There comes a time in every pilot’s life when they have to ask themselves an important question:
“Should I buy my own plane or keep renting?”
If you do find yourself asking this question, then congratulations!
This means that you’ve either reached a level of flying or financial independence (hopefully both) to where you can reasonably contemplate the dilemma.
That’s why we’ve written this article on whether you should rent or buy your own plane. (SOURCE: https://singleenginepilot.com/renting-vs-buying-your-own-plane-which-is-better/)
In this article, we will consider:
- Your mission
- The benefits of buying
- The downsides of buying
- Fixed and variable costs of plane ownership
- When to buy
- The benefits of renting
- Ways to rent
We know this is a lot of ground to cover.
But we also know that anyone reading this article isn’t scared to put in a little extra effort.
Flying is a luxury in and of itself, and this goes double for owning your own plane.
However, we know that flying’s barrier for entry is much lower than most people realize.
That same fact might even hold true for owning your own airplane.
(Re)Assessing Your Mission
Each pilot’s personal situation is different:
- Why they became a pilot
- How often they fly
- What they fly
The list could go on and on.
That’s why knowing your mission is so important.
In this sense, ironically, it’s a pilot’s mission that keeps them grounded rather than being carried away by flights of fancy.
So what’s your mission?
Are you a student-pilot with dreams of running your own charter business?
Maybe you’re a seasoned pilot who feels like renting has become just as limiting as flying commercial.
Regardless of your current situation, there are some important questions to ask yourself before you decide to keep renting or buy your own plane.
Business or pleasure?
Do you fly for work or for fun?
Flying for work doesn’t just mean that you fly for a career.
The reason some pilots got their PPL (private pilot’s license) was due to having to travel for work.
They grew tired of having to deal with commercial airlines and *shudders* flying coach. These pilots decided to take life by the yoke and fly themselves where they needed to go.
On the other hand, many GA pilots just want to fly recreationally.
Flying for a few hours every couple of weekends is enough for them, and that’s perfectly okay.
The main thing to consider here is whether buying or renting best compliments your mission for the long haul, rather than for momentary gratification.
Party of 5?
How many people do you plan on taking up with you?
You may have a growing family and want to include them in your adventures.
If this is the case, and you’re also considering buying your own plane, you’ll need to decide how much plane you’ll need to accommodate them.
Or maybe you’re the type of person who goes fishing because it’s an excuse to be alone and views flying the same way (and we totally get that).
In that case, smaller would be better.
When it comes to your mission, you’ll need to consider your current, as well as your future circumstances in order to decide whether to buy or keep renting.
Stick or automatic?
We once heard of a guy who got a brand new Volkswagen Golf for college.
It was his dream car and he got to pick out the exact one he wanted.
But there was one problem: it had a manual transmission and he had only ever driven automatics.
He eventually figured it out driving from Atlanta to Knoxville for freshman orientation. The point is that he didn’t have the experience to accomplish the task at hand (at least at the time).
The same goes for flying planes.
You don’t want to have to learn on the fly while 4,500 feet in the air.
On the flip side, an experienced pilot will be much more aware of their abilities as well as their limitations.
In the end, the experienced pilot will be a much better judge of whether they should buy their own plane or not.
The Bottom Line
This is obviously a VERY short list of things to consider when deciding whether to buy or rent a plane.
The important thing is to be considering them sooner than later.
Experienced pilots have no doubt been contemplating their mission and how it relates to plane ownership for a while.
Student pilots, on the other hand, should be thinking early on whether they want to own their own plane someday and what that will require.
Missions change and evolve, and you need to be able to adapt to whatever life’s conditions throw at you.
Benefits of Plane Ownership
There are a lot of benefits to owning your own plane.
As you’d imagine, most of these benefits result from the freedom plane ownership affords you.
No Reservations or Limitations
Like renting a car, plane rentals are limited and based on what’s available.
This could mean reserving the aeronautical equivalent of a Gremlin versus a Cadillac, purely based on availability.
What’s more, you aren’t competing with other pilots for the best plane in the hangar.
Owning your own plane gives you the freedom to choose where you go and when.
You won’t be tied down by your flight school, FBO, or flying club’s restrictions if you want to rent a plane for a trip.
