July 25, 2008

$5.19 a Gallon for Gas? Personal Aircraft Can Be ‘Expensive Toys’

By Graham Milldrum, The Anniston Star, Ala.

Jul. 25--If you thought $3.91 a gallon for gas is bad, imagine paying $5.19 a gallon.

That's the story for owners flying personal aircraft out of Anniston Municipal Airport.

"They're just expensive toys," said Jim Doyle of Heflin, who owns a Piper Saratoga, a six-seat aircraft. It gets from 2.55 to 2.74 miles per gallon, and runs on 100 octane low-lead fuel, which costs $5.19 a gallon at the airport.

He flies it about once a month, on a trip to the beach or to Washington, D.C., to visit his daughter.

The "pride of ownership" is a large part of owning an airplane, said David Otwell, airport manager of the Anniston Municipal Airport. Planes are expensive, Otwell said.

Three types of fuel are available at the airport, the cost ranging from $5.39 to $5.79 a gallon.

There has been a definite decline in general aviation related to rising fuel costs, Otwell said.

General aviation means those pilots who fly for personal purposes -- pleasure and personal trips. This category includes pilots like Doyle.

Pilots keep the planes, Otwell said, but don't fly as much or for as long.

This has been offset by the increase in commercial and military aviation, said Scott Wallace, general manager for Anniston Aviation.

The airport tries to manage its fuel costs as much as possible to keep prices low for the area, Wallace said.

Because they renewed a military fuel contract, Blackhawk helicopters and other military aircraft have become a much more common sight, said Wallace.

Companies like Honeywell, Honda, Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods all have used the airport, and two local corporations base their aircraft there, he said. They each operate variants of the King Air 350, he said. Those airplanes normally seat nine, and get about 4.67 miles per gallon when carrying eight passengers, according to information from King Air.

The airport is doing well and sees a potential for growth, especially in corporate flights, Otwell said.

If the airport operators didn't think there'd be growth, they wouldn't be building four new hangars, he said. These hangars are intended to attract more corporate aviation.

The airport normally sees 12 to 15 corporate flights in a business week, Wallace said. They also see 12 to 15 general aviation flights, but those are spread out over the whole week, he said. Military flights can be hard to judge because they tend to travel in groups, Otwell said. The two men estimate that military flights come out to about 12 aircraft a week.

About Graham Milldrum Graham Milldrum is a reporter for The Star. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill.


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