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Becoming a Pilot at a Discount

Let’s be honest, cost is the single most prohibitive attribute of becoming a pilot.  Sure there are other reasons like fear, air sickness, and lack of interest, but for the vast majority of people I talk to, cost is the biggest issue, me included.

So how on earth can we make flying cheaper?

It is quite the tall order with fuel and insurance costs being as high as they are.  Not to mention the fact that airplanes themselves aren’t exactly cheap.  I actually just got a hold of a copy of The Pilot’s Guide to Flying on a Budget which is a great resource that I will be writing about more in the future, but it relates to the system as it currently exists rather than an actual reduction in cost across the industry.  The closest comparison that we can make might be to driving, but it isn’t quite the same.

Even a small plane like this Tecnam costs more than 10 average cars.

Even a small plane like this Tecnam costs more than 10 average cars.

Gas for your car costs approximately half as much as gas for a plane, depending on where you live obviously.  Insurance is also substantially higher due to the inherent risks of flying, as well as the greater cost of an airplane.  However, I think there is one major difference between the two markets that ultimately causes these costs to be as high as they are.

Simply put, there are a lot more cars and drivers out there than there are planes and pilots.

I don’t claim to be an economics expert, in fact I’m pretty sure I had to take one of my economics classes in college twice.  However, there is a principle that I think I understand, at least in very simplistic terms, and that is economies of scale.

For those of you that lack economic savvy like me, economies of scale means essentially that by producing something in larger quantities you can reduce the overall cost.  This is largely based on the fixed costs being distributed across a larger number of goods.

The best example that most of would recognize is stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.  It is cheaper to buy 10,000 diapers or 500 lbs of cheese because it only costs marginally more to manufacture, package, and ship that much than it does to do the same with 20 diapers or 2 lbs of cheese.

Please pardon my exaggeration, but that is the principle in essence.  In getting back to comparing driving and flying, there are a ton more cars out there than there are planes, thus pretty much everything associated with them costs more.  Driver’s Ed courses are a dime a dozen, which makes them cheaper than a flight instructor.  Cars are almost more common than people, which makes them much cheaper than a plane.  Think about it.

A brand new Cessna 172 costs somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000.  Even one that is 40 years old can cost $60,000.  Comparatively, a car that costs $300,000 would be a Bentley or something of that nature.  Thus, it is the people who can afford these types of cars that can also afford flying.

On a crew of 6 we had two females.  We need more of that.

On a crew of 6 we had two females. We need more of that.

Now, my point in this was not so spend an hour comparing cars and planes, but rather to point out that if we could increase the number of people flying we just might be able to reduce the costs to make it easier for people to afford.

As luck would have it I came across two articles today that related to just that topic.  The first is about how China is easing the rules to become a private pilot.  Prior to this announcement, which took effect last Sunday, obtaining a private pilot license in China was comparable to getting a commercial pilot license in the US, which is substantially more time-consuming, and thus more costly.

China is also working to open up its airspace to general aviation.  At the moment only about 20% of Chinese airspace is open to public use with the rest being restricted by the military.  In comparison, approximately 85% of US airspace is open to public use.  While these barriers are not present in the US we have barriers of our own, but there is a movement that is gaining steam that could lead to the growth we need, and thus possibly the reduction in cost that we want.

Dan Pimentel of the Airplanista Aviation Blog wrote about his Christmas wish for aviation in his contribution to December’s Blogging in Formation series.  In his article Dan expresses his lofty wish of having 1,000,000 active pilot certificates in the FAA database by the end of next year.  Just to give you an idea of what that would mean, there were approximately 610,000 certificate holders in 2012.  That includes pilots as well as student pilots.

With any luck I will be able to turn all three of these #avgeeks into pilots.

With any luck I will be able to turn all three of these #avgeeks into pilots.

While Dan admits to the loftiness of his goal he also provides a legitimate solution to this problem which includes three parts.  First, we need to tie aviation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) together.  Second, the big 7 aviation organizations (EAA, AOPA, NBAA, HAI, GAMA, the Ninety-Nines, and Women in Aviation International) need to form a “power collective” as he calls it, to promote aviation.  Finally, that collective needs to push that STEM/aviation message to women and girls in junior high, high school, and college.

The number varies slightly depending on the report you read, but women pilots only make up about 6% of the pilot population.  That is just ridiculous when you think about it.  That means that of the approximately 610,000 certificate holders only 36,600 are women.  Now imagine we increase that number up to 50% of certificate holders being women, and we will get dang close to that 1 million that Dan dreams about.

