Should A Private Pilot Own A Plane? (The Answer: It Depends)

By Jason Zilberbrand

December 28, 2020 Appraisals

For private pilots, owning a plane is often viewed as something of a status symbol. It allows for quick, easy access to traveling like no other means of transportation; but, does it have to come with a high price?

Is owning your own plane worth the cost? As with many things in life, that depends. Today we're here to help you answer that very question with a helpful collection of points that should guide your decision.

Do You Want a Plane?

There is a big difference between wanting a pilot license and seeking out plane ownership. So the first thing to ask yourself is whether you want a plane. Not all pilots do, and there's nothing wrong with deciding that's the camp you're in.

If you're flying sub-100 hours per year, it may not make sense to purchase a plane for yourself. After all, it can be logistically complex to insure, maintain, and store a plane. Only you can decide if that effort is worth it.

We'll get into the economics of plane ownership shortly, but wealthier private pilots may not care about many of these points. If you have the resources to keep a plane airworthy and maintained properly without much thought, owning an aircraft can be easier to manage.

Only you can answer whether you want a plane or not. If you're not sure, compare the drawbacks and benefits to those of renting. If renting a plane has more appeal, you may want to wait. Sometimes this is due to financing constraints or lack of availability, and other times I see pilots jump into ownership too quickly without really knowing what it is they want, much less need from an aircraft. Like all hobbies, what you think you want is different from what you will need once you get hours under your belt.

What Are the Economics of Plane Ownership?

Owning a plane is expensive; growing more expensive per flight hour, the less you fly. This is due to fixed costs; this term refers to how some costs, such as hangar rental and insurance, stay the same (fixed) regardless of how many hours you fly in a given year.

From there, it's a question of simple math. If hangar rental costs you 250 dollars a month, there is a big difference between flying 10 hours or 30 hours in that time period.

At 10 hours, that hangar rental costs you 25.00 dollars per flight hour. Meanwhile, at 30 hours of flying in a month, it only costs you 8.33 dollars per flight hour.

It is almost always cheaper per flight hour the more you fly, but it should also be noted that maintenance and other refurbishment needs will increase with utilization. Fuel, oil, and maintenance costs will all increase the more you fly. You will also hit scheduled maintenance events more often, and if you are often flying, you will put more wear and tear on the paint and interior. So budgets need to be amended carefully to be accurate.

Owning a plane can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more each year. For some pilots, this is a number that's easy to justify. For most, though, it is a number they will need to balance over their desire to fly and how much they end up doing so each year.

How Does Owning a Plane Help, Private Pilots?

We've touched on how owning a plane can sometimes save money, but how might owning a plane help you in other ways?

Owning a plane also means you won't need to rent anymore. By extension, this means you'll have more control over what you can and cannot do with your aircraft. So long as you follow the applicable laws, you can modify your plane more or less as you desire. Avionics, airframe modifications, and engine and prop upgrades will make your aircraft more enjoyable and achieve that specific mission profile that renting unfortunately makes nearly impossible.

Consider An Appraisal

One factor that can help you determine whether purchasing an aircraft is worth it to you is through the use of an appraisal service, such as those offered by us at VREF.

Understanding the value of an aircraft is more difficult than it appears. It can be much harder to analyze what data is available to figure out the value of a given plane. Be careful accepting an appraisal or valuation by anyone who has a VESTED interest in the aircraft. This is also called a bias. It would be best if you only wanted to know the aircraft's value from an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA) like those hired by VREF. In fact, did you know there is no such thing as a certified appraisal? Anyone offering you one is not an appraiser!

This is where services like ours come in. With experts in aircraft appraisal, our team can determine what a plane is worth and what it is projected residual value will be in the future.

This information can be invaluable before you purchase a plane and determine an exit strategy and upgrade plan before you buy. Some plane owners may even use projected pricing to form a plan for refurbishing their aircraft for upcoming resale purposes.

We'd Love to Hear From You.

We at VREF pride ourselves on our aviation expertise. From airplane appraisal to evaluation reports to even expert witness services, our company is ready to serve those in need of the professional knowledge only experts in the field can provide.

If you're interested in inquiring about our service, contact us or Jason Zilberbrand, ASA! We'll answer any questions you have and help you figure out exactly what sort of service you're looking for. Whether you're a private pilot or a commercial business, we can make sure you're well-served.

We also offer AOPA members discounts, helping you save more on what are already competitive prices! We've helped thousands of clients this year and would like to add you to our list of satisfied customers. We think you'll love what we have on offer.