There's an age old joke in aviation that goes something like "What makes an airplane fly?" ... "Money!" It was true then and it's true now. Flying is not cheap. And when you understand what goes into the cost of an hour of flight, you understand why if a price you see advertised seems cheap, it should probably concern you.
Flying is one of the safest forms of transportation there is (according to the NTSB, anyway). One of the primary factors to what makes aviation so safe is the ends we go to for thorough and proper maintenance. Our aircraft are kept in tip top shape with a combination of preventative maintenance (regular oil changes, detailed checks every 100 hours, annual checks, etc.) and kept flying with a setback fund where we prepay for large maintenance events (like engine replacements every 2000 hours, propeller overhauls, avionics upgrades, etc.). When it's all said and done, nearly a quarter of the cost of a flight hour is from the maintenance that is done on the aircraft to ensure that it is safe to operate and will continue to be safe and available for years to come.
Your typical training aircraft does not use the same kind of gas that you use in your car. Instead, it uses a much higher octane (100 octane versus the 87/89/93 you see at the pumps). Because of the higher octane, lower refinery volume, special additives, and a long list of other variables, the cost of a gallon of avgas is much higher. Currently, the price of avgas in our area is around $6 per gallon. Couple that with the fact that your training aircraft is burning somewhere around 6 to 12 gallons per hour, and you find out that another third of the cost of operation goes to fuel.
At some point in life, most of us own a car and experience what it's like to have a car payment. Owning an aircraft is no different - well... That's not exactly true. One difference is that a modern aircraft, like the ones that make up our fleet, have values somewhere between 10 and 20 times what a new car would cost. When you factor in the loan repayment on that kind of equipment, it amounts to another third of the hourly operating cost.
The insurance required to cover damage on expensive equipment, potential incidents, and all of those scenarios that keep underwriters up late at night is not cheap. Fully insuring against all of the possible things we may encounter comprises about five percent of the hourly cost of flying.
Of course, you need a place to store the aircraft which means rent on space, electric bills, heat, water, etc. To run a school and keep the aircraft in operation, you need phones, internet, and highly skilled people to oversee it all. Facility overhead and upkeep ends up being around ten percent of the hourly flight cost.
Finally! Making a profit is what allows us to grow, expand, and improve our services. It's also the smallest slice of the pie at around one to two percent.
Why so small?
Because making cuts to any other part of the pie would be detrimental to the safety of our customers and our aircraft.
So who benefits?
Everyone! The mechanics taking care of our aircraft, the instructors teaching at our school, the FBO selling us fuel, and (most importantly) our customers who get to fly clean, modern aircraft maintained to the highest possible levels of safety at the lowest price we can offer.