All posts tagged 'aircraft-fuel-costs'

Never Run It Dry

Keeping track of the time/speed/distance equation is only part of fuel management
By Bill Cox

It was the Christmas holiday, and I was on my way back from the Bahamas to Venice, Fla. Joe Ponte of Piper had graciously loaned me a Cherokee Six 300 in conjunction with a pilot report, and I had elected to take my mom and stepfather on a quick, four-day trek to Freeport and Nassau.

On the trip back, we made a stop in Fort Lauderdale to clear customs, turn in our survival gear and close our international flight plan, then relaunched for the short hop diagonally across the state to Venice on the Gulf Coast.
My parents were luxuriating in the back of the big Six as we cruised 6,500 feet above the swamp when the engine suddenly quit cold.

The immediate silence got everyone's attention, especially mine. I was the number-one son, and mom trusted me implicitly in any airplane. I didn't want to dispel that trust by doing something stupid, though it seemed I already had.

Of course, I had let one of the Cherokee Six's four tanks run dry, and the engine had shut down in a heartbeat, without a telltale tick of the fuel flow or any other forewarning. As calmly as I could, I turned on the fuel pump, then, feigning a casual motion, reached down and switched to a tank with some fuel in it. I turned to Mom and Bob in the back seat, summoned what I hoped would be a reassuring smile and said, "Sorry about that. It's no big problem. I just ran a tank dry. The engine will pick up in a few seconds."

I turned back forward, expecting power to return at any moment. I waited and waited. Nothing happened. We were gliding down toward Lake Okeechobee, and I was beginning to wonder if we were about to discover firsthand that the lake was only five feet deep as I had read.

Finally, after perhaps 20 seconds that seemed more like 20 minutes, I heard some expectant coughs from the Lycoming before it came slowly back online. We continued to Venice, and Mom's only comment after we landed was, "Does that happen often?"

Fortunately, if you're smart enough to plan ahead, it need never happen even once. I obviously wasn't and didn't, so it did

Fuel Management
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation reports that fuel exhaustion or mismanagement are all-too-common causes of accidents, generally fourth behind landing accidents, takeoff incidents and maneuvering flight at low altitude. Fuel exhaustion is exactly what it sounds like—running the tanks dry. Fuel mismanagement relates to landing with fuel still on board but inaccessible because of a system problem, because the pilot didn't know he had it available or simply forgot to change tanks.

Fuel management isn't really that tough these days, considering that totalizers keep almost perfect track of fuel burned and remaining. Even modern aircraft fuel gauges are more reliable than they used to be. In fact, managing fuel use was never that difficult to begin with, provided you knew how much you had on board, how much you were burning and when you departed. Assuming there were no leaks, the answer was a simple problem in elementary math. The difficulties arise when you don't know all three of the items above. Trouble is, many pilots are convinced they do know how much fuel is in the tanks when, in fact, they have only a vague idea.

Let's consider fuel capacity. According to the book, I can carry 64 gallons in my Mooney…or can I? I bought my airplane in 1987 and knew it had never been wrecked, so it was reasonable to assume the tanks were not deformed and still in the original shape. Fortunately, I had my Mooney's tanks resealed a few years ago, so I had the perfect opportunity to determine true capacity. Every ounce of fuel had to be drained in order to reseal the tanks, and that meant I was starting from true empty.

Accordingly, I pushed the airplane out to a level ramp, with no apparent list left or right. It was mid-morning, and the temperature was about 60 degrees F, pretty close to standard, so fuel density wasn't a concern. (Some long-distance flyers, in search of maximum range, have their fuel supercooled and pumped aboard at the last possible minute, then climb quickly to high altitude and burn the top off each tank before the avgas can expand and overflow.)

When the fuel truck arrived, I asked the fueler to pump the 100LL slowly so there would be less chance of an air bubble. While he pumped, I shook the wing at the tip to help any air escape. Then, I watched carefully to make certain the level came to the exact bottom of the filler neck.

When the fueler was done, the meter suggested I had taken aboard 33.1 gallons in the left tank and 33.4 gallons in the right, a total of 66.5 gallons, 2.5 more than maximum. According to Mooney, that's all usable, so I could assume that figure for flight planning. I don't. I use the standard 64-gallon capacity instead.

A deformed tank can be more common than you might imagine, and any deformation will almost always rob you of fuel capacity. After a friend with a Comanche 260 died of a heart attack many years ago, his widow asked me to maintain his airplane for her, taking it out for a walk every two months or so. She swore she'd never sell it, as it had been her late husband's beloved toy. Finally, reality intervened, and she asked me to sell it for her.

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How to choose a Fixed Based Operator (FBO) that is right for you

Choosing an FBO


Unless you are based at a rural airport, own your own hangar, fuel your aircraft yourself from your own cache of fuel, and ultimately keep your flying adventures confined to the immediate local area with all take-offs and landings made at your home airport, you will often need to choose which Fixed Based Operation (FBO) is right for you.


