Flying is Better than Driving

If you know me (and if you’re bothering to actually read this blog, there’s a good chance that’s true), you know I’m an aviation “enthusiast,” to put it mildly. I won’t publicly admit I’m crazy about aviation because the FAA might ground me for mental health reasons, but I’m sure you can draw your own unscientific and unproven-in-a-court-of-law conclusions. I love to fly. I love to fly because you can’t beat the views. I love to fly because it takes skill and concentration but is simultaneously exciting and relaxing. I love to fly because I can take day-trips to places it would take others a weekend to make.

When I try to share my “passion” for aviation, it’s not uncommon for me to hear responses like:

That must be fun, but flying is really expensive, right? I mean, I’ve heard aviation gas is really pricey.

I worry sometimes that folks are using the assumption of avgas price as an excuse to never consider learning to fly. Becoming a pilot, of course, is not for everyone; and yes, avgas costs more per gallon than car gas; but it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

To help illustrate, let’s look at the fuel and time costs for cars versus airplanes. The devil’s in the details, they say, so I’m going to use a whole bunch of averages and assumptions I pulled from some quick Google searches.

My Assumptions

Exact results will vary, of course; but to get things started, let’s list out my assumptions:

  • Traveling as a family of 4
    • 2 adults
    • 1 teenager
    • 1 less-than-6-year-old
  • Car
    • Driving at posted road speed limits for the route
    • Fuel burn is 23.6 miles per gallon (national average)
    • Gas is $3 per gallon (national average)
  • Airplane
    • Flying an average (and extremely common) Cessna 172
    • Cruising at 140 mph
    • Burns about 9 gallons per hour, so we’ll get about 15.5 miles per gallon at cruise speed
    • Avgas is $5.20 per gallon (national average)

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