Buying vs. Renting Your Own Airplane – Is It Worth It?


Buying VS. Renting an Aircraft - Is it Worth It?

Buying Vs. Renting

You may be a student pilot or a casual pilot who just got sucked into the world of Aviation. Now you are wondering how you can fly most efficiently with your friends, family, or solo. It’s no secret that the immediate way to get into flying is by renting an aircraft. This has been the single model that has shaped the general aviation industry. 


Believe it or not, depending on your circumstance and how often you fly, buying an aircraft may be more cost-effective in the long term. 


Buying an airplane can be one of the most cost-effective options to flying. Being able to bypass the costs and surcharges of renting an aircraft can prove to be significantly cheaper.

Fixed Costs vs. Variable Costs

When owning an aircraft, it is usually separated into two parts, Fixed costs and Variable costs

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are the guaranteed costs that a pilot will have to pay in order to maintain or keep their aircraft. This can be a variety of things such as hanger storage, loan payments, Insurance, and annual inspections. Out of the two, fixed costs can end up being a lot cheaper to upkeep on a monthly basis.

Let’s set up a hypothetical model:

With a baseline assuming Aircraft is cost: $40,000 (Including Taxes & Title)

  • Loan
    20 Year Fixed rate – Around $170 / month
  • Tie-Down & Storage
    $1200 / Year - $100 / Month
  • Annual Inspection
    $700 / Year - $58 / Month
  • Insurance
    $600 / Year - $50 / Month

These are super rough estimates however this equates to about $4,540 per year in just fixed costs, per month that’s $378 to own your own aircraft, and a $40,000 aircraft is generally around a decent spec’d aircraft.

Even though these rough estimates don’t include the variable costs of gas, oil, and engine/prop repairs it still bests to be a cost-effective option.

Variable costs

Variable costs are any items that change depending on how often you fly. Generally, these items are Gas, Oil, filter changes, and maintenance reserve funds. The more flying you do generally equate to more wear and tear on your plane which may result in a higher variable cost. However, the less you fly can also increase variable costs as sitting aircraft also run into maintenance issues that can affect the overall reliability.

With a baseline of 100 hours and using the fixed costs from above, we can see the relation it has with variable pricing.

  • $378 monthly cost
  • $3.50 / Hour Average Gas cost x 100 = $350
  • $2.50 / Hour Average Oil Cost x 100 = $250

In total that’s $978 for 100 hours in one month of flying. Keep in mind these are super rough estimates but even with room for variability, this can prove to be an amazing option.

So, what’s the difference between renting an aircraft?

An average 172 Rental costs $140, with a baseline of 100 hours that would cost someone $14,000. With the fixed and variable prices from above you can immediately see that this is nearly a $13,000 dollar difference.

Scheduling on your own time

Owning an aircraft allows you to fly on your own terms, whenever you so choose. There is no competition for blocks of time or surcharges when taking long trips. You are in full control of your schedule and your departure times.

You know your aircraft

When you own your own aircraft, you know the ins and outs. You will never need to worry if a student damaged the landing gear, or stressed the airframe in harmful maneuvers. The aircraft and history are yours, this can give you peace of mind when traveling.

Dont aircraft depreciate?

Here is a big one that I see many people glossing over online. Aircraft do not depreciate like normal vehicular assets. Aircraft are not immune to depreciation, however, the ratios and values are not calculated the same (or at least not linearly). This is why in our article we are ignoring the fact that you will have to drop on average $40-$50,000 on a decent aircraft initially because there is a huge potential to sell for nearly the same purchase price.

Some aircraft appreciate in value and even keep up with inflation. Just like cars, new aircraft lose their value much faster right out of the gate. However, older aircraft that have been taken care of can often appreciate or plateau in value depending on how well you take care of them during ownership.

Is buying an aircraft right for you?

Alright, so above we listed a couple of numbers, facts, and figures one may consider when deciding to purchase an aircraft. But is it right for you?

The Student Pilot

If you are a student pilot crunching the numbers you can already see they make a lot of sense! Considering the Private Pilot license is 50 hours (60 hours on average), an Instrument license is nearly 90 hours (part 61), and on top of that, you need a total hour time of 250 for your commercial license, spending an optimistic $978 for 100 hours can save you thousands upfront. 

In addition, owning your own aircraft will teach you much more than if you rented, as you will need to educate yourself on the maintenance of the aircraft you purchase.

The Casual Pilot

If you are a casual pilot there are a couple of factors you need to consider when purchasing an aircraft. The most important factor is how often you will be flying per month. Usually, aircraft owners stick with the 100-hour rule. If you see yourself flying for at minimum 100 hours per year then it makes sense to own an aircraft. Anything less, you are probably looking at diminishing returns for your investment.

The Business Pilot

Flying for business can be one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world. In effect, you are being paid to fly on your own time; Broadening your reach to where there is no limit to where you can go and create new business opportunities.

As a business owner, you already realize that you can transfer the flying costs to your client or end-user and write it off as a business expense. This is possibly the most attractive reason why your business should own an aircraft.

