Rent A Plane: Cost

How much does it cost to rent a plane?

This is a simple question without a simple answer.  The cost can vary significantly depending on the type of plane and how well equipped it is.  Beyond this, whether the time used is Hobbs time or Tach time, wet/dry, how busy the airport is, and insurance costs can all have an impact on the final cost to you.  Lets go through these one by one so you know what to expect.



Type of plane

It should be obvious that a Cirrus will rent for more than a Cessna 152.  The owner of the plane must recoup at least the direct costs of flying the aircraft or else he’s just a charity.  You can expect some old 150/152s to ring in under $100 all in, but that’s getting more and more rare these days as fuel costs rise.  A decently equipped 172 generally runs between $120-150 depending on the market and avionics.  Your higher end piston single aircraft like the Cirrus or Diamond start around $200 – $300 and go up from there.


How well equipped?

The avionics will have an impact on the price, though not as much as the type of aircraft itself.  Often, the better avionics are also in newer planes so it’s hard to gauge just how much the gear alone affects the rental price.  Overall, if you want all the bells and whistles, expect to pay a lot more.


Finding an older aircraft without all the electronics can be a great money-saver.  Many people demand at least a GPS (some pilots would be hard pressed to find home without “Direct To”!) and often an autopilot, so planes without these have substantially less demand and thus have lower prices.  If you have such a plane nearby, you can buy your own yoke-mounted GPS and pop it in when you fly.  It doesn’t take long for this to pay for itself either, so if you fly a lot you’ll recoup your money fast.


Hobbs or Tach?

Almost all aircraft rent on Hobbs time now, but there are probably a few places scattered around that will give you a tach rate. Hobbs time means the meter runs when the prop runs; tach time means the meter run when the rpms pass a certain point.  Basically this means you pay for ground time with Hobbs and only air time with Tach.  Obviously, the tach rates are usually a little higher for this reason.

If you’re one of the few with an option, you’ll have to do some math to figure out which is the better deal.  If you base out of a small airport with little traffic and only a 5 minute taxi from the ramp,Hobbsis probably the best deal.  However, if you base out of a busier airport or one where the FBO is far from the most-used runway and you’re taxiing and holding for 20-30 minutes most days, then tach time may actually be a better value.

Busy airport?

As was just mentioned, busier airports can be major time-suckers if you aren’t careful.  If there’s a lot of commercial or military traffic, you might spend a lot of your time sitting on the ground or taking an extra-long final.  There’s an airport near where some of my family lives that’s shared with military and sometimes you’ll fly 30 minutes out of the way as the heavies are coming in.  Obviously if this was your home base, this could quickly cut into your budget.

Aircraft Rental Insurance

I probably harp on this too much, but I feel it’s really important.  Most rental operations do carry insurance, but make sure you ask to see a copy of the policy and what it covers.  If you see 2 equal planes and one is slightly more expensive, this might be the reason.

Most of your normal consumer insurance products will have exclusions written in that basically write off any damages arising from your use of general aviation.  Your health insurance may not may medical bills for injuries sustained from an accident.  Your life insurance policies will definitely have language about this.  If you aren’t careful, you could leave your loved ones with much less than you think thanks to some fine print.

If the rental outfit’s policy is good enough and provides enough coverage to make you comfortable, then you’re fine.  But if they don’t, consider purchasing some supplemental coverage for yourself.  This is usually pretty inexpensive since your policy is supplemental and thus doesn’t cover some of the high-value items the owner’s policy does.  Just make sure you’re covered as far as health and life and liability go, and try to purchase from a reputable company that’s been around awhile.

I hope this has given you some food for thought.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think!


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