Top 3 Most Common Piston Aircraft Engine Expenses

By Jason Zilberbrand

October 27, 2021 Educational

Piston aircraft engine expenses are increasing, and heavy demand for private aircraft leaves sellers in an ideal spot. But buyers are facing some challenges. Like private aircraft, the prices of homes and cars are similarly skyrocketing.

If you’re looking to purchase a Piston aircraft, your question might be...what gives?

The answer is complicated. Whether you’re looking at the current market and or glancing towards the future of aviation, there are a few reasons why piston aircraft engine expenses can be costly.

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Why Are Piston Aircraft Engine Expenses So Costly?

The truth is, the aircraft engine hasn’t changed much over time. Similar to automobiles, aircraft engines are expensive because maintenance costs are high. However, maintenance costs are much higher than they used to be.

Sure. As with any costs involving repair and maintenance, you’re mostly paying for the cost of labor. Maybe the service includes new parts, but labor costs are the culprit of a high-priced repair and maintenance bill.

Then, there are updating costs that inflate the pricing on aircraft engines. Manufacturers in the U.S. pay the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) for all licensing and a single type certificate (STC) to modify an engine already built. The FAA must approve each new type of modification and issue a permit, like creating a patent. This means no one else can use that same modification throughout the industry unless they buy the STC from its creator. This adds to piston aircraft engine expenses even more.

A piston aircraft is a luxury. Except for flight schools and manufacturing companies, those who own one (or a few) do so because they want one. You can expect to pay luxury prices for basic needs like maintenance and repairs.

Current Market Impact & The Aviation Industry

Let’s talk about the current market that’s affecting aviation. Where you are in the buying versus selling process matters, and every action results in an equal and opposite reaction. This means uncontrollable events trickle down to the most basic aspects of our lives. Many times, we don’t even realize a change has occurred until we’re facing a shortage. This leads us to a conversation about supply chain disruption.

Consumers are noticing a halt in production across the aviation industry. Notably, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are feeling the heat of supply chain disruption. Without the engines available to piece together aircraft, the demand continues to rise while supply remains stagnant. But this does mean there’s a silver lining for those looking to exit aviation for good. Now is the time to list and let go. Why? Because you could make as much as 20-25% on top of your aircraft value. If you're an individual that can afford to compete in the market, now is the time.

The True Cost Of Maintaining A Piston Engine

The cost of maintaining a piston engine lies within routine care and ensuring maintenance is consistent. Additionally, the cost will vary depending on your manufacturer as different manufacturers deal with different problems.

One of the biggest problems aircraft owners are having is getting parts, which leads us back to the topic of supply and demand. Without the available parts or limited parts, the cost continues to rise. As an example, Continental is experiencing challenges with providing cylinders to aircraft in need. Supply is limited. Therefore, maintenance is facing a halt.

Getting that level of innovation in all aircraft is a slow process. Many manufacturers are testing and working on more technology-based engines. These engines will eventually require less operational maintenance, but they’re not quite ready yet. This means costly regular operating maintenance for traditional piston engines.

1. Most Expensive Engine Cost

The most expensive engines are those of older aircraft. Some vintage aircraft are still airworthy and historical. However, older aircraft are expensive to purchase and own. Much like old cars, vintage engines require routine work consistently. Also, parts are often outdated or rare to find, and unlike the modern engines, the TBO's are much lower, in some cases only 400 hours.

Another element older aircraft face is frequent replacements. This is because you must restore certain parts after a defined number of hours. Hour requirements are typically far less than what you can expect from a newer plane.

2. 100-Hour Inspections

The FAA needs to evaluate and approve aircraft at every 100-hour interval of flight time. The cost of a 100-hour inspection will depend on the type of engine that requires approval, and inspections for commercial aircraft under 12,500 pounds are not optional. An FAA and Airframe and/or Powerplant (A&P) mechanic or manufacturer must perform these inspections.

The good news is that small piston aircraft have a lower 100-hour inspection cost. You’re looking at an average of $2,200 per inspection. However, large aircraft inspections can be in the ballpark of $19,100 per 100-hour inspection.

3. 1,500-Hour Engine Replacements

Like 100-hour inspections, there is the time between overhaul (TBO) requirements for engine overhauls. Again, both the engine's size and the aircraft's age affect the cost of an engine overhaul. Piston engines require an overhaul after every 1,200 to 2,400 hours of flight time or every 12 years, whichever comes first. The average price of a single-engine overhaul ranges between $14,000 to over 100,000, depending on the engine type again.

Add Value To An Aircraft By Joining A Power By The Hour Program

Enroll in a power by the hour program to ensure your aircraft receives the best quality maintenance and repairs as needed by trusted professionals – especially if you’re still learning about aircraft maintenance.

Many piston aircraft owners are first-time buyers. This makes following the necessary guidelines for maintenance and care essential. It’s easy to neglect an aircraft and let it fall behind on maintenance. Some new owners are often "sticker shocked" by ongoing expenses and wind up deferring critical maintenance. Joining an aircraft management program is easy and cost-effective. Power by the hour programs educate, control, and instill discipline in aircraft owners. Overall, it adds value to your aircraft, in some cases a tremendous amount.

Main Advantages Of A Power By The Hour Program

Benefits of enrolling in an hourly maintenance program for your engine includes:

  • Lifetime warranty on your aircraft

  • Low-cost prepaid maintenance, including unscheduled maintenance

  • Avoid paying for things like shipping, parts, labor, troubleshooting, and installation

It’s critical to note that the power by the hour program is not insurance. It will transfer throughout the life of your aircraft, but only as long as you stay in a contract with a program. The same is true if you decide to sell the aircraft. This means you can up your selling cost when you’re ready to move on. Hourly maintenance programs have experienced mechanics on hand. Therefore, you’ll avoid replacing and repairing misdiagnosed parts (troubleshooting). I like to think of a power by the hour program as having a maintenance director on your [ayroll, as the guidance and troubleshooting alone are worth the enrollment price.

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