Plane & Pilot
Monday, October 1, 2007

$500 Per Month?

You can own an airplane on a budget

“Okay, then prove it,” he prodded me. I never shirk from a good challenge, or a direct order from the Big Guy. So, in the spirit of a TV-reality-show challenge, I decided to find out: Can a person afford a decent airplane on $500 per month? Here goes…

First, let’s look at the costs and see if we can make this work. Certain airplane costs are fixed, which means you spend the money whether you fly or not; other costs are variable, which means they vary according to how much you fly, like gas or maintenance reserves. Let’s start with the biggest fixed cost: the purchase price and monthly payment.

Twenty-thousand dollars buys a good airplane. A recent Trade-A-Plane listed 174 airplanes for sale at $20,000 or less. These included Stinsons, Luscombes, AirCoupes, Cessna 120/140s, Tri-Pacers, Pacers, Piper Tomahawks, Cessna 150s, a few really tired Beech Bonanzas, and a few Cessna 172s with high-time engines and other assorted maladies.

Because finances will be tight, let’s avoid older, quirky, problematic airplanes. Because of the cost to recover fabric and replace old wood, let’s avoid fabric and wood airplanes. There are many types of under-$20,000 airplanes, and even more opinions as to what’s the “best” under-$20,000 airplane, but for simplicity of upkeep, age, insurance, ease of flying and maintenance costs, let’s set our goal to stay with as new and as simple as possible.

From experience, my picks for this equation are the Piper PA38 Tomahawk and Cessna 150. Both meet all the objectives, and you can easily buy a really good one for $20,000 or less. Note: As finances permit, we can always trade up, or become more adventurous within our budget. Right now, let’s concentrate on a positive experience within the prescribed budget and with the fewest maintenance headaches or flying-skill challenges.

Most airplanes today are financed, even the corporate jets. Some simple calculations show that $20,000 will run approximately $145 per month. I began calling all the normal outlets for aircraft financing to get started. I was prepared. I had my last two years’ tax returns in hand and a copy of my latest credit report, which showed I was a pretty good guy, and I was prepared to fill out a lot of forms and get the money. Flying, here we come!


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