Owning your own plane gives you the ability to customize your plane to your heart’s desire.
Want to squeeze a few extra knots out of your engine with mods and STCs?
- Balanced fuel injectors
- An electronic ignition system
- A tuned exhaust system
Who’s gonna stop you?
Nobody, that’s who.
Well, your planes useful load may have something to say about that. However, buying your own plane means you can choose one with the highest useful load weight you can afford.
You can install:
- Refurbished, replacement OEM, or even custom seats
- LED lights
- Yoke and stick grip replacements
Plane ownership means you can build your dream plane.
And best of all: you’ll never have to readjust the seat again after someone else has used it.
This one is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you either have to pay someone to do it or do it yourself.
This might not be the most appealing aspect of plane ownership to some people.
However, there are those who enjoy the mechanical upkeep that comes with owning a plane.
We’ve known a few pilots who, while they enjoy flying, say they enjoy working on their planes even more.
They see plane ownership as a way to get their hands dirty and be more hands-on with their bird.
The Bottom Line
No one can deny the benefits that come with owning your own plane.
Plane ownership allows you to:
- Avoid the hassles of renting
- Customize and upgrade your plane however you see fit
- Become more knowledgeable of your plane’s inner workings by making maintenance your responsibility
Plane ownership is the epitome of both freedom and responsibility.
That’s why every pilot should consider the bad along with the good.
Drawbacks to Plane Ownership
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
– Newton’s Third Law of Motion
Okay, so Newton didn’t have plane ownership in mind when he came up with the third law of motion. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t misappropriate it for our own purposes.
We established a short list of benefits of owning your own plane above.
Now let’s take a look at some of the possible drawbacks.
We mentioned this double-edged sword in the section above.
You may choose to save money by doing the work yourself and invest in your own aircraft care supplies. However, others may prefer to pay someone else to do the work for them. It all depends on how hands-on you want to be.
But there are also pilots who may see both options as a hassle. They don’t want to work on their plane themselves, nor do they want to shell out the money to pay someone else to do it.
All of this is completely understandable.
Money and time spent on routine maintenance is money and time that could have been spent actually flying!
If you’re the type of pilot who thinks this way, then owning your own plane might not be the best option for you.
After all, routine maintenance is required for every 50 to 100 hours of flying, and that’s not even considering unexpected mechanical problems.
Renter’s insurance for pilot’s can cost less than $200 a year.
Compare that to owner’s insurance which can easily cost $1,000 per year, if not more.
That’s a huge difference!
While flying is a luxury, it’s still a luxury that many pilots have to budget for.
You’ll need to make sure you’re able to swing those higher rates if you’re going to buy a plane.
Hangar and Tie-Down Fees
One of the most important things you’ll need to figure out is where to store your plane.
Chances are you don’t own your own air strip. And good on ya’ if you do!
The vast majority of pilots either hangar or tie down their planes at a local airport.
Monthly prices can vary, but it’s safe to say that hangaring your plane will be significantly more expensive renting a tie-down spot.
Opting for a tie-down space will save you a few hundred bucks compared to hangaring your plane.
However, you’ll still have to plan and budget for that spot if you buy your own plane.
This is something pilots who rent don’t have to think about.
The Bottom Line
Again, this is a VERY short list of things to consider before buying your own plane.
Plane owners can save some money by doing the maintenance themselves, hunting for the best insurance quote, and storing their plane at the cheapest airport.
But there’s no denying it: owning your own plane will cost you more money than renting.
Owning Your Own Plane: Fixed and Variable Costs
That last section felt kind of like a downer at the end.
Sorry about that.
It’s true: owning your own plane will cost you more.
However, there are ways to anticipate and budget for those costs.
We mentioned earlier how most people outside of the GA community don’t realize how low the bar for entry actually is.
The same can also be said for plane ownership.
Fixed costs are exactly what they sound like: the costs of plane ownership that are fixed and will not change.
This allows you to make a budget so you’ll know how much to save each month.
