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Thread: Economics of Starting Bush Flying

  1. #1

    Default Economics of Starting Bush Flying

    Hello, I am looking for opinions on the local market for getting into bush flying. I would be starting from scratch (no training yet) and I would like to be in a situation where I could take a small family by air to off airstrip areas in Alaska. Probably looking at no more than 50 hours of air travel per year with a 4-place plane. I've always had a life long dream of flying and want to see much more of the state that isn't accessible otherwise.

    Would it just be cheaper to hire local operators to fly us rather than go through the training, ownership, and operating costs? At what point (hrs/year) does it make sense to get a PPL and own.

    I also understand the possibility to share ownership of a plane and split some costs. Does this work well in Alaska?

    I know these are big open ended questions . . . so if you would just like to tell me how you would do it if you started all over again to get the biggest bang for your buck, I am happy to listen!

    Thanks

  2. #2

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    A boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into. An Aircraft is a hole in the sky, that you pour money into.

  3. #3
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    I would say it depends on whether the airplane is merely transportation to a desired spot or something you love to do. Owning, maintaining and flying an aircraft is more of a lifestyle rather than a casual hobby in my opinion. Go take a couple of lessons and see if the "bug" bites you. For some of us it bites hard.

  4. #4

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    What is the estimated "Total" cost of getting a private pilot license today......??? Back in the good times it was free or nearly free, Private, Commercial, Instrument, etc..

  5. #5
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    50 hours a year is a lot of hired hours a year for family fun trips. On the other hand, 50 hours a year is very borderline in terms of being current, competent, and safe to carry your family off airport, especially starting from 0.

    Cost-wise, honestly...you'd save money hiring it done most likely, because it might be 2-3 trips a year if you're lucky. Probably in the neighborhood of $300/hr for an off - airport capable 4-place charter.

    On your own, I'd say $50K minimum to buy, and that's very optimistic. Probably $75K budget would be more realistic for a capable 4-place off airport machine. I understand it's not uncommon to plunk down $8-$10K to get a private license today, in a rented aircraft. Operating costs are all over the place, depending on what it is.

    It's not unattainable, but not especially easy either. All depends on your priorities. As said above, it's a lifestyle choice, whether it's done as a job or not.

    I personally cannot afford the bills that go with a 4 seat off airport machine. Wish I could. I've gone the experimental, 2 seats, and 5 gallons an hour route. Still fun but pretty selfish.

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    You don't really state what you can afford. There are many routes to get you where you want to go, 200hrs a year would be the minimum ballpark hours for staying current. Having/getting your A&P license makes aircraft ownership more affordable. Starting out in a light two place is better for many reasons and all most people can afford. You need to get your skills up to a high level before you put your family in that situation...

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    Thoughts:...all just opinion, nothing more.

    - If you already knew where you were going, no question it would be cheapest and easiest to hire your 50 hours per year.
    - I got my PPL in 198??? for a fixed fee of (IIRC) $1100. That included so many hours of dual, some many hours of 150 time, and so much classroom time. I ran about 6-8 hours over the alloted time pre-solo and had to pay an extra $150. From what I hear, one would not be out of the ball park to multiply those #'s by 10-15 today.
    - As mentioned above, a plane is a lifestyle choice. Have to enjoy using it, babying it, pre-heating it, cursing it, getting it unstuck, etc. It is in no way a get in an go only proposition.
    - I wouldn't feel competent flying my PA-12 if I flew less than 100 hours per year: not that I'd be certain to crash, just wouldn't feel competent: and even in the 150+ hour years, the plane can still fly better than I can
    - If you're going to explore places to go, IMO, it's impractical to try to hire that done: go with a friend or get your own plane.
    - I did the share-a-plane thing once. Allegedly it can work. Didn't work for me. Neither did the share-a-boat. Have one of each now.
    - You'll need to firmly define what (in your view) counts as "Bush Flying": my cabin strip is off airport, "dirt", and often has bear and moose on it, but in no way can it be called a "bush" strip. Circa 1200 feet overall length, at least 900 of that is firm and relatively flat. Contrast with a one-way, 300' strip on the top of a mountain or on a riverbar. Defining "Bush Flying" will identify the type(s) of plane you'll want to look at
    - When doing your analysis, DO NOT skimp on the type of plane you'll want: "I should have a 185, but I can get by with a hot 172" may be factually accurate, but it won't feel that way 10 years down the road and if one is always having to scrape and minimize weight and volume, it's not as fun for the family. Don't ask me how I know with 3 grandkids, a wife, and allegedly 2 seats in back.
    - Skimp if needed on electronics, appearance, and bling: not on engine or airframe.

