The Cost of Flying and the Diminishing Pilot Population

I’ve read a number of articles recently on the dwindling and aging pilot population. A few statistics help to illustrate the problem facing us as we try to grow the pilot population…

Median income: $12,050
Average car: $3,650
Cessna 172 (new): $18,440

Median income: $51,300
Average car: $31,250
Cessna 172 (new): $360,000

So, median income has gone up roughly 4 times, while new cars have gone up 9 times and airplanes have gone up 20 times.

Now, some might argue that the cars of today are significantly “better” than the cars of 1973 – more efficient, comfortable, and safer. Does the same apply for the airplane? In a few ways, yes, but overall, the utility of today’s 172 is the same as one from 1973 (I regularly fly a 1971 Cessna 172). The majority of improvements have been in the avionics, not in performance, safety, or comfort. Today’s 172 is a nearly identical frame, similar engine, and with improved electronics. So, let’s look at rental rates: In 1970 (can’t find our 1973 rates), our club rented a reasonably new (1965) Cessna 150 for $7/hr. Our club’s current 152 (which was built in 1978) rents now for $71/hr. A tenfold increase for a similar aircraft.

Now luckily, we have a relatively plentiful market of used aircraft that can be purchased for a lot less than new aircraft, but that supply is not infinite and decreases every year. Properly maintained, these aircraft have many good years ahead. That’s the only reason the multiplier on the rental rates isn’t even higher.


Source of car price data:
Source of median income:
Source of historic rental rate:

3 thoughts on “The Cost of Flying and the Diminishing Pilot Population

  1. I can’t fathom who the market for new GA aircraft would be; who is actually spending $360K on a new 172???

    Serious question.

    • It does seem a hard sell. Cessna found 113 buyers in 2012 for the 172S. One finds a number of G1000 172s renting out at $160+/hr, so at least some end up in that market

  2. Going back a little further than 1973, this is posted in the history section of a certain flying club, about the club’s formation:
    “A special meeting was called on August 1, 1956, to discuss and obtain approval to buy a Piper J-3 Cub … The price was $800. … Monthly dues [for membership in the club] were set at $2.00, and the hourly rate for flying the Cub was set at $4.00.”

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