Scale Down to Step Up

April 2023

Do you reach for your wallet every time your airplane mechanic calls?  Do you live in dread of the costs associated with an Airworthiness Directive notice?  Do you fly a few hundred more hours before an engine overhaul because you’re not sure how to pay for it? 


Of course, you want to be a safe airplane owner.  You need to be a safe owner.  But sometimes it’s just so darned expensive. I don’t mean to scare anyone away from airplane ownership, just help you find a way to enjoy it a whole lot more.


Unfortunately, a lot of people will buy the most airplane they can afford. Who can blame them? It’s easy to get caught up in the glamour and performance of a classic aircraft when they cost the same (or less) than a 1970s Cessna 172.  Trouble is, paying the purchase price is just getting your foot in the door.  For example, inspections usually cost more on retractable-gear airplanes.  FBOs can charge you more to hangar or tie down a twin, even if it’s smaller than some single-engine airplanes.  The more complex the airplane, the more equipment needs regular maintenance and the occasional bit of overhaul, replacement, or repair. 


Although we all gawk at one-of-a-kind airplanes, uniqueness means it’s harder to find parts and qualified mechanics, and that means it’s more expensive.  Let’s face it, most insurance companies will charge more to insure a more complicated, expensive, or unique airplane because it costs more to fix it if you have a claim.


They’re all fine airplanes; it’s a matter of finding the one that fits your personal budget.  Ask yourself if scaling your expectations down a notch might result in a much happier ownership experience.  Choosing a Cherokee 180 instead of a Piper Arrow, for instance, is not really much of a step down in performance (see how little time you’ll save in the Arrow on a typical trip).  But the added costs of the more complex airplane are hundreds or thousands of dollars each year you could spend on fuel, avionics, maintaining your airplane the way you know you should, or new paint that’ll make your airplane the envy of those who can barely afford the airplane they chose.  Additionally, the money you save could go towards your keeping your flying skills as sharp as possible.


If you’ve considered all of the variables and decided on the more complex aircraft, fine. But don’t live in dread of the next unexpected ownership cost.  Buy the airplane you can afford to fly.  A small step down in performance can often mean a big step up in the enjoyment of your airplane ownership experience.


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