    All that being said, if you know a likely spot to fly to, bash your way in there on foot, ATV or horse. Then do the trip in an airplane. That might just convince you which choice to make. My cabin is 30 minutes flying time (wind dependent) or 3.5 hours on roads/trails....no brainer on the preferred method of getting there.
    Back in AK

  8. #8

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    Also helps if you can expense or write part of the cost off as a valid business expense. I had a guiding business and a remote real estate brokerage business, both utilized the aircrafts.

  9. #9

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    Buying an airplane will not save you money in any fashion, ever.

    Once you have an airplane and have decided to sink the cash into ownership, using that airplane instead of going commercial can save you money versus leaving it parked while you buy tickets. However, unless you are flying a lot, the decision matrix that makes you able to recognize when you need to leave it parked and pay the professionals is hampered by lack of experience unless you fly a lot...which is undefined except that it is a lot more than 50 hrs per year.

    One of the best things I have ever done was buy an airplane and learn to fly. I have had a lot of people tell me they are jealous about how much money I save since I can fly myself places. I tell them the same thing...most expensive savings I ever arranged. If that was the reason for it, it was a total failure...
    14 Days to Alaska
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  10. #10

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    Thank you for all of the responses so far. I should note my reason for asking about the economics side of getting started, is to size up the potential financial pitfall. I realize no one should learn to fly and buy a plan to save money unless they could make money doing it - which I don't currently have any interest in. It's just one of the cons to weigh into the lifestyle decision. If hiring the transport and learning/owning routes are a wash, I will happily go the later route (and take the given advice to heart regarding the adequate hours to become proficient).

    People have asked more about my situation. If it's helpful, here's some more info. Married without kids but expecting within the next 5 years. We bring in about $80k per year with about $20k in savings and $10k in annual disposable. I also have other family with significant savings that may be interested in investing in a plane in exchange for transport and flight seeing so spending $50-100k on a good plane is possible. So it is relatively important to try to find a 4 seater. Hunting will certainly be a major activity for the plane to support so STOL is important too.

    I do appreciate the caution to get into as easy of flying plane first, like a 2 seat tandem, but is it unreasonable to get right into a more powerful 4 seater? If you knew me, you'd agree I am one of the most humble and safest operators, and I do tend to learn skills relatively quickly. I entertain myself on long drives by trying to get the best fuel economy and I don't see the 'getting there' part as something to make adventurous. This is about flight seeing for a few other people, and at the max, capable of bringing back a moose and hunting party from a gravel bar in a reasonable amount trips. Any recommendations for plane models?

    More importantly, does anyone have tips for preferred flight schools in Anchorage area?

    Thanks for all of your help

  11. #11

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    The 'which airplane do I buy' question is really not answerable by anybody except yourself. Many of us gravitate toward whatever decision-making process led us to the plane we own. In my case, that is a Tripacer, but if I were to look at your statements above, I would say you should get a Maule, Cessna 180, Cessna 182, or Cessna 205. But whether I am right about any of those depends on a lot of things.

    As far as whether you can learn to fly in any of them, yes, you certainly could. But it is sort of the hard way to do things. If you are going to get a 172 or Tripacer or a tandem plane, then learning in them makes a lot of sense. If you are getting the bigger/more powerful aircraft, then it starts to make sense to learn in a lighter airplane, develop a feel for airmanship, and then transition to the heavier craft after you develop the reflexes and feel that a lighter aircraft can offer.

    But that is only my two cents, both as a person that has been in your shoes, and as a CFI now.
    14 Days to Alaska
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    Quote Originally Posted by AKMtnRunner View Post
    I've always had a life long dream of flying and want to see much more of the state that isn't accessible otherwise.
    This is your answer. How bad to you want to achieve your life long dream? I say go for it. If it don't work out then at least you know you tried to make it happen. If you don't at least try, then some day you might be laying on your death bed regretting it...??? Take it from an old fart that unfortunately does have regrets......do what it takes to make your dreams come true...!!!
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Getting a license and buying an airplane is only the beginning. Maintaining that airplane is another big nut. If you add up the numbers private airplanes make no sense. The answer is to not add up the numbers.

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    I also have other family with significant savings that may be interested in investing in a plane in exchange for transport and flight seeing so spending $50-100k on a good plane is possible


    This has disaster written all over it. Airplanes,boats and cabins. Sounds great up front to split them. Usually works for a while. Then almost always destroys the friendship and leaves one party in the hole $$$$

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    Quote Originally Posted by theultrarider View Post
    I also have other family with significant savings that may be interested in investing in a plane in exchange for transport and flight seeing so spending $50-100k on a good plane is possible


    This has disaster written all over it. Airplanes,boats and cabins. Sounds great up front to split them. Usually works for a while. Then almost always destroys the friendship and leaves one party in the hole $$$$
    Double or triple ditto what the Ultrarider said. At the risk of sounding like an athol, if you (or you and spouse) can't afford the plane on your own, don't get it. When the expectations eventually don't meet the reality (and they almost never do), the resulting stress and strain harms relationships and, what's worse, casts a pall over enjoying the toy.

