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Everything You Need to Know About Owning a Plane

Everything You Need to Know About Owning a Plane

Is it your dream to own your own plane? It may not be as out of reach as you might think. Owning a small General Aviation (GA) airplane is actually quite attainable for many people. An entry-level aircraft costs about $30,000; less than most luxury cars. Of course, there are other expenses to consider as well, but if you really want to own your own plane, it may just be possible. Read on to learn all the ins and outs of plan ownership.

The Cost of Owning a Plane

The overall cost of purchasing a plane is based on a few factors. Do you buy used or new? Are you purchasing an entry-level Cessna or a top-of-the-line luxury aircraft? The base price for a used, entry-level plane is about $30,000. If you want to buy new, you are looking at closer to $275,000 and up depending on the model and size.

  • The cheapest planes to own are ultralight aircraft which seat only on person or a single-engine recreational plane. You can pick one up pretty easily for between $8,000-$15,000.
  • The next cheapest option is single-engine planes. These aircraft have seating for two or more people and are easier to maintain. They cost between $15,000-$100,000.
  • The most expensive personal planes are multi-engine airplanes which go for between $75,000 and $300,000 and even more for large jets and luxury models.

The good news is that most planes appreciate in value, not depreciate, so you are essentially making an investment in a future payoff if you maintain it well and keep it running great. Cessna’s, for example, increase in value at about 5% each year. Then of course for the ultra-rich, there are Airbuses and Boeing private jets which sell for millions and appreciate generously over time.

Along with the initial purchase price comes a slew of other expenses that you need to consider before plunking down a wad of cash for your own personal plane. Things like annual inspections, insurance, the cost of jet fuel, regular maintenance, add-ons, and storage space are some of the things you need to keep on your radar as well.

Inspections

U.S. law requires that all private planes undergo an annual mechanical and electrical inspection which can cost anywhere from $600-$1200 per year. Upon completion of this inspection, you will be furnished with an airworthiness certificate which you must keep in the cockpit of the plane at all times. The inspection must be performed by an A&P-approved licensed aircraft mechanic.

Insurance

Insurance is not one-size-fits-all when it comes to aircraft. Each policy will have different options. For example, you may want to include hull and bodily injury/property damage coverage, which may add to the annual fees. Some of the factors that insurance companies examine when quoting aircraft insurance are operating hours, storage (tie-downs vs. hangar), the make, model and age of the aircraft, the type of coverage you need and the state you live in. Although some people can get away with annual insurance premiums of less than $1,200/year, most will average between $5,000-$10,000 per year for insurance. That is a big chunk of change and not one to be taken lightly when considering the overall cost of owning a plane.

Jet Fuel

Jet fuel costs an average of $40/hr., depending of course upon the cost of fuel at the time, which can fluctuate throughout the year. This is how it breaks down. Based on 100 hours of flight per year, $40/hr. x 100 hours = $4,000/annual cost. Most small planes will gobble up about 8-20 gallons of fuel per hour at $5/gallon. Don’t forget your oil costs too. You will pay about $2/hr. for oil for an annual expense of at least $200.

Landing Fees

Landing fees will vary widely per airport, depending on where your travels take you. But you can expect to pay at least $50/year even up to $150/year.

Maintenance Costs

Every single aircraft in the U.S. need to be completely overhauled after about 2,000 hours of flight. They call this Time Between Overhaul (TBO), and since most pilots fly between 100-300 hours per year, they can go years before having to overhaul the entire plane completely. A complete overhaul of the plane, including engines, can cost around $20,000 and up.

However, during the time between overhauls, aircraft owners must keep strict maintenance records and have the entire plane certified each year for airworthiness. Maintenance costs on average can run you between $1,500-$5000 a year.

A thorough annual inspection of your aircraft is required by the Code of Federal Regulations CFR 14, 91.409. If a list of repairs is needed, your plane could be grounded until the maintenance is performed. Always keep a slush fund on hand to handle unexpected repairs like a radio replacement, propeller, avionics or an engine tune-up. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) suggests keeping an escrow fund for when you need to overhaul the plane. Put a little away each year then when you need to write the big check, it won’t be so bad.

