How much is a Cessna?

In this thread (which I hijacked) I discussed the price of used aircraft to explain why people fly 30-year-old airplanes, but drivers might consider replacing a 10-year-old car.

Considering average income, I’m not sure where my salary falls. I know I could make more if I worked for a different company, but there are a lot of people making less than I. Let’s just say I’m making $4x,xxx/year. Considering where I live and the type of job I do, I think my income is “average”. A new Cessna 172 (four-seat, 160hp., about 130 knots) sells for about $165,000. The 172 is the Ford or Chevy of the airplane fleet. Not very fast, not “sexy”, but reliable and it gets the job done. A new one costs about four times my annual pre-tax income.

If I am making $4x,xxx/year now, what would an equivalent salary have been in 1976? What did a new Cessna 172 cost in 1976? I want to find out how many times my salary (adjusted to an equivalent 1976 salary) a Cessna 172 would have cost in 1976. Are new airplanes relatively more expensive now; or less expensive?

I chose 1976 because most of the fleet were built in the 1970s and 25 years seems like a good arbitrary time.

Ya know, Johnny, ya gave me a scare there - why would our favorite Doper rotorhead be asking about Cessnas? Ol’ Clyde never made choppers or even gyros.

Back in the 1970’s, if I recall what the old geezers down at the field say about it, new C172’s were running around $70,000 new. Roughly. 1970’s vintage C172’s cost between 30k and 80k, depending on condition, engine, and avionics.

The price you quoted for brand-spanking-new C172’s is on the low side, for a very basic model. Most actually going out the door are around 175k to 190k.

Either way, the cost of a new C172 has been about that of a pretty nice house in the suburbs for a number of decades. Adjusting for inflation, and disregarding the cost of the new avionics (like GPS) the price has gone up slightly, but not as much as appears at first glance.

The more attractive option for those of us who aren’t making 6 digits a year is kitplanes - if you have the skills to build and the time to do it. Less cost, frequently better performance, and, if you build at least 51% of it yourself, you can do your own maintenance, repair, and annual inspection yourself. On the other hand, a C172 will survive living at an outside tie-down, most kitplanes have a tendency to auto-disassemble in rough weather.

All I know is they’re too damn much. And the Pipers I prefer are even worse…

And kitplanes?

I can barely hang the blinds in my living room, and you want me to build a freakin’ airplane Broomstick?! Would YOU ride in a vehicle I built?!

Guess I’m just gonna have to win the lottery or soemthing. I already tell people it would cheaper for me to have a heroin addiction - and possibly safer in the long run! :slight_smile:

I don’t know what the regulations are, but it might be possible to buy a used kitplane that someone else already assembled.

Thanks, Broomstick! Although I love helicopters, I earned my wings in a Cessna. And fixed-wings are much more practical than helis.

Any idea what the 1976 equivalent of a $4x,xxx salary was? I’d like to find out how many times the 1976 salary the $70,000 Cessna cost.

RoboDude: Yes it is possible to buy a used kitplane; but you will not be able to do your own maintenance (at least no more than you could do on a factory-produced aircraft) as the builder could.

My dad was building a kitplane in the 1970s, a BD-5A (short wings) with the 90hp. engine. He wanted it to be fast! Unfortunately Jim Bede went bankrupt before the engine and the drive shaft were delivered (which dad had already paid for). When dad was transfered from the FSS at Daggett to the FSS in Lancaster, he ordered special transportation for his “baby”. (And he was very meticulous in his bulding. Rather than simple de-burring the lightening holes in the wing spars, he polished them – even though they would be sealed inside of the wing and would never be seen again.) Someone needed a longer ramp for his moving truck , so he took the one that was on the truck that contained the disassembled BD-5 and casually tossed his short, 200-pound ramp onto the flat spot – the flat spot that was the BD-5 sheet metal. I think dad paid about $2,400 for the kit, but after completing it 90% the trucking company’s insurance company paid him $10,200. He bought the six-year-old 1970 Cessna 172.

The big problem with kitplanes is that they take so long to build! Dad spent about three years to finish 90% of the work on his BD-5. There are people who have spend 20 years building their kits. And the high-performance ones are as expensive or more expensive than a slow, dowdy old Cessna. If I had my same salary, lived close to work, and had a hangar to build a kitplane in, I’d consider it; but I’d like to get it done in a year because I’m not that patient.