    Type of plane? My thoughts would be based on my experience so may not work for you: A) It's much easier to learn in a 150 / 172 than in a 185 /Helio......but I'd suggest learning in a rented plane rather than buying a "learner/trainer"; B) if you have to buy starter plane, get something that is worthwhile in it's own right, not just a trainer; i.e. if you want a tandem to learn in, get something that is beneficial so that if the spouse says "no more planes", you aren't left with a putter plane, but something that can be used (Cub, -12, Some Citabria's); C) As Mr. Pid mentioned, buying the plane is only step one. Maintaining, operating, rebuilding (???!!!) etc also has to be factored in. If the plane one has isn't good for the mission, one will become very weary very quickly of paying all those costs.

    Leaving out finances, were I in your position and HAD to own a plane, I'd get my PPL through a school or in someone else's plane in any case. Then I'd look for a Maule/180/182/185. Don't skimp on legal usefull load if you're planning on flightseeing with all seats full. ....and take an hour of stall instruction in the Maule before you plunk money down on it.
    Back in AK

  16. #16

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    I'll chime in with my experience. I had big dreams of off-airport flying, exploring, weekend trips to Homer, Montague, King Salmon, etc. It hasn't worked out as well as I thought but I thoroughly enjoyed learning to fly and have some memorable experiences because of it. Two big things limit my flying time 1) Wife doen't really want to go unless I'm going off airport somewhere, maybe twice a year, to beach comb or something. 2)When I get a weather window of a few days where I can do what I thought I'd do, I'd rather take the boat out. In the end, I've decided I'm an ocean guy and I am far too cautious to fly over long stretches of open water to get places like Montague and the outer coast.

    As far as ownership, I bought a J-3 I learned in, just put it up for sale because we found a bigger boat we wanted instead. Advantages of that route are you don't lose money renting a trainer, you are immersed in all the in's and out's of ownership from the beginning while you have an instructor to answer any questions you have, you have a relatively cheap to fly plane that burns 5 gal/hr while your building hours solo, and by the time you are done training you know your plane pretty well. The con's are the limited load, really a one place plane if you are taking any significant baggage along, and you have to go through selling it if you decide flying isn't for you or you want to upgrade, if you know you are going to upgrade right away a rental plane may be better, also not all small planes have all the required instruments to take you PPL checkride.

    Few things to consider. Even a J-3 costs quite a bit once you pay for annuals, fuel, insurance (some go without), repairs, tie downs, etc. When are you going to feel comfortable loading all your loved ones into the same plane and heading off airport? This will vary for everyone based on their natural skill, experience, and personal risk tolerance and could take longer than you think. Where are you going to keep it, how far away is that from your house, how much time will it take get to the airport when your not even flying but just have to go sweep snow, check tie downs, etc? How much do you like watching the weather? Do you have a job or lifestyle that allows you to just not be there if you get weathered in somewhere an extra day or two. Never push the weather beyond your limits, set them and stick to them, nothing is worth risking your life to get back for.

    In the end, flying is a worthwhile endevour and experience, but you really won't know if it's going to become your lifestyle until you see what it offers you and your family. Enjoy it and definitely learn if it's been your dream, it will be worth it even if you decide it's not a lifelong pursuit.

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    I typed a huge dissertation on why not to do it, but realized the same thoughts could be applied to my many other hobbies...so I deleted it. I chose not to do it. I decided I could drop a few thousand dollars a year having someone fly me into a place my abilities would never get me if I owned my own plane and still be happy. I'm also a guy with limited time off when there is no snow on the ground and snowmachines make better sense for my recreation needs.
    Bunny Boots and Bearcats: Utility Sled Mayhem

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    The world is full of Do's and Don'ts.
    My dad was always a Don't. Don't spend a dime, don't start a new project, and so on... It was something from which it was very hard to break-away. Every now and then I catch myself being a Don't. We are only stationed here in this life for a limited period of time and the only thing we take to the next assignment is our experiences, good deeds or failures. I am trying to pack in the good stuff before my transfer date.

    Start small and grow..... 1. Learn to fly. 2. Learn to fly bush...
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    There is also the experimental route out there that would fit the bill and greatly reduce operating costs. If you don't plan on ever flying for hire I would be looking that direction. The cost of certified replacement parts is stupid. I have gone both routes and would never go back certified if I have the option of an appropriate experimental to fit the bill.

  20. #20

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    Just an FYI I was unable to get insurance for an experimental as a student pilot, something to consider if you are thinking of a plane to learn in. But I would definitely consider that route if I was buying another plane.

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