Here’s a rough example of what your fixed costs could look like:
- Plane cost: $38,1000
- Title check: $100
- Loan: $1,333 / year, $111 / month
- Tie-down / hangaring: $1,020 / year, $85 / month
- Annual inspection: $600 / year, $50 / month
- Insurance: $550 / year, $46 / month
All told, you’re looking at $3,500 year, or $292 a month to own your own plane in fixed costs.
The bulk of your costs are going to be fixed, but don’t let that scare you. There are ways to save.
For instance, this example is based on buying a used plane, which will save our hypothetical buyer a lot of money in the long run.
Not too shabby, eh?
Variable costs are those that are based on how much you fly.
Just record how much you flew in your notebook, tablet, or smartphone and do some simple math.
Here’s a rough example of what your variable costs could look like:
- Gas: $3 – $3.5 / hour X 8.5 gallons / hour
- Oil and filter: $2.5 / hour
- Enging and prop reserve fund: $7.50 / hour
In this case, you’re looking at $40 an hour in order to fly your plane.
Remember that more flying means more wear and tear on your plane, which will result in more maintenance and repairs.
On the plus side, these costs can be anticipated with a maintenance fund based on how much you fly.
In a sense, flying more means that you’ll keep your plane in better working order!
The Bottom Line
Yes, plane ownership can be costly.
However, the bulk of these costs can be anticipated using fixed and variable costs.
The bulk of your ownership costs occur at the front end of buying a plane.
Luckily there are ways to save from the very beginning, like buying a used plane.
Variable costs can be calculated based on how much you fly along with creating a repair fund.
Much like getting your PPL, the cost of plane ownership is more reasonable than you may have originally thought.
When to Buy
Okay, so we’ve established the pros and cons of owning your own plane, as well as a hypothetical idea of what it will cost you.
Our next big question is: how do you know when you’re ready to own your own plane?
The answer is different for every pilot.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of guidelines to help narrow down your answer.
The 100 Hours Rule
This is the biggie.
According to the 100 Hours Rule, it makes the most sense to buy your own plane when you’re consistently flying 100 hours a year.
It’s at this point that renting stops being cost-effective and you actually start to lose money.
This is especially true if you’re also renting your headset or any other gear.
There may be years you fly more. There may be years you fly less.
But if you’re averaging 100 hours in the sky on a yearly basis, then you’re in good shape to seriously consider buying your own plane.
Yeah, we know. We’ve already discussed your mission.
But we’re going to do it again because it’s so important when deciding whether to buy a plane or not.
You should only buy a plane when it lines up with your mission.
Are you a student pilot whose main goal is to fly for a few hours a few times a month?
If so, then renting is probably the better option for you (for now).
Maybe you’re a seasoned pilot with more free time and is tired of sharing.
If that’s the case, then buying could make more sense for you.
You need to be 100% committed to flying if you’re going to own your own plane.
For most pilots, flying has been a dream since they were kids.
They’ll fly every couple of weeks just to keep their skills from getting rusty, staying sharp for their next check ride.
However, there are those for whom flying is just a passing interest.
Odd, we know, but it does happen.
Buying a plane without a commitment to flying will only result in wasted time and money.
Fixed and Variable Costs
Once you’ve assessed your mission and are certain you have the commitment to own your own plane, you’ll need to make sure you can afford the fixed and variable costs of ownership.
There are ways to find the best deal when it comes to buying your own plane, such as:
- Buying a used plane
- Shopping for the best insurance quote
- Choosing to tie down rather keep your plane in a hangar
You’ll also want to make sure your partner is on board with the decision, as well.
Buying a plane is a big decision.
You’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page before you pull the trigger.
The Bottom Line
There is no clear-cut time when you know without a doubt that it’s time to buy your own plane.
However, there are indicators to help you figure it out.
The most important indicator is the 100 Hours Rule.
After that, it’s a matter of evaluating your mission, being committed (which you most assuredly are if you’re flying 100 hours a year), and being able to manage the fixed and variable costs.
If you’ve met these conditions then you’re probably ready to buy your own plane!
Benefits of Renting
So you did the math and the numbers don’t lie: you can’t afford to do buy your own plane (yet).
Don’t get too bummed out.
Renting offers a lot of opportunities for pilots, and especially for student pilots.
Renting is easier on your wallet if you’re a student pilot or a pilot who hasn’t racked up many flying hours.
