LSA or Part 23, Category Means Little to Operating Costs

By Scott Spangler on April 2nd, 2008

Commenting on my recent post, LSA Pilots Could Spoil a Good Thing, a JetWhine reader said operating costs were missing from the mix. While LSAs might be pricier than hoped, “they still run at far lower operating costs–making plane ownership far less expensive. On average, many LSAs burn 4 gph. Insurance is cheaper as well.”

This implies that light sport-aircraft have lower operating costs, which they do when compared to flying machines with more horsepower and seats. But the same is true with Part 23 airplanes and homebuilts, because the certification category has little do with operating costs or insurance.

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Without getting into all the extenuating factors, a 100-hp engine, whether it’s a Continental O-200 in a Cessna 150 or a Rotax 912 in an LSA, is going to drink roughly 5 gph. This is a bargain when compared to something with a 300-hp engine, which needs a 15-gph petrochemical fix. But when comparing aircraft of equal power, the fuel costs are pretty much a wash.

Given today’s prices, fuel consumption leads the way in direct operating costs, the amount pilot’s pay per hour for necessary consumables. (Trying to KISS, I acknowledge but won’t include other essentials, like maintenance reserves and engine overhaul.)

Insurance is a leader among indirect operating costs, those bills pilots pay no matter how many hours they fly. Category counts for little here; what matters more is the pilot’s experience, where the third wheel is, and the aircraft value. A new pilot with no tailwheel time flying a new taildragger is going to pay a higher premium than a high-time pilot flying a tricycle.

Those who pay cash for an airplane usually have a choice on insuring the airframe. No matter what a pilot buys, new, used, LSA or Part 23, if a loan is involved, the bank will want hull insurance. And the premium is connected to the airframe’s value.

A frame of reference is what matters most in talking about the cost of operating any category of aircraft. If you’re looking at an LSA as someone who has owned a GA four seater, the LSA is a deal. But if you’re comparing one LSA to another, every hundred bucks makes a difference, especially if you’re new to the world of flying. — Scott Spangler

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