“Planes are like houses,” Courtland Savage explains. “They hold value like houses and they’re sturdy like houses as well.”
Savage, former navy pilot, and current commercial airline pilot runs Fly for the Culture, which offers free flying lessons for minority kids as well as mentorship for future pilots. His work is to diversity and inclusion, and if anyone knows what it takes to get up in the air, and what it costs to run a flight operation, it’s him.
I always wonder what, exactly, it costs to run the little Cessnas that dot America’s airstrips and local airports. As it turns out, the costs are not exactly what I expected.
What surprised me, listening to this interview conducted by Jalopnik’s colleagues over at The Root (as part of their larger story on Savage and Fly for the Culture), was that these planes themselves are in the same sort of ballpark as cars are. Where things diverge, Savage explains, is in maintenance costs.
Watch the full video above for a primer on what it takes to get into the world of flying planes, what you need to know and how you can get access to that information. As for the costs, I can sum up:
A ‘70s Cessna like Savage flies isn’t the most expensive thing. $40-50,000 will get you a good used model. As Savage says, planes hold value like houses. You don’t need the newest model.
What adds to that is engine servicing. That plane’s engine needs an overhaul every 2,000 hours of operation, and that overhaul can run you $20,000. If your car has an engine failure on the highway, you can just coast onto the shoulder. If your plane has one, things are looking much rougher. You want to spend where it counts.
Fuel itself isn’t as expensive as you might think. Savage says to expect $4.30 to $5.50 a gallon. Not the worst thing to my ears, having seen those prices for regular back in California not many years ago. What adds to that is you can expect to burn six gallons per hour in that little Cessna. And that’s on the low end of fuel consumption as far as planes go.
This is all to say that, yes, ordinary people can own and maintain their own planes. It’s not out of the question, and certainly more accessible than I thought. I mean, I don’t know if I would put myself in charge of maintaining and operating a plane. I’ve seen how things go with me and cars. Being airborne is probably not the wisest thing.