You also have more options of where and what you can fly.
You can rent from:
- Flight schools
- Flying clubs
While renting isn’t as sexy as saying you own your own plane, you’ll actually be saving money if you’re not flying more than 100 hours a year!
Renting will give you access to a larger variety of planes.
This will be especially helpful if you eventually want to own your own plane, but aren’t sure which one would best suit your needs.
Renting will also give you a chance to develop your piloting skills over time to pilot different planes, rather than mastering just one.
Yup, we’re talking about mission again!
A larger variety of planes means that you can have a broader mission.
Do you just want to spend a few hours alone exploring the open skies?
You can do that.
Do you want to load up the family and take them on a weekend trip?
You can do that.
Do you want to know what it’s like to fly low, slow, high, or fast?
You can do that x4.
There isn’t any!
Paying to rent is paying for something to not be your problem.
Now, this obviously doesn’t mean you can treat the planes you rent poorly.
However, it does mean that you won’t be responsible for routine maintenance, a prop fund, or yearly inspections.
Maintenance is included in the rental fee and all you have to worry about is enjoying yourself.
Renting is better than not flying at all.
It will allow you to keep your skills sharp and interest piqued until you’re finally ready to buy your own plane.
The Bottom Line
There are loads of benefits to renting a plane.
Renting allows you to save money if you’re not flying more than 100 hours, gives you access to a larger variety of planes, allows you to have a broader mission, save you on maintenance costs.
Most important of all, renting is better than not flying at all!
Ways to Rent
There are plenty of ways to rent a plane if you aren’t able to buy one right now.
Your main options are:
- Flight schools
- Flying clubs
These will provide you with plenty of opportunities to fly, as well as the community you need to encourage you on your flying journey.
Flight schools provide a variety of training, services, and planes for student pilots and those who don’t own their own planes.
Along with certificate training, flight schools will often rent out their planes to folks with their PPL for a fee.
With flight schools, you:
- Get access to a variety of planes to fly
- Can rent wet or dry, with the price of fuel often included in the rental price
- Have the option to rent blocks of time for flying
- Have access to a variety of training courses to enhance you flying knowledge
Flight schools are a great place to rent from. Especially if you want access to more flight training.
FBOs (fixed-base operators) are organizations that have been given permission to operate out of commercial airports.
These organizations often provide services to charter companies as well as pilots interested in GA.
Larger FBOs may even provide more upscale services to their clients.
FBO services can include, but are not limited too:
- Fueling services
- Creature comforts like catering, lounges, bathrooms, wifi
- Aircraft sales and rentals
- Car rental services and hotel discounts for members
The perks of using an FBO is that they’re not just about flying.
They’re a service-oriented business, which makes their clients’ happiness their top priority.
Flying clubs are essentially aviation co-ops.
In these co-cops, pilots share the cost of ownership so they can make flying more affordable for themselves as well as the curious.
One of the biggest perks to flying clubs is the community that stems from a shared passion.
By joining a flying club, you can:
- Have access to a variety of aircraft
- Receive training from anyone authorized by the airport to provide flight instruction
- Get maintenance on club aircraft from members who are also mechanics
- Be a part of a community of people who share your passion for flying
The real strength of flying clubs are the community they provide.
As you’re aware, flying can be an expensive passion.
The people who organize and join flying clubs seek to remedy that by making it as accessible as possible.
The Bottom Line
Not being able to buy your own plane is no excuse to not fly.
Pilots can scratch their itch with flight schools, FBOs, and flying clubs.
If you live in a large enough city, there’s a good chance that you live near all three.
Shop around, take some tours, and utilize whichever suits your needs best!
Deciding whether to buy your own plane or not is one of the most important decisions a pilot can make.
You need to make sure that:
- Plane ownership aligns with your mission
- You’ve considered the benefits and drawbacks to owning your own plane
- You’ve evaluated the fixed and variable costs
- You are aware of the best times to buy
- Renting no longer makes sense for you
- You are aware of all the ways you can rent
If you evaluate your situation and realize it makes sense to buy your own plane, then congratulations!
Don’t worry if you still can’t, though. There is still plenty to do in the world of flying.
As always, see you up there!