Buy vs Rent

Because of health reasons, I am currently pursuing my Sport Pilot certificate. I've been doing my research and I think it may be more cost-effective to purchase my own plane, vs plane rental when I'm ready for flight school. I've been formulating cost-benefit analysis, with different planes. Fortunately, since I'll only be able to fly S-LSAs-VFR, the costs are not as prohibitive as certified planes. Never the less, S-LSAs are expensive too. Then you have to incorporate maintenance, fuel, hangar/tie-down fees, ins. and the list goes on. I just turned 58, and plan on retiring in 2030, so I've got time to think this through and be smart & strategic. I have a baseline knowledge of the S-LSA planes/engines makes, models, and features I'd like to have. I'm also thinking it would be prudent to buy a newer plane (as much as I can afford) rather than an older one. I don't think it's wise to buy a $40K plane that's coming up on its 2K hour TBO and then have to turn around and shell out $50K - $100K for an overhaul. Oh, by the way, I work in downtown DC at FAA Headquarters. Well, I'm all ears!

6 Replies
It might be more cost effective to rent rather than own if flying less than 90 hours per year (above), but the issue that trips up that logic in the Louisville, KY area is the almost total lack of rental aircraft that are available for more than a two hour time slot. That is, unless one is willing to obtain the time required and ability to be proficient in a Cirrus SR22 and able to afford the cost of renting $200+ (dry) or $280+ (wet). Neither of the flight training programs at Bowman Field (KLOU) wants their 172's or the one DA40 to be used on overnight flights, let alone a weekend out-of-town. So basically they will train pilots but leave them with nothing to rent once they get their ticket. This might work for young folks whose ambitions are focused on commercial or ATP, but it leaves nothing for older pilots who want to be able to take trips to visit family around the Midwest (remember these ARE C172s with pretty pokey cruise numbers).

The one club that has multiple planes moved out of Bowman to Clark Regional (KJVY) across the river in Indiana and has a buy-in fee and monthly membership cost depending on what one wants to fly. The club aircraft are very clean spotless and the number of members per plane is limited to assure reasonable availability. I guess someone needs to pay their money and commit to paying the monthly fee to see if this works for them.
I would also add that you'll want to finish your training and fly a few different birds in order to know what it is you want.  Then, honestly assess your needs.  What do you want to use the plane for? Do you need speed, useful load, 4 seats, 6 seats, large fuel tanks, specific avionics, etc.  There are a lot of variables and preferences that go into deciding what plane to buy.
Ronald Levy:
Bottom line for me is that if you can afford it, buy it -- and don't think about the cost compared to renting.

Appreciate the words of wisdom.  Although I can afford it, my stomach still churns when I think about the purchase price, along with the maintenance costs, insurance, hangar rental...

I'm also thinking about purchasing, except that I'm planning to buy in the standard category.  Although I'm still working on my private ticket, I mostly agree with the post that you shouldn't purchase during training.  However, I will add the caveat that, if I had owned a plane, I would already have my ticket.  I've been learning to fly at a small grass strip with 3 aged Skyhawks for club members to use.  As you'd expect, the primary use is for flight training and, unfortunately, the weekends are usually booked pretty solid.  Since I work full-time, the weekends are about my only option.  Add that when one of the planes goes down for repairs or maintenance, which happens frequently for extended periods of time, it really limits plane availability.  Couple this with the propensity for closing a soggy runway during the rainy season, and it really slows down the training.  (With my own plane, I could have moved it to a paved-strip airport during the rainy season).
I also agree that one shouldn't purchase until convinced that flying is the right choice.  I'm a late bloomer and have had my head in the sky for a long time, including riding my bike to Sun-n-Fun because I was too young to drive.  I'm convinced that flying is the right choice, I just have to knock out all the cobwebs in my brain in order to pass the tests and get my certificate.  I plan to buy a mid-time engine with reasonable AFTT that is IFR capable so that I can continue training and (eventually) become comfortable flying in IMC. 
It is currently a seller's market, so I know that I most likely won't ever recoup my money.  Based on that, I'm trying to buy a "keeper" airplane.  I know, I know... I'll be like many others that immediately start looking for my "next plane" but I can't let the wife know.
I'll be checking-back to hear about your new plane, Cecil.
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My experience in owning four airplanes over the last 42 years gives about the same break-even number as Daddis'.  Of course, that doesn't factor in the nonmonetary advantages of ownership, such as being able to take the plane whenever you want wherever you want without paying a minimum daily rate, having it exactly the way you want it, not worrying about what condition the last person left it in, deciding for yourself whether maintenance should be performed rather than letting some cost-shaving flight school decide, etc.  Bottom line for me is that if you can afford it, buy it -- and don't think about the cost compared to renting.

OTOH, I strongly discourage buying before getting your pilot certificate.  First, and maybe most obvious, there's the possibility that you'll decide somewhere in training that this isn't for you, and turning over a plane you bought recently is a serious money-losing proposition.  Also, for various regulatory, business, liability, and insurance reasons, flight school often decline to provide training in customer-owned airplanes unless you turn the plane over to them to manage and operate at their own discretion -- which kind of defeats most of the reasons for buying it yourself.
In my past experience of owning three different airplanes, 90 hours was the tipping point for all three. In other words, flying 90 hours per year would cost the same, per hour, whether you owned or rented. Your number may be different, but I bet it's not that far off. So, using my example, if you plan to fly 50 hours a year, it is more cost effective to rent; flying 200 hours a year is more cost effective to own. Don't get me wrong, it's not cheap, but your hourly operating costs will be less. All three birds were fixed gear, fixed prop, PA28 Cherokees.

A newer airplane may skew your numbers a bit as the loan may be a higher monthly nut than for an older airplane. Also, since you noted it, you do need to factor in an engine overhaul and any planned, or desired, upgrades down the road. Hangar space in large metro areas can come at a premium, if it comes at all. Check all surrounding airports and inquire about hangar availability, wait lists, or tie-down availability early on; you don't want any surprises when you do get that bird. Hope this helps a bit, and good luck with ownership!