Flutterby™! : the cost of flying

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the cost of flying

2007-12-27 00:22:39.016505+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

[ related topics: Aviation Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-27 01:36:19.742004+00 by: meuon

I've been told by several small pilots the real reason is liability insurance for the manufacturer. Hence the booming "kit" industry.

The car comparisons are interesting: It was rare to get 50k to 100k miles on a 60's auto, now it's 100k miles between major tune-ups. A lot of a new cars costs goes to safety improvements and insurance, as well as long term workers benefits and insurance.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-27 02:30:37.46562+00 by: ebradway

One of the commentors, Travis Cross, makes some pretty solid comments about the direction of the US economy. Basically, the cost of a small plane has decreased compared to the price of gold but the dollar has been steadily eroded to the benefit of the very wealthy and at the cost of the majority.

Cars don't really compare. The 1967 Piper Cherokee is largely identical to the 2007 Piper Cherokee. Modern cars, as meuon says, are far advanced mechanically and amazingly more safe.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-27 18:44:00.421966+00 by: JT

I've wondered the same thing about housing actually. My dad's rule of thumb was that you could determine the house you could afford because the price was equal to one years' salary.

My girlfriend bought her house 2 years ago at around $85k, and now the same house is worth $160k. No one, and I mean no one in this valley makes $160k a year. I'd say probably 95% of two income families here would barely break $70k, so... why would a house in a relatively poor small town double in value in a couple of years? Cars, planes, houses... they all seem out of touch with reality.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-27 19:24:55.021991+00 by: Dan Lyke

JT, I think the absurdly low interest rates are playing a part in the housing situation, but the "your house is your biggest investment" lie has made people not only willing to pay up to half of their income towards their mortgage (where, previously, a quarter and then a third was considered a max), but to do dumb investment-like (ie: gambling) things with their houses, like neg-ams.

As a new homeowner with a 30 year fixed, I hope that the way this sorts itself out is inflation, kicking in about two years from now.

Cars aren't a reasonable comparison because of what we've come to expect from cars, but I think you could make an argument that given that you now get (as Meuon points out) 100k miles no problem, seat belts, air bags, and air conditioning pretty much standard, car prices have actually declined. Given how far we've come in materials science and uses of plastics and polymers and such, I can believe that.

Which makes airplanes even more instructive. Back in the late '70s my uncle had a Cessna 150, I think he bought it for $4k and sold it for $2k, the price difference because he bought it right after the big tear-down maintenance and sold it right before. I may have the numbers off by a bit, but it wasn't by all that much.

That was before the runaway economic mess that was the '80s (you can talk all you want about the '70s, but it didn't really hit the fan 'til the Reagan years... anyone remember 1987?), but, yeah, I think that it's reasonable to look at housing and airplanes and non-processed food and come to the conclusion that for the same buying power as 1967 we have to be making roughly $170k/year per family.

Certainly that seems like a logical scale here in Northern California.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-28 14:24:01.135919+00 by: JT

I started flight school right before I had my accident at the police department in a small school with three planes. The first plane was a Cessna 152 from the mid-70s, which I don't think is in production any more. It was dependable, had regular maintenance done, but had the old hard, straw-stuffed seats, a cracked wooden dash that the instruments didn't seem to fit so well in, and felt quite heavy when you flew it. The second was an early 90's model Cessna 172. It was much more comfortable, the instruments were still all correctly fit into the dash, the plane felt more agile than the 152 ever could, although it was a larger, yet lighter plane.

The third was a 2002 Diamondair DA20. It was a gorgeous stick-controlled plane that redifined the entire concept of "cockpit" It was spin-certified, had a beautiful glass cockpit, and the maintenance and preflight inspection was near nothing compared to the previous two aircraft. I think technology has changed dramatically in the case of aircraft, much along the same lines as automobiles. The difference being that aircraft are designed to last many years, with proper maintenance, they're designed to fly indefinitely.

I also have nothing to back this up, except the word of a friend I'd helped out a number of times who ended up managing a new car dealership. Cars are designed to last 5 years. Not the engine, not the powertrain, but the interior and body panels of the car. This friend explained this to me when my ex and I bought a Dodge Avenger. He told me the engine was designed to last 1 million miles. The transmission was designed to last 250k miles. The interior was designed to last 5 years. People become angry when their car breaks down and will shy away from buying the same model if the transmission goes out, or the head gasket blows, or whatever mechanical problem happens which makes them give up the vehicle... however if the interior starts to break down, buttons come off, the dash begins to crack, the steering wheel starts to split, people blame themselves for poor maintenance and will buy another car. People will also buy a car which never breaks down because they want the smell and feel of something new. It's a great way to keep people buying your product, but still have a nice dependable car that doesn't have the engine lock up after 10 years.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-28 18:59:16.517578+00 by: Dan Lyke

So the Wikipedia page on the Cessna 150 suggests that a used 150 runs $15-30k and an engine overhaul runs $10-15k. Ignoring the possible effects of depreciation on the airframe, that suggests that money's worth about a fifth of what it was in the late '70s. In fact, assuming that the majority of the cost of the engine overhaul is labor, it suggests that the airframe isn't depreciating or that labor's cheaper now...

I guess that inflation level works out to 5-6%/year, which is probably about right.

JT, I agree that the newer composite aircraft are a step forward, but I believe that they're even more expensive.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-12-29 21:02:00.986439+00 by: ebradway

JT: Good points on the cars. I've always paid attention to how cars' interiors deteriorate. German cars last much longer because the interior tends to outlast the engine (as Dan could attest). I had a 1986 Porsche 911 with about 175K miles on it. It ran like a top and because it was cared for, it was still nice inside. That was also the car that sold me on leather seating. Leather holds up much better than any synthetic material used in cars. The only possible exception being that synthetic leather than Mercedes has used since the early 80s. The only way you can tell it apart from real leather, now, is that real leather tends to wear faster!