The definition of an FBO is, in my opinion "any entity or person that provides one or more aeronautical services, at a permanent location at an airport." My own definition can be expanded upon by stating what those services might consist of:  A supplier of aviation fuel, aircraft handling, aircraft maintenance, flight training, aircraft rentals, parking/hangarage/storage, and many other aviation services not defined here.


So how do you go about selecting which is the right FBO for you to spend your money with?


The easiest way is probably to break out the type of services that you might choose from, into their own categories and then  create a concept of what you consider to be 'good' and 'bad' points of consideration.


Aviation Fuel

According to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) there are 148 operable refineries in the U.S. (excluding Puerto Rico.) The sum total of all production of distilled product per day, in barrels of crude oil equals 17,736,000. Of this only 9%, or 1,400,000 barrels of Jet Fuel is produced. AVGAS production is much less.  Aviation fuel producing companies total approximately only 30 separate corporations, therefore the blend choice and base or wholesale pricing of all aviation fuel here in the U.S. is rather limited. We are lucky as consumers here, as there exists far less freedom of choice in the rest of the world.


Very few of the raw product producing companies sell direct to the FBO network across this nation. Most of the product is sold and distributed through non-producing suppliers who obviously seek to make a profit from their endeavors (quite rightly so.) Often an FBO also is unable to deal directly either with the nearest refinery, or fuel distributor because the airport at which they have chosen to hang their shingle, has a tenant agreement in place that requires all of the FBO that at based there to purchase their fuel through the airport or local municipal administration. The further away the supplying refinery, the greater the product cost.


Once the fuel makes it into the storage tanks of an FBO, the spot market price quoted by the commodities markets bears very little resemblance to the price that the FBO has paid, and is now ready to sell onto you. In the common situation where the FBO has been required to purchase its resale fuel from the landlord airport, the only way they are able to be price competitive to their neighboring FBO's either at the same field, or at other airports within the same city region/area, is to either reduce their overhead or to buy more fuel than their competitors thus receiving a discount from the airport, based upon how much they buy each month.


The distribution system that I have described above is pretty typical and thus makes a tough row-to-hoe for any FBO that is faced with competition at the same airport, a contracting pilot population, and the current administrations attempts to smash the General Aviation into smithereens. Many of the FBO's that have chosen to build comfortable, amenities-rich, and visitor pleasing facilities that are staffed with well trained, competent and customer orientated staff, elect to charge a 'ramp fee.' This practice is widely decried by many as being unfair, however I contest that you basically get what you pay for, i.e. if self-service pumps in the rain are the only service that you require, then you should expect to pay less than when you enter and exit through the smoked glass doors of an architectural wonder that serves coffee, cookies, has sleep, multi-media entertainment, flight planning rooms, courtesy cars, offers hangarage available to all transiting aircraft, and 24 hour guarded security.


Aircraft Handling

Often the level of handling services are governed by the geographic location of the FBO. In the wintry north snow and ice clearing and deicing will be readily available. At an urban location that acts as a portal for a major city, luggage service, gourmet catering, door-to-door limousine service, on-site conferencing as well as many other hotel-like amenities that may even include a concierge desk, will be available to you. At FBO's that are located at airports that act as a busy international port of entry, customs and immigration services, including access to customs brokerage agencies, international flight permits, visa and other services will usually be available to a visiting aircraft, passengers and crew. The size of aircraft handled by an FBO is governed by the runway length, load bearing capacities of the runway, taxiways and ramps, and often by locally imposed noise or size restrictions deemed by the municipal leaders. You may have to call ahead if you are going to need a certified dispatcher, a set of air-stairs, a wheelchair lift, luggage conveyor belt, or a galley restock. Size, services and amenities offered all add to the overhead of an FBO, and therefore expect to pay a ramp-fee or buy the required number of gallons necessary to support your patronage of the FBO that you are visiting.


Aircraft Maintenance

Generator brushes fail, a transponder shoots craps, an insect blocks a pitot tube, grape juice is spilled on the carpet, a navigation or beacon light burns out; possibly you are transporting company executives on a month long round-robin road show and therefore a scheduled inspection is coming due on your aircraft? Regardless of the service that you require, you must plan ahead to get maintenance performed for you while away from your home base. Occasionally an OEM service centre is also located at your destination city, and this service centre can handle your passenger and get them off to their destination hotel or office, as well as being able to perform your required servicing. Good contingency planning at the beginning of your trip might pay off in major dividends that enable you to keep to schedule if you experience an in-flight failure. Brand choice may be more important to you rather than the price that you pay at the fuel desk.


