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Use Caution When Comparing Costs

by David Wyndham 1. June 2010 11:38
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Last month I talked about a methodology to compare costs. I suggested that Life Cycle Costing is the preferred method in order to fully understand the total costs of owning and operating an aircraft. Even if Life Cycle Costing, I want to bring another point of caution to you.

What is covered?

We've done many benchmark reports and analyzed the costs of hundreds of aircraft. It is vital to understand exactly what went into the number is that you have.  If you have used Life Cycle Costing yourself, then you will have put forth the effort into your costs. But what about costs from other sources?

If your analysis suggests that an aircraft costs $1,200 per hour and your friend, who operates the same type, tells you $900 per hour, who is correct? Well, you both can be. Just what was covered in each number and what were the underlying assumptions?

Fuel cost is an easy example. For each hour that you fly, your aircraft consumes so much fuel. The $1,200 per hour assumed fuel at $5.25 per gallon while your friend used $4.50 per gallon. At 85 gallons per hour, you are different by $63.75 per hour.

Next up in variable costs is maintenance. But what maintenance is included? Scheduled, unscheduled, retirement items, engines? Are major cost items such as engine overhauls accrued as a cost per hour, or just shown as an average or an interval not equal to the time accrued?

Say you spent $252,000 on an engine overhaul due at 3,600 hours. The accrual cost is $70 per hour. If you have had the aircraft for only two years and flew 600 hours during that time, the “cost per hour” to you is $420 per hour. Quite a difference!  While that cost jumps out as obvious, add up a lot of $1,000 and $500 items. Taken individually, they seem insignificant. In total the effect can be substantial.

Maintenance costs can vary considerably and their cyclical nature adds to the fog surrounding using a single number. While Life Cycle Costing helps, you need to be consistent in the methods and length of time used. Even so, a five year cost period for a new aircraft will differ than a five year cost for a 10-year old aircraft. What maintenance happens when is important.

Training costs, new avionics, upgrading paint and interior, how much insurance coverage you have, whether you have three full time crew or two full time crew and one part time contract pilot, and so on all can add up to significant differences in the cost. 

When you are analyzing and comparing costs from different sources, you need to know what methodology is used and what the numbers include (or exclude). The more detail the better as you can easily be lulled into a false sense of security when two big numbers are close together. Ideally you should run all the numbers yourself using as close to the same assumptions and sources as possible.

Lastly, please keep in mind that every serial number of a single model does not cost the same to operate. In the real world some folks will see higher costs than others, especially in the area of maintenance. Ask questions and understand that "your actual results may vary."


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