Storage Space

When purchasing your wings, you need to decide whether you will keep them stored in a hangar or using a tie-down. Generally, you will pay less to store your plane outside rather than inside. Tie-down storage may run you about $50-$100/month whereas hangar storage (if available) will be closer to $275-$1000/month. Some airports charge extra for tie-down gear as well. You just need to factor it all in.

Cost Per Hour

Depending on the age of the plane and how many hours you fly, your average cost per hour could be $200-$300/hr., which might seem outrageous. However, if you fly more hours (100/year), suddenly that rate can drop to about $20-$30/hour with the only variables being maintenance, landing fees, and fuel costs.

Taxes

One final item we would be remiss without mentioning is the tax impact of owning a plane. The IRS has very specific rules about what may and may not be factored in when it comes to filing taxes and owning a private plane. For complete details on how this works visit the AOPA website: https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/buying-an-aircraft/the-pilots-guide-to-taxes

Paperwork Involved

Aircraft Registration

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all U.S. owned aircraft be registered with them. This is similar to registering your vehicle when you purchase a new or used car.

Aircraft Registration

The FAA has the form on their website, and you must use the Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1 and pay a fee of $5 when registering. If the plane is co-owned, each buyer must sign the form. You can register your plane as an individual or as a company. There is detailed information about each type of entity registering here: https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/register_aircraft/

According to the FAA aircraft registration page, the only aircraft that is not registered in another county is eligible. Also, the aircraft must be owned by:

  • An individual who is a United States citizen,
  • A partnership each of whose partners is an individual who is a U.S. citizen,
  • A corporation or association:
  • organized under the laws of the U.S. or a State, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory or possession,
  • of which the president and at least two-thirds of the board of directors and other managing officers are U.S citizens, and
  • in which at least 75% of the voting interest is owned or controlled by persons that are U.S. citizens,
  • An individual citizen of a foreign country lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S.,
  • A U.S. governmental unit or subdivision
  • A non-U.S. citizen corporation organized and doing business under the laws of the U.S. or one of the States as long as the aircraft is based and primarily used in the U.S. (60% of all flight hours must be from flights starting and ending within the U.S.)

When registering your plane, you must provide proof of ownership via a bill of sale or other paperwork.

Other Paperwork

The United States uses the acronym ARROW to describe the paperwork which must be kept with a personally owned plane at all times.

  • Airworthiness Certificate FAR 91.203 - is the airworthiness certificate which is provided after the aircraft is inspected by an FAA-approved vendor. This document ensures the safety and condition of the plane before it even leaves the ground.
  • Registration Certificate FAR 91.203 - this is the registration form that you filed with the FAA (like a driver’s license).
  • Radio Station License (international flights only).
  • Operating Handbook FAR 91.9 - user’s manual for the aircraft’s make and model.
  • Weight and Balance Handbook FAR 23.1589 - a booklet of calculations for the weight of the craft in terms of lift and drag for flight.

Flight Records

The FAA demands that all pilots and plane owners keep flight training records on hand for at least two years after completion. Additionally, all maintenance records must be documented and kept for the life of the plane. If the plane has failed any annual inspection and required repairs, those records also need to be kept and noted in the flight logbook. So along with your ARROW documents, also keep every piece of paper associated with repairs, upgrades, maintenance and FAA-issued documents with the aircraft at all times.

Flight Planning

Flight Planning

One of the most critical responsibilities of a pilot before leaving the ground is to thoroughly prepare for the flight. Pre-flight preparation includes a complete mechanical and electrical inspection of the plane to make sure everything is in working order. Additionally, the pilot analyzes the flight route and details. They evaluate the weather conditions and determine how much fuel will be needed for the trip and plan for any refueling stops.

Filing a Flight Plan

Pilots also work with airport dispatch crews to file their flight plan, monitor airway congestion, and make changes to the flight plan and schedule if any discrepancies or unforeseen changes crop up that need to be considered before or after taking off.