(Actually a kit helicopter might be fun…)

The CH-1 Seneca wasn’t a big seller, admittedly, but it counts. It did set some altitude records in its day. Odd that it’s so little remembered that the best info is on this Russian site.

If you’re seriously looking at buying a brand new Cessna rather than a used one, you might want to take a look at the Cirrus SR20:

It does cost a little more (right around $200k) but offers better performance in almost every category, IMHO looks much nicer, even in base configuration offers very nice avionics in a great layout, and is a new (versus 50-year-old) design. And it’s got that ballistic parachute thing, which you’d likely never use but would be nice to have as an absolutely last-ditch option.

Or of course the SR22 is even nicer if you can swing it. This is the plane I’m currently lusting after.

Well, its not an exact science or anything, but you might try this site:

Basically, it says that some one making $47.7k in 1995-1996 would have made $14.3 in 1975-1976, using the consumer price index for adjustment (this site is actually a faculty salary comparison site, but all of the other sites I saw came up with roughly the same ratio, i.e., about 3 to one).

That makes the Cessna very slightly cheaper in today’s dollars than it was in 1976 dollars (although the difference is within rounding errors).

consider the usual caveats about using the CPI on high end and electronic equipment added.

Johnny: Your dad is really, really lucky that he never finished that BD-5A. If he had, you would almost certainly be short one father today. From what I recall, of the first five of those things completed, three crashed on their first takeoff and one crashed on its first landing attempt. They were deathtraps.

The BD-5B was a little better, but still a tough airplane to fly, and very sensitive to CG. Most of them were built tail heavy, and a lot of them crashed.

Back to the OP: By the mid-1970’s, aircraft inflation was going full tilt. But earlier aircraft were quite affordable. The Grumman AA1, for example, sold for something like $4500 in 1969, back when a Chevy Impala was about the same price. By 1977, AA1’s and Cessna 150’s were in the $20K range or so. After that, they went bananas. The last year of 150 production, they were somewhere around $90,000.

Luxury aircraft like Beechcraft Bonanzas were typically about twice the price of a luxury auto, throughout the 1950’s-1960’s. Now, a 4-seat Mooney can cost you close to half a million dollars. So yeah, prices did go up relative to other things.

Anyway, back to the economics of owning an airplane. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s also not necessarily expensive. The reason aircraft ownership LOOKS expensive is because we are very careful to account for everything. If you did that with a car, you’d be absolutely shocked how much it costs you to own a new car.

For example, a new Chrysler 300M retails for about $45,000 CDN. Let’s assume you lease one for two years. This is a typical middle-class purchase, not considered to be for the ‘rich’ at all. So, what does it cost?

First, loan or lease fees. Call it 8%. That’s $7200 over two years. Then there is depreciation. A car like that will lose 25-40% of its value over the first two years of its life. Let’s say 25% to be generous. That’s another $11,250.

Insurance will run a typical purchaser at least $1,000 per year. For many people, it’ll be at least double. But let’s use the lower figure. Add another $2,000.

So there are the fixed costs, $20,450. Now, let’s say that car gets driven about 10,000 miles per year. That’s $2 per MILE to own that vehicle. At an average of 40 miles per hour, that’s $80 per hour that you sit in that car.

Now let’s take a typical used Cessna. You can probably find a pretty nice low-time C-172 for $50,000, if you are willing to go back a few years. But when you sell it, it’s likely to be worth even more. So no depreciation. The cost of money is close to the same. Maintenance is a cost, at maybe $2000 a year, over the life of the airplane. Some years will be cheaper, some more. I got lucky, and we never had to pay more than $1000 in a year for maintenance over an 8 year span.

Tie-down will cost you about $600-$1000 a year. Gas and oil maybe $30/hr. Liability insurance is dirt cheap - maybe $100 a year. Hull insurance is a lot more. Call it $1500 per year for insurance.

From this comparison, the 300M is much more expensive to own and operate than the airplane. In fact, you could probably own a used $150,000 airplane for less than the cost of owning a new luxury car for two years.