Hypothetically, let’s say you have a client that is a 3–4 hour drive away. This could end up being an hour flight depending on wind speed conditions and prep. As business owners know, time is money, and the precious time savings that you can create while using an aircraft for business are invaluable.

It is also worth noting that the network and connections you gain from owning an aircraft, meeting others in FBO’s and traveling all over the world has the potential to increase your business.

How many passengers are you flying?

Another great consideration to make is how many passengers will you be flying. Do you have a family of 5, 6, or more? These seating arrangements result in vastly different aircraft models and price ranges.

As minor as it may seem this is important in the long term as it determines the versatility of your aircraft..

Flying during a pandemic

Rlying privately during a pandemic can be one of the major leading factors in your purchase to buy your own aircraft. Rental aircraft are abused and touched by potentially hundreds of people per day.

It is no secret that 2020 was a huge change for our society, so much so, that we need to keep in mind health and safety in our deciding factors. Operating your own aircraft can potentially prove to be safer for your health and security which overrides any of the previous factors stated.

What's the Catch?

Even though we spent a ton of time discussing the positives of aircraft ownership, there are a couple of considerations that come to mind when looking at ownership.

Unexpected Variables

The main downside is the unexpected variables. Planes are vehicles at the end of the day and as we all know; vehicles sometimes have unexpected issues. Whether these are bird strikes or corrosion, minor aircraft issues can have a huge impact on your wallet and you need to be prepared.

Ensure you have enough saved up to cover any surprise expenses that may come along the way as there is always a possibility.


Routine maintenance is required for all registered aircraft so you should definitely expect expenses from this part. Oftentimes, maintenance on aircraft will be the most expensive line item. It is important to do your due diligence to ensure your aircraft is economical to maintain.

Trainer aircraft such as Cessna and Pipers will usually have the cheapest maintenance versus Mooney and more complex aircraft.

Storage / Hanger & Tie-Down Fees

One thing people always ask is, where do I park my aircraft. You’d usually park your aircraft in a hanger or at a tiedown spot at a small airport. A Hanger is similar to a garage in that it keeps your aircraft protected from the outside weather or pests that may tamper. A tiedown is an outside pad usually pavement or grass with ropes capable of tying your aircraft to the ground.

These costs generally vary between $100 – $200 depending on size and location. Even though this may seem cheap in the grand scheme of things, these costs can add up if your plane is sitting idle.

Other Alternatives

Flight Clubs

A flight club is a group of individuals who jointly own, maintain, and operate a small fleet of aircraft. Generally, the model for flight clubs is monthly membership dues/initiation fees in return for significantly cheaper flight hours. There are other commitments you need to make in order to join a fight club as many require a certain amount of volunteer hours each month.

Flight clubs are a fun way to fly and gain your pilot’s license. Not only are you flying regularly, but you are surrounded by a group of pilots who all have shared ownership and passion for the aircraft you fly.

At my local flight school in New Jersey, I can rent an aircraft for $100 / Tach hour, $700 Initiation fee / $65 monthly due.

This is significantly cheaper than the average $140 – $180 cost option from a traditional flight school with the feeling of aircraft ownership.

With flight clubs you will still have to reserve the aircraft before renting it out, however, availability is greatly increased compared to a normal flight school. Flight Clubs rarely impose surcharges on top of multi-day rentals, minimums are usually very low which allow you and your family to fly out for multiple days at a time for a minimal cost.

Aircraft Partnerships

You don’t necessarily have to buy an aircraft for the full price when you have a financial partner who shares a stake! Aircraft partnerships are often a really great way to get into finding the aircraft of your dreams. Often times it may be too expensive to buy an aircraft right out, however, imagine if you could buy 1/3 or 1/4th the cost.

Aircraft partnerships are usually an arrangement between 2-5 individuals over the costs of one aircraft. These smaller arrangements are more limited than a flight club however they offer the most exclusive rights to an aircraft. Generally, these relations are bound by contract meaning you have a legally vested interest in all operating costs and finances of the aircraft. However, it comes with the benefits of open scheduling, reduced costs, and the opportunity to access higher-end aircraft.

In Conclusion

Crunching the math, it shows that Buying an aircraft is one of the most economical ways to fly! Considering you can save thousands over renting an aircraft, for pilots who fly often, it’s a no-brainer.

Depending on how often you fly, you will notice your money will go much longer and last for more nautical miles. Having the freedom to travel when you want, for as long as you want, is truly a privilege granted to a few. If you were ever interested in aircraft ownership, I hope this post puts the costs in perspective and what you may be in for.

Ensure that,

  • You know what kind of pilot you are
  • You understand the concepts of fixed and variable costs
  • Understand how often you fly and the cost difference associated
  • Plane ownership aligns with your purpose.

Definitely, do your due diligence in any aircraft purchases you seek out. However, if done correctly it can be the start of an amazing journey in the sky.

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Check out our blog post on 5 Easy and Cheap Ways to start flight school, in which we also discuss how contracting a personal flight instructor can prove to be significantly cheaper in your own aircraft.

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