Editor's Log

July 2006 Issue

Editor's Log: 07/06

High Prices

Five years ago, I figured it cost about $80 an hour in direct operating costs (fuel, oil and other consumables) to run my airplane. Thatís when avgas was hovering around $2.00 a gallon. Nobody in his right mind was going to a Signature operation and forking over $3.50 a gallon unless someone else was paying for it.

Eighty octane was $0.47 a gallon while 100 octane went for a princely $0.49 way back when I was working as a teenage lineboy at my local airport. Nowadays, fuel prices at my FBO are hovering around the $5.00 mark, and I figure it costs an average of $150 an hour to fly; the increase is solely attributable to fuel costs. I plan each flight around the price of fuel at my destination not its availability. In fact, I spend about as much time researching fuel prices before heading to the hangar as I do weather and facilities.

And Iím not flying as much as I used to. I keep telling myself I just havenít felt the need to travel the last couple of months. That will soon change, however, as I can think of three 700-plus mile roundtrips Iíll need to make before mid-August. Right now, the plane has enough gas to get to one of the outlying fields with inexpensive self-serve fuel, and I plan to make that pilgrimage soon. But a little voice tells me itís just too damn expensive now.

Has my proficiency suffered? Sure. Any time more than a week or so out of the cockpit elapses, I can feel the rust the next time I get in. Is that dangerous? Possibly. It depends on the operation. For example, if I knew I was facing a four- or five-hour slog through bumpy IFR and had an ILS to minimums waiting for me at the other end, I probably wouldnít launch. On the other hand, if that same hop had at least marginal VFR for its duration, the wheels would be in the wells.

And itís not good for the airplane to sit, either. Iím trying to use its increased idle time to address some much-needed improvements and preventive maintenance Iíve been putting off. Thatís about all I can afford to do with it right now and while I know the airplane better, itís definitely not the same as flying.

The point is that high fuel prices have an effect greater than just reducing my flying, or yours. Thereís a price to be paid in lost proficiency and lost utility. And I donít want to think about the expenses I might incur down the road as seals start to leak and require replacement, and as oil drains out of the engine, increasing wear each time I turn the key.

Iíll bet youíre facing the same issues and coming up with the same answers. Hopefully, these high fuel pricesóas well as Uncle Sugarís inane clamoring for more user taxesóis just one of the cyclical results from boomtimes in other GA segments. It doesnít feel like it, though.

The price we pay for flying these days is high. Hopefully, itís not as high as the price we might pay for not flying.

óJeb Burnside