Forget about buying new planes. The market is nuts. And homebuilts sound cheaper, but they really aren’t. The homebuilt equivalent to our airplane would have been something like a Zenair Zodiac, or a little higher up, a Van’s RV-6. Both of those aicraft would have cost at least twice what my Grumman AA1 did, and the maintenance is no cheaper (yes, you can owner-maintain a homebuilt, but you still have to DO it. And all the high-performing homebuilts pretty much have Certified Lycoming or Continental engines in them, so you can’t save a nickel there. And the engine makes up the vast bulk of the cost of mainentnance on a small simple airplane.

Sadly, I am short one father. Died three years after a serious car wreck. :frowning:

Heh. Actually, I do do that with my car. And my motorcycle. I bought the extended warranty on the Cherokee, so I didn’t have to pay for the front computer module when it went south. I was rear-ended at the end of last March, and the poor uninsured driver is liable to my insurance company for about $4,000. I figure I’ve “bought another bike” in maintenence costs, and it would have been more if I didn’t have the extended warranty. No more warranty on the bike though, as it’s seven years old now.

You’re right: Vehicles are expensive.

I had to reimburse dad for the use of his 1970 C-172 when I was learning to fly in the '80s. It came out to $33/hour then. It was on leaseback, so it had 100 hour checks and higher insurance. I don’t remember what the hourly cost for the 1968 C-182 was, but I remember that insurance was about $3,000/year in the '80s. It was also on leaseback, and it actually made money.

BTW: A new turbo C-182 costs about a quarter of a million dollars.

Within a week or so I’ll have the cash to buy an almost-new Cessna 172 or an early-'90s Schweizer 300CB, but I won’t. Better to put that money into a good mutual fund. I’d like a helicopter because they’re so much fun to fly, but a fixed-wing is more practical and useful. But there are priorities: First, get the hell out of Dodge – er, Los Hideous – hopefully with a job with a similar salary to the one I have now. Later I can think about flying things, more training (Commercial and CFI or CFIH), big loans… Hmmm. Who’s that guy on teevee with the question-mark suit? Maybe the government will give me money for training and equipment? Heh heh. That’d be a good scam if it worked! :wink: Anyway, I was just curious if new airplanes were relatively more or less expensive now than they were 25 years ago.

Sam, aren’t you the one who owned the AA-1 for a few years and then sold it for more than you bought it for?

Can I make a pitch for a Grumman Tiger? Same price range as a used 172, same engine, but MUCH faster. Hell, a Tiger is almost as fast as the slower Moonys, with fixed gear and a much more comfortable cabin. They are also less expensive to maintain, and have that great sliding bubble canopy. It’s a blast to taxi them around in the summer. They also have a great owner’s association, with local flyins around the country, annual conventions, maintenance support, parts aftermarkets, etc.

That’s on the quick end of homebuilding.

I go back and forth on this issue… I like the notion of building my own plane and there are some kits I can afford that would give me a small, two-seat plane that, while not very fast, would be relatively inexpensive to run and allow for open-cockpit flying, which I do love in good weather. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a factory built plane with some speed for going places without worrying about a mild headwind reducing my speed to that of a bicycle.

I guess I want two airplanes - a fun put-putting around the neighborhood plane and a going-places plane

Got a friend who has built 3 kitplanes, but he won’t go near kitcopters. Says the notion scares the hell out of him. When we bought his helicopter it was a factory-built. YMMV.

Aside: I knew that I’d find Grok in this thread.

I’ve owned three planes over 30 years, one Cessna and two Mooneys. Guess what I own now?

Major capital items that get used as little as we do aircraft can be shared economically with two, three, even five people. I fly about 100 to 120 hours per year, which means that my usage for the plane is only about 1% of the time. It actually hurts the plane more to be sitting for two weeks than to be flown actively.

Airplanes – as well as boats – are major capital investments that can easily be shared. Everyone thinks of the single disadvantage: what if two of us want to us it at the same time? That’s what we have scheduling software for…

But the advantages of partnerships far outweigh the disadvantages:
– it allows you to afford 2X to 5X the aircraft
– you can budget improvements in avionics or other features more easily; you can handle unexpected expenses more easily
– maintenance and insurance costs on an aircraft are high, with annual inspections running about $2,500. They’re more easily spread with a group.
– you may enjoy flying with your partners. I always have, though chosing partners carefully is the real art.
– partners are handy for training, particularly if you need a safety pilot for IFR work.