Flight Training

Some FBO's may offer flight training…or I might say that some Flight Schools might offer FBO services. Choosing where you learn to fly might be one of the most important decisions of your life, both from a competency and financial point of view. Unless you are located in a region where the choice of a flight school/FBO is not an option, i.e. there is only one; you should schedule a trial flight at each of your potential schools before you make your decision. Finding an instructor that matches your personality will go a long way in ensuring that you are able to complete your training in a timely and efficient timeframe. If there is a high turnover of instructors, the aircraft are shabby, poorly maintained, the classrooms double as pilot lounges, or you have long holding times because of the airport being too handle to handle training aircraft in their airspace, you might better served to find a different school or airport before you commit your cash to a license or rating.


Aircraft Rentals

Once you have your certificate in-hand after completing the great expense, personal fulfillment and exacting experience of becoming a pilot, what is the point if you cant either rent, or buy and hangar your own aircraft at an airport sufficiently convenient to you to maintain your proficiency as a newly certified pilot? In the area surrounding a major city you might have plenty of options available to you which may include aircraft share programs, flying clubs or flight school rentals. Either way what is the point of getting your ticket if you cant continue building flying experience somewhere that is convenient and within your means? Do your research on who rents what, where and for how much before you learn to fly?



It is possible to spend tens of millions of dollars on the construction of your own hangar in which you wish to house your personal or business aircraft. In most instances the chosen way to house and store an aircraft is by arranging a monthly rental rate for space at your local FBO. It is very common for an FBO to base its quoted rate, or even its willingness to house your aircraft on how much fuel you will be buying from them (remember how their price goes down, and their ability to stay in business is based on how many gallons they need to buy.) When considering which FBO best suits your hangarage needs, visit them all and stick around and watch how the base aircraft are handled, both how they are maneuvered in and out of the hangar (do they have at least 3 people to stack and unstack each aircraft from its berth?) Do they have the appropriate tug and tow bar combination appropriate to your specific model of aircraft? Do they carry sufficient insurance if they run your aircraft into a hangar wall or another aircraft? Is the hangar secure after hours? When will you be able to access your aircraft during the 24 hour cycle? How much notice do you need to give the FBO to make sure that your aircraft is out ready fro your desired departure? It is also important to understand the rules that you agree to regarding on how long your aircraft will sit outside on the ramp while another aircraft is taken in-or-out of the same hangar. I have known some FBO's to park base customer aircraft outside on the ramp, so they can accommodate a transient aircraft in the same spot that they are charging you rent for, while effectively double charging for the same space. Buyer beware.


Customer Service

Human beings are motivated by many kinds of behavior and stimulation, through-which creates a value set that they choose to live by. I for one don’t see a budget mindset having any place in the value set of an aircraft owner. This is for two reasons:


·         Aircraft can kill you if they are not housed, fed, watered, cared for and operated properly, all for the sake of an owner who is looking to own and operate their own aircraft on a shoestring budget.

·         The purchase price, cost to own and operate an aircraft is usually out-of-sight for most people on this planet. If you are not wealthy, then you shouldn’t be flying your own aircraft.


Having stated my opinion above regarding how you approach the ownership and/or operation of your aircraft, you will understand why I hold service, integrity and quality high above the actual cost, and whenever I am in the position (it does happen occasionally) to select an FBO, I treat the decision as a matter of value, instead of cost. Some of the best FBO's that I have had the privilege of using go out of their way to make certain that their customers feel safe, comfortable, cared-for and that all expectations are both met and exceeded. The FBO that greets a Cessna 172 with the same enthusiasm and standards that they provide to a Gulfstream, is sure to score high in customer satisfaction, and  ultimately in number of actual aircraft movements and subsequent fuel sales that they see and make each year. 



Making Your Choice

So what resources are available to you as an aid in making the best choice of an FBO? Well you are already here! Globalair that is; the very same website that you are reading this article. If you follow this link: You can find links to aviation companies, from flight schools to flight departments, maintenance companies and charter services on the largest search engine in the aviation world. If you follow this link: you can rely on Globalair's FBO fuel prices, the most up to date on the Internet, to find the best 100LL and Jet A prices. Search for weather, FAA data, runway lengths and approach information.  Best yet, join MAX-TRAX here: https://www.airportfuelprices.comMax-Trax, the world’s first and only aircraft fuel route-mapping system. Developed by, Max-Trax is an easy and efficient way to improve your aircraft fuel efficiency. By providing a tool that tracks and continually updates aircraft fuel prices, it will help you save time and money each time you use it, regardless of whether you’re dispatching a single aircraft or an entire fleet of aircraft.


Max-Trax is user-friendly and extremely flexible, allowing you to modify your flight plan on the fly. Max-Trax utilizes its own proprietary FBO fuel pricing index of jet, avgas and 100LL fuel suppliers, developed in conjunction with’s Airport Resource Center (ARC), to display up-to-date* aircraft fuel prices, information on the primary destination airport or alternative airports nearby and details on services and amenities available at each.


