Hidden Costs of Aircraft Ownership

NAFA member, Adam Meredith, President of AOPA Aviation Finance Company, discusses the hidden or unexpected costs of aircraft ownership. 

Major hidden costs, for example, can result when a previous owner has deferred maintenance. You’re better off buying an airplane that’s been regularly used because the owner will typically address issues as they arise in order to continue using the plane regularly.

It’s a myth that it’s smart to look for an aircraft that’s had low flying time. Less wear and tear on the engine and the airframe? While those are important considerations, they should not be the only ones. After all, these are machines and machines are made to be run. When an aircraft sits, its problems remain hidden.

Low flying time could mean high maintenance when it’s your time to own the airplane. That’s one reason the first annual inspection can be unusually expensive — another hidden cost. So be prepared.

Here is a list of other hidden costs associated with aircraft ownership:

  • Expenses incurred when an airplane is tied down outside (as opposed to protected in a hangar), including repainting and reskinning the exterior and replacing or repairing instrument panels, aircraft seats, interiors or even sun-crazed windows.
  • Contaminated fuel, or more likely, a lineman who accidentally fills your gas tanks with the wrong fuel.
  • Unforeseen mechanical failures or mishaps, such as a blown tire, a gear door jamming, a baggage door opening in flight and ejecting an object that damages an elevator or tail surface, etc.
  • Compliance with unforeseen airworthiness directives (ADs).
  • Animal strikes, bird strikes, lightning strikes, prop strikes, strikes by another aircraft taxiing into you.
  • Mud daubers corrupting your pitot-static system or rodents chewing through electrical cables or nesting in your push-pull tubes.
  • Sudden failure of one or more instruments, navigation radios or engine monitors.
  • Even a pandemic.

The list is extensive but not exhaustive. Hence our advice to add 10% to 15% on top of your projected operations budget, so when those hidden costs reveal themselves, you aren’t surprised.

This article was originally published by AOPA Aviation Finance Company on June 10, 2020.