Funny you should say that - as soon as I saw the thread title, I just knew it had to be Johnny L.A. that started it!

I have no problem with that. I love talking 'bout airplanes.

A partnership can be a good idea, but the key is to find the right partners. Pick the wrong ones, and it can be a nightmare from hell. How would you like a partner flying your airplane who runs the crap out of it? Who never cleans it? Who refuses to kick in his share for unscheduled maintenance? Who doesn’t think that that ‘little problem’ the A&P found during the annual is big enough to warrant fixing?

Most stories I’ve heard of partnerships usually end, “Well, I just couldn’t take it any more, so I sold my share.” But they can be very useful if you find the right people.

And Mooney252, you should make sure not to give the impression that all airplanes cost $2500/yr to annual. We’re trying to attract people to aviation here, not scare them off. Using your Mooney252 as an example in a thread like this would be like someone opening a thread saying, “I’m thinking of finally buying a house - can I afford it?” and you answering, “No, because the swimming pool maintenance will kill you.”

If you own an entry-class airplane like a Cessna 172, Grumman Tiger, Piper Warrior, etc., it should be a rare annual that exceeds $1500, and if you do owner-assisted annuals and take good care of your airplane, substantially less. My cheapest annual was $265. I pulled all the inspection panels, removed the cowling, wing tips, tail fairings, seats, and other owner-removable hardware. My A&P then did the inspection. I then put it all back together again and he checked my work. No sweat. I’ve done all my annuals except one that way.

I highly recommend owner-assisted annuals. They save you money, but more importantly they make you intimately familiar with the machine that is keeping your butt in one piece.

If you want the absolute cheapest flying, do what I did - I bought a Grumman AA1 in 1991 for $11,000. I flew it for 8 years, and sold it for $13,000, even though I ran about 500 hours off of the engine. So I made a $2000 profit on the airframe (would have made more if the money was in the bank, but hey…). My fixed costs (tie-down, annual, insurance, unscheduled maintenance) were less than $1500 per year. The annuals averaged about $500-$600, insurance (liability only - no hull coverage on an airplane this cheap) was about $150 per year through COPA (Canadian counterpart to AOPA). My tiedown was $360/yr.

That particular airplane went up in value quite substantially after I sold it, because more people started discovering the AA1’s value. If I had held onto it for 3 more years, I could have sold it for $18-20K or so, and pretty much recovered all my fixed costs. So I could have flown that aircraft for the cost of gas and oil.

Now, I’ll grant you that I got a little lucky. No major AD’s, no major failures, etc. Anyone who owns an airplane knows that it’s like to feel a little vulnerable. Since I didn’t have Hull insurance and had the airplane tied down outside, every time we had a hailstorm my heart would do a little dance. Every annual inspection felt like dodging a bullet. “C’mon, compression test! Be good!”

Still, there are certified airplanes available in the $10-$20K range, including some basic 4-seaters. If you can go up to $40K, that opens the door to a lot of nice travelling machines like a Grumman Cheetah, Piper Cherokee 140, Older Cessna 172, etc.

None of those airplanes should cost more than a thousand bucks or so to annual (on average - some annuals you’ll fly through for $500, but once in a while you’ll get hit with a big ticket item and have to cough up a grand or two over what you thought you’d pay), and hopefully a lot less. And if something catastrophic happens like Cessna issuing a crankshaft AD that mandates an engine teardown, you just sell the airplane and take your lumps. But the way airplanes are appreciating in value, if you hang onto it for more than a couple of years you could probably sell it and break even or even make a little, even if it needed some engine work.

One more comment in this long-winded essay: If you’ve got, say, $50,000 to spend on an airplane, you are WAY better off finding an excellent example of a simpler airplane, than you are buying a ratty old complex airplane. For example, in that price range you could buy something like a 1978 Grumman Tiger with a low-time engine, or you could buy something like a 1962 Cessna 210 with a high-time engine and other problems. The old 210 will eat you alive on maintenance, and represents a much higher risk of a repair that can cost half of what you paid for the airplane. The Tiger is a known commodity, with a ready supply of spare parts, a simple airframe and engine, and not much wear.

