
At the time of writing this, Pilot Rise Flight School rents our C150s for $122 per hour wet (including fuel). You’d be surprised how little of that the flight school keeps.
The variables we used are listed at the bottom of this post.
We plan for our plane to fly at least of 32 hours per month or 385 hours per year. This accounts for bad weather, downtime for engine overhauls, downtime for repainting, downtime for unforeseen repairs, etc. We aim for our C150 to fly 550 – 750 hours per year, and we do see some years like this.
If we fly our C150 only 385 hours in a year, it will cost us about $122/h to operate. Remember, we rent the plane for $122/h. This is the break-even point. Our total expenses for the year would be around $46.8k.
Now let’s discuss a personally owned C150. If you owned your own C150 and only flew it 5h per month (or about 60h per year), you’d be spending a massive $400 / flight hour. Or about $24k / year. This doesn’t really make sense for anyone unless you are bleeding cash.
Let’s say you flew the wheels off your plane! 32 hours per month would put you at about $120 / flight hour. However, you’d spend $46,000 PER YEAR! I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like take-home pay for a normal job. And you still wouldn’t be any better off than just renting a plane somewhere.
Perhaps you aren’t a pilot yet and you want to buy a plane to make your training cheaper. This is certainly POSSIBLE! And it may be the best choice for a select few, but it is RISKY.
First off, if going this route, I STRONGLY recommend you get your private pilot certificate first. This enables you to perform your own preventative maintenance to reduce costs. And you will also have more knowledge to help with buying and maintaining your own plane.
I have a friend who took this route to get their private pilot certificate. They accomplished their goal. In fact, they are almost done with their commercial multi now. However, it cost her a fortune compared to just going to a flight school.
Several maintenance shops took advantage of her lack of knowledge and charged her almost 5x what things should have cost. Also, her plane had several things break during her ownership that created extended periods of downtime. The downtime affected her training and often made her need more hours to be ready for the next checkride. To top it off, her engine finally needed an overhaul, and her plane took about two years to repair. This was for many reasons. Some because of the mechanic, some because of supply shortages, and some because she was short on funds at certain points. She still loves owning her little Cessna 150, but it was a painful journey.
What if you and a few buddies bought a plane? First off, I don’t recommend this unless you plan this out thoroughly. Things can get VERY messy if done incorrectly or with the wrong person.
Let’s say you go into a partnership with four other pilots. And the five of you fly the plane for about 1.5 hours per week. This will come to the same result of $120/h. Still not better off. And the plane’s availability will likely be worse than renting one since it’s only one aircraft.
Okay okay, I get it. You and your buddies fly like crazy! If the five of you flew 250 hours per year, you’d finally see savings. You’re now looking at about $90/h! A massive $32/h savings. However… each of you’d be paying $22k / year.
A partnership makes sense for bigger, faster aircraft – aircraft that aren’t available to rent anywhere. In fact, the Mooney we have access to is meant for this purpose. The owner wanted to rent a fast plane to fly places, so he bought a Mooney and rents it out. Perhaps you want a TBM 950. The TBM 950 cruises at 315 knots, and it only costs $4.3 million new. A plane like this would make sense to own if you could afford it. I can pretty much guarantee no one will rent out such a plane.
OTHER FACTORS TO OWNING
I plan on covering this more in a future discussion, but I’d like to hit some highlights.
Some people say they want to own because they want exclusive availability of their aircraft. This makes complete sense, but keep in mind that it will certainly cost more than renting. You can also offset SOME of the cost by doing owner-assisted inspections and preventative maintenance. Furthermore, downtime for engine overhauls, inspections, and maintenance delays will affect when you can fly your plane.
My dad and I used to own a Mooney together. It was a fantastic plane, and we loved owning it, but my goodness was it expensive. The worst part, there was a period of 11 months where we couldn’t fly it, but we had to keep paying for all the fixed costs. It needed an engine overhaul, and one of the critical parts was on backorder for 9 months!
Also, consider unexpected costs. If you own a plane, don’t plan on just having to pay per hour when you fly. The costs listed here are averaged over the duration of ownership. It’s not uncommon to buy a plane and then need to replace the engine the next year. Buying a plane costs a lot, and so does replacing the engine.
Don’t get tricked out by an “AMAZING DEAL”. If a plane is listed for a truly amazing price, it will be off the market before it is even put on the market. There are so many factors that can make or break an aircraft deal (most of them breaking the deal). A perfectly great aircraft could have corrosion found on the annual a year after purchase, and it could total the entire aircraft. FYI: Don’t base your plane near the ocean, it helps prevent corrosion.
I used the following variables for this analysis.
Oil Change = $161
Fuel Burn = 5.5 gallons / hour
Engine TBO = 1800 hours (how long it is expected to last before replacement)
Engine Overhaul = $30,000
Prop TBO = 1,800 hours
Prob Overhaul = $1,000
Repaint Cost = $17,000
Repaint = Once every 25 years
Mechanic Rate = $95 / hour
Transponder & Pitot Static Inspection = $600 / 24 months
Loan Payment = About $400 / month
These variables were used for our flight school aircraft:
Annual / 100h Inspection = $1,000 (from a deal we have)
Small Fixes & Repairs per 100h = $1500
Hangar Rent = $400 / month
Insurance = $3,500 / year
These variables were used for a personally owned C150:
Annual = $1,500
Small Fixes & Repairs per annual/year = $2500 (adjusted to be more when flown more.)
Hangar Rent = $750 / month (expected for a T-Hangar)
Insurance = $1,500 / year