Monitoring the Weather

The weather is an ever-changing paradox, and even though pilots focus on pre-flight planning, they continue to monitor aviation weather forecasts during the flight to make immediate changes if necessary, to keep the flight crew safe. Additionally, they are in constant contact with Air Traffic Control and other aircraft in the area to help them navigate tricky situations and advise about quickly changing weather conditions. One of the most significant issues for private planes is thunderstorms, which can be dangerous and challenging to new pilots. The safety of the aircraft and passengers is ultimately in the hands of the pilot and the more seasoned the pilot, the better the chances of a successful trip.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is an international organization spread across 75 counties, with hundreds of thousands of members. The AOPA is the largest aviation community in the world, and their mission as stated on their website is: “to protect and to grow the incredible privilege that we call general aviation. Whether it is through educating the public about the fun and the utility that aircraft can provide, preparing resources and training material to enhance the skills of pilots everywhere, or advocating for aviation within government agencies - it is our job to maintain the strength and vitality of the flying community. Our mission is to ensure that the sky remains within reach of everyone who dreams of becoming a pilot.” If you buy your own plane, you may want to consider membership. For a small annual fee, the AOPA offers a treasure trove of valuable information and tips for plane ownership and travel.

Steps to Get Your Pilot’s License

Getting a pilot’s license is not as easy as a obtaining a driver’s license, but it is attainable for most people. The eligibility requirements are outlined in FAR 61.103, and they state that you must be at least 17 years old, able to speak, read and understand English, complete all the flight training exercises successfully and pass the exam which consists of a verbal exam combined with a flight test. The steps involved to obtain your pilot’s license so you can fly your new plane, are as follows:

  • Step 1 Acquire a student pilot certificate and medical certification. When you visit the aviation medical examiner’s office, you can request your student pilot certificate then. Or if you prefer, you can get one from the FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) or the FAA directly. First though, must pass the medical exam to qualify.
  • Step 2 Find an instructor to train you. Check your local airport and ask for the Fixed-Base Operation (FBO) or airport school. Ask around for a recommendation if you don’t know the reputation of any instructors.
  • Step 3 Take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam. Some instructors require you to pass the written exam before in-flight training begins. Other instructors may want you to rack up flight hours before taking the exam.In most cases, having extra background knowledge will help you when you are in real-life flying situations. It can’t hurt to check this off the list early before you even sit in the cockpit of a plane.
  • Step 4 Take flying lessons. Students must fly at least 10 hours before they can try a solo flight. However, it usually takes much more time to become proficient in all the techniques for handling different weather and other flight conditions. Some of the things you will need to master are radio communications, emergency procedures, navigation techniques, and tricky maneuvering of the aircraft if something goes wrong.
  • Step 5 Take the FAA Practical Exam. Once you have logged 40 hours of flight time (at least 20 with an instructor and ten solo), you are ready to take the live flight exam. You must also complete three hours of cross-country training, three hours of night flying, and one-hour cross-country, which is over 100 nautical miles. Other requirements before taking the test are ten takeoffs, ten landings, three hours of basic instrument training, and a trip consisting of three landings at different airports.
  • Step 6 The test is given by an FAA certification examiner and may last anywhere from two to six hours. The first portion is an oral exam which takes place on the ground and only lasts about 30 minutes. Once that is completed, and you have passed, the flight exam will begin.
  • Step 7 Get your license. If you have completed all the requirements and passed both exams, you can now get your pilot’s license. You will be given a temporary license until your permanent one arrives in the mail. The FAA examiner can help you fill out the application paperwork, and you must pay a fee (which varies from state to state), but that’s it. You are now a licensed pilot and can take off for the skies!

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) makes it easy to find someone's pilot's license. They call it an Airmen Certification. They have a special area on the FAA website where anyone can perform a pilot license search. The only required field is the person's last name. After that, there are optional fields for certificate number, first name, date of birth, city, state, or county. Once the searcher has entered the criteria, they need only to hit the "Search" button and review a list of results. The list will include clickable links for additional information on each pilot. The details will show if the person is a student pilot or certified.

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Now Takeoff!

Pilots who love to fly say there’s nothing like owning your own airplane. So, if that’s your dream rest easy, it is within reach!

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