It makes laying out flight routes prior to departure or modifying them once you’re in the air as easy as pointing and clicking. If you need to deviate from your original flight plan enroute, simply rolling the cursor over a new waypoint or keying in the airport identifier or the name of a city is all it takes. Max-Trax will recalculate and display updated, point-to-point routing in a matter of seconds…including the best aircraft fuel prices at the new location.


As aviation fuel prices soar to new heights, Max-Trax can help you stretch your budget by saving you thousands of dollars on fuel purchases over the course of a year. Nowhere else on the Internet will you find a resource specifically designed to help you fly the most efficient routes and refuel at the most economical sites.

Cirrus looks toward diesel engine that could begin testing next year

Cirrus Aircraft

Engineers from Cirrus Aircraft gathered in Wisconsin this week to discuss a new aircraft engine that would run on diesel fuel.

According to a report from the Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune, investors who attended the meeting were encouraged to boost Engineered Propulsion Systems Inc. so it can hire more employees to help develop an engine “that could propel the industry away from leaded fuels.”

The company hopes to finish design work and begin building an engine prototype that could be running by the middle of next year, the report quotes EPS President Michael Fuchs as saying.


 Paul Johnston, the chief engineer for Cirrus, told the News-Tribune that the aircraft maker has spent the past decade working with various companies to roll out an engine that relies on an unleaded fuel available worldwide as the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to phase out 100LL.

“It really gives you hope that this will be the engine to power our airplanes into the next decade,” Johnston told the newspaper.

Read the full article here.

Find Cirrus SR20 and Cirrus SR22 aircraft for sale on

Find tips for reducing fuel costs on the Blog by clicking here.

An engine modification that may change your aircraft's fuel usage

Above: A 250 hp, 6-cylinder engine modified by Sonex 

A tip of the hat today to AvWeb, who interviews Dr. Andrew Pouring of a company called Sonex. He and his staff developed a process called Sonex Controlled Auto Ignition.

By tweaking the pressure in piston cycles, one can modify an engine to burn most any type of fuel. AvWeb gives the example of burning Jet A in a piston aircraft, but it also could be used for other forms of diesel or even palm oil.

Listen to a podcast on the AvWeb site here. Read more from Sonex web site here.

According to the company, it wants to commercialize the process and is actively seeking investors to further the process to be used in UAVs and other military craft, in addition to private uses.

How Decreased Utilization Can "Increase" Costs

A user of our cost database asked about the effect of utilization on total cost per hour. His question was with higher utilization do the fixed and total costs decrease on a per hour basis?

First a quick review. Variable Costs are those costs that as activity increases, the total cost will increase but the cost per unit of time will remain constant. An easy example is fuel cost per hour. The next hour you fly will consume so much fuel. If you don't fly, then there is no fuel consumed and thus, no cost.

Fixed Costs are costs that for a given level of activity or period, remain essentially constant. Hangar rent is an example of a fixed cost. You pay so much per year to rent a hangar regardless of how much you fly.

For our discussion, we assumed that Total Cost per Hour was the Variable Cost per Hour plus the Annual Fixed Cost divided by the Annual Hours flown. The example I used was an aircraft with a variable cost of $1,250 per hour and fixed costs of $400,000 per year.

For 200 hours per year = 200 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $650,000 per year divided by 200 hours = $3,250 per hour average.

For 400 hours per year = 400 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $900,000 per year divided by 400 hours = $2,250 per hour average.

You spread the annual costs over more and more hours so the total average cost per hour decreases as utilization increases.

The reverse is also true. Decreasing utilization by a certain percentage will not drive down total costs by the same percentage. If your aviation budget were reduced by 15%, you'd have to reduce flying by a lot more than 15% to make your savings. From our earlier numbers:

400 hours per year = 400 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $900,000 per year divided by 400 hours = $2,250 per hour average.

To reduce our $900,000 budget by 15% to $765,000 by only reducing flight hours, we'd need to reduce flying to 292 hours - a 27% reduction:

292 hours per year = 292 x $1,250 + $400,000 = $765,000 per year divided by 292 hours = $2,620 per hour average.

Also note that our average cost per hour went up by 16%. So if you were tracking that metric too, things would look bad. Decreased flying and increased average cost per hour.

This can result in the "flight department death spiral" of reduce hours, average cost per hour increases, reduce hours some more because the cost per hour goes up, average cost per hour increases again... until at some point the aircraft is sold for being too expensive.

In some cases this cannot be avoided as the company is in dire straits and simply cannot afford the expense regardless. However, as aviation managers you need to be aware of the perception of your aircraft costs and be prepared to both defend and explain them so as to avoid a knee-jerk "the planes too expensive" reaction to reduced flying.

I hate to ask, but have you been there?

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