Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fly Cheap (Or At Least Cheaper)


It’s getting tougher to fly cheap, but there are still a few tricks you can use to reduce the cost


Nothing too exciting or innovative about those procedures, but saving money on fuel demands a few other tricks. Recently, I ferried a re-engined Continental TSIO-550-powered Cessna P210N from Vitatoe Aviation in Chillicothe, Ohio to San Jose, Calif., and I let fuel concerns help dictate the most efficient route.

In the old days, I would have simply flight-planned my stops to within 1.5 to 2.0 hours of fuel exhaustion, weather permitting, and looked for a likely refueling point somewhere in that area. In this case, a GPS direct flight was out of the question. There were thunderstorms along the Rockies from Cheyenne all the way south to Colorado Springs and beyond, so any trip across the high rocks would have been problematical, at best.

Accordingly, I first laid out my flight plan from Chillicothe through Santa Fe and on to San Jose, then picked off a dozen or so city points along the route, some dead on course and others as much as 50 miles either side of the direct track.

The next step was to pull out my zip-code book and find a representative zip code for each of those dozen points. Finally, I loaded AvWeb-flash Aviation News Service (AvWeb.com) on my computer and referenced its fuel-finder feature near the end of each semi-weekly news report.

I plugged in the zip codes, and AvWeb showed me the avgas and jet fuel prices for the FBOs at all reporting airports within 25-50 miles of that zip code. The information is typically only a day or two old, so I knew I could count on prices to be about the same as AvWeb suggests.

From that, I picked the best fuel stops on my route and made an intelligent assessment of the additional miles required to deviate from my GPS direct course.

On my trip west from Ohio, I was amazed to find a small airport near St. Louis selling avgas for a ridiculous $4.25/gallon. Most airports nearby were charging $5.50 or more. The off-course deviation was only 20 miles to my right, so I saved about $90 on one fill-up for what worked out to a slant range, two-mile-longer leg.

Extend this over a long trip, say Key West to San Francisco, and you can realize fuel savings of $400 or more, especially if you're operating a big single or twin. If you fly transcontinental on a regular basis and use this technique, you may find at the end of a year that you've saved a significant amount on fuel. Two other websites that may offer helpful suggestions for fuel stops are www.airnav.com and www.100LL.com.

I keep a small black notebook in my flight bag with entries about every airport I've used in the last five years or so where an FBO is aggressively competing for avgas sales. I'm well aware the old fuel prices won't hold for more than a few days or weeks, but if I can't access the Internet and need to choose an airport that was a good choice a year ago, it might still be. I'll often call them to see if their prices are still among the lowest.

Every pilot knows that fuel isn't the only expense of flying, but it's the most visible. If America continues to be constrained from developing its own gas and oil resources, we may see even higher avgas prices in the near future. Fortunately, my ace in the hole is a little black book.



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