Sam Stone – I owned a Cessna 172 for 10 years in the 80s and the annual was never less than $2,500. I won’t harm your tender sensibilities by talking about the average for turbocharged Mooney. (For others: it’s not much more.)

The “annual” for my Mooney only costs me $1,200 per year, but it’s the items that need addressing that run every annual to 2X the number – SBs, ADs, worn parts, IFR certifications, ELT replacement – all move the numbers up. Unlike Sam Stone, my intent is not to be a shill for general aviation: if you don’t let people know how to properly plan for a business arrangement, you’re doing more harm than good.

A non-complex aircraft should cost about $80/hour (wet) to operate; a complex aircraft somewhere on the high side of $100/hour, depending on the plane. You’ll regain some of the $$ on sale of the aircraft, but a certificate-of-deposit is a surer thing.

If you can’t make the numbers work in this area, strongly consider how to get the hours of usage up on the aircraft because you won’t be able to cut costs enough. Not carrying hull insurance? Sensible only if you can afford that off-field landing. Shifting your oil changes to 100 hours to save $$? The data says you’re wrong.

Sam – you just ain’t been around enough. I know of dozens of partnerships that work well and a few that don’t. It’s no different than running a company, where objectives have to be clear. But the real point here is that on major capital items, you’re better off INCREASING usage through an intelligent ownership plan than having less flexibility and owning it all.

We won’t go into what I think of owner-run annuals. I’ll choose the guy doing 250 annuals a year over a “Stone” annual. I’d also choose hangaring a plane to tie-downs; cheapest is not always lowest cost. In fact, I believe that keeping our Cessna 172 outdoors cost us about $1,000 per year due to leaks, wear-and-tear on paint and interior – but I could never prove it.

BTW, my well-maintained Mooney 252 cost less than the “new” options being discussed here. Like 50% less.

Wow. That 172 must have seen some heavy use, or you are in an unusually expensive area.

I guess I should have qualified my comments a bit more - how much your annual costs will have a lot to do with how many hours you put on the airplane between annuals. If it’s in a partnership and 500 hours get put on it, then yeah, I can see where that would cost some serious bucks because you’d be replacing a LOT of stuff at each annual. But wouldn’t an airplane that heavily used be on Cessna’s ‘Progressive Care’ program?

Sorry, I didn’t think I was being a ‘shill’ for General Aviation, it’s just that in my experience the average annual inspection for a basic aircraft doesn’t cost that much, and my experience includes almost 10 years as a director of a flying club that owned a Mooney M20-C, three C-150’s, a Piper Archer, a 172, and a 172XP. These are more like the typical aircraft a person of modest means might own.

I was also including parts replacement, but in very simple aircraft like these there aren’t that many - none of these airplanes were IFR certified, so we didn’t have that hassle. ELT batteries, Oil, Plugs, the odd plug wire, worn screws, moving parts out of published tolerance, tires, etc. Once in a while a cylinder change, or we’d find a flap hinge out of tolerance and have to rip it apart, or whatever. And we maintained our aircraft very well.

The most complex airplane we had was the Mooney, and even that wasn’t bad. Manual Landing Gear, rubber doughnuts for shock absorbers. The stupid door on the thing cost a fortune, though - it was fragile, and renters kept breaking it by slamming it shut or trying to force the handle when it wasn’t closed properly.

Again, a lot depends on how much you fly. I only put about 50-80 hours a year on average on my Grumman, so I managed to go through a lot of annuals without having to change the tires and some of the other high-ticket items with finite lifespans. Your mileage will vary, especially in an airplane with high utilization.

And sure, if you own a Mooney 252, or a Cessna 210, or a Beech Bonanza, you’d better be ready to crack open your checkbook. These are complex airplanes with a LOT of systems in them. My Grumman did not have oleos (fiberglass leaf spring landing gear), no steering linkages (differential braking for steering), no air conditioning, VFR radios, no electric trim, not even fuel gauges (it uses sight tubes). There just isn’t a lot that can go wrong once you move away from the engine. Very few moving parts, no hydraulics at all. That’s the type of airplane that is relatively cheap to maintain.

Around here a C-172 rents for about $65-$70/hour.