Increasing the number of pilots is good for everyone in the industry as it helps to provide the variety that makes aviation so much stinking fun.  If increasing the pilot population also leads to a reduction in cost than all the better as that will only lead to even more growth thus more pilots, and even lower costs.  That is the type of cycle that I can buy into.

If that scenario did ever play itself out, then maybe the headline in The Beijing News associated with the article about China above may just become a reality:

“In the future, getting a private pilot’s license will be just as easy as getting an automobile driver’s license.”

December 2, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Bombardier and China Express Airlines Sign Agreement for 16 CRJ900 NextGen Aircraft

CRJ900 NextGenIt might not seem like a big deal that an airline bought 16 regional jets, but considering that China Express Airlines is the only specialized regional airline in the rapidly growing country, I think it is a pretty big deal.  According to the press release below, the airline expects to triple the number of their routes in the next two years.  That is some pretty serious growth in a region that is booming.

It is interesting to see how some of these countries are developing their airlines by learning from what has happened in the US.  They have learned the value of regional airlines, and the important niche that they fill.

It is also fun to see the regional aircraft developing parallel to the much larger aircraft.  It will be interesting to see how they will develop in the future, especially with the development of aircraft like the C-series.

Press Release

Bombardier Aerospace announced today that China’s sole specialized regional airline, China Express Airlines, has placed a firm order for three CRJ900 NextGen airliners, as well as entered into conditional purchase agreements for five CRJ900 NextGen aircraft with options on an additional eight CRJ900 NextGen aircraft. China Express, based in Guiyang, Guizhou provides regional passenger services with its fleet of five CRJ200 aircraft and six CRJ900 NextGen aircraft. The airline made history last year by being the first to operate the CRJ900 aircraft in the country.

Based on the list price for the CRJ900 NextGen aircraft, the firm order is valued at approximately $134 million US. Should the conditional agreements for five CRJ900 NextGen and options on the additional eight CRJ900 NextGen aircraft be converted to firm orders, the value of the contract would increase to $733 million US.

“By 2016, we anticipate that the total number of China Express’ routes will reach approximately 90, three times as many as the number of existing routes, and will cover 60 per cent of China’s regional cities,” said Wu Longjiang, President, China Express. “We are confident that our fleet of Bombardier aircraft will be a very efficient and reliable asset in achieving these objectives.”

“With China’s growing economy, improved support infrastructure and expanding middle-class, regional air travel will be more accessible to Chinese citizens in more regions,” said Mike Arcamone, President, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. “As demonstrated by China Express, the outstanding economics of Bombardier’s CRJ NextGen aircraft will allow airlines to profitably enter smaller tier-two and tier-three markets, providing efficient service to a growing demand from business and leisure travelers. We are delighted that China Express has once again put its trust in Bombardier.”

More than 140 Bombardier-produced aircraft, including CRJ Series and Q-Series commercial aircraft, as well as Learjet, Challenger and Global business jets are currently operating in Greater China.

As of September 30, 2013, Bombardier had recorded firm orders for 1,779 CRJ Series aircraft, including 306 CRJ900 and CRJ900 NextGen aircraft. Worldwide, CRJ Series aircraft are in service with more than 60 airlines and more than 30 customers operate corporate variants of the aircraft. The aircraft are operating in over 50 countries on six continents, and on average, a CRJ aircraft takes off every 10 seconds somewhere in the world. CRJ Series aircraft have transported more than 1.4 billion passengers and have logged more than 38 million flight hours and over 32 million takeoffs and landings.

CRJ900 NextGen aircraft
Like other members of the CRJ Series family of aircraft, the light weight and advanced aerodynamics of the CRJ900 NextGen regional jet combine to deliver improved efficiency and reduced operating costs compared to other aircraft in its class. The combination of a larger winglet and other optimizations since the launch of the CRJ900 aircraft, give the CRJ900 NextGen regional jet excellent airfield and en-route fuel consumption. All CRJ NextGen aircraft feature new interiors with larger overhead luggage bins, larger windows, improved lighting and redesigned ceiling panels and sidewalls.

About Bombardier

Bombardier is the world’s only manufacturer of both planes and trains. Looking far ahead while delivering today, Bombardier is evolving mobility worldwide by answering the call for more efficient, sustainable and enjoyable transportation everywhere. Our vehicles, services and, most of all, our employees are what make us a global leader in transportation.

Bombardier is headquartered in Montréal, Canada. Our shares are traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (BBD) and we are listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability World and North America Indexes. In the fiscal year ended December 31, 2012, we posted revenues of $16.8 billion. News and information are available at or follow us on Twitter @Bombardier.

I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.