The cost of owning a helicopter can vary significantly, which is largely due to the model of helicopter one buys.
Once purchased, though, there are several operating costs to consider, including the costs of fuel, maintenance and repair, and insurance.
There are also additional costs that you might not have even considered like hangar and landing fees, safety management compliance costs, navigation and communications software and subscriptions, and more.
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A Breakdown of the Costs of Owning a Helicopter
How much it costs to buy a helicopter depends on whether you want to buy new or used, as well as the model and your needs.
For example, the very popular and economical, two-seat Robinson R-22 costs $250,00 new but can be purchased for $100,000-$150,000 secondhand in good condition.
A much more luxurious and spacious model like the Airbus H155, which is commonly used for VIP corporate transport, and can carry up to13 passengers along with 1 or 2 crew, will set you back $10,000,000 new, and about $4,000,000 in a good, used condition.
In any case, helicopters are so expensive because they are very complex machines with many moving parts, which makes them challenging and expensive to design and manufacture – certainly more so than airplanes, which are less expensive to purchase.
How much you spend on fuel depends on the type of fuel the helicopter takes, the size of the helicopter’s gas tank, and the price of the fuel.
Helicopters are either piston-powered or turbine-powered. Piston-powered models run on 100LL Avgas (aviation gasoline) whereas turbine-powered models take aviation turbine fuel (Avtur or ATF).
A small piston-powered helicopter like the Robinson R-22 uses between 6-16 gallons of fuel per hour whereas large, turbine-powered helicopters can use a minimum of 20 gallons of fuel per hour.
This is by no means the maximum, though, with some turbine-powered helicopters eating up hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour.
If we estimate that Avgas costs $6 per gallon, and Avtur costs $5 per gallon, we can get a good idea of how much it costs to fuel a helicopter. To fuel the Robinson R-22, for example, it would cost $156 to fill its 26-gallon fuel tank.
If we estimate that the R-22 goes through 10 gallons of fuel an hour, it would therefore cost $50 in fuel alone to operate the helicopter for an hour.
Maintenance & Repair
It’s been estimated that the maintenance and repairs of owning a car cost an average of $0.09 per mile. When it comes to helicopters, things get a lot more expensive.
As helicopter maintenance isn’t necessary a thriving industry where everyone is trying to compete for your business like it is for car maintenance, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Additionally, helicopter maintenance is far more specialized, with major components like engines and rotor systems requiring compulsory inspection at specific intervals.
Then there are the unexpected costs of maintenance and parts needing to be replaced when there is an issue.
All these things mean that the cost of owning a helicopter quickly adds up. You can expect to pay several thousand dollars a year on maintenance and parts.
As the owner and operator of a helicopter, you are liable for anything that goes wrong, whether that be to yourself, your passengers, or the helicopter itself.
You, therefore, need insurance to cover the often exorbitant costs that are associated with lawsuits, medical care, and repairs.
The average price of a standard $1,000,000/$2,000,000 General Liability Insurance policy for small helicopter operations that covers any third-party personal injury or property damage ranges from $80 to $120 per month.
There is also Hull Insurance to consider, which is also known as property damage insurance and covers any damages that your helicopter may experience while grounded or in flight.
Passenger Liability is another option you may require if you need to transport passengers for any reason.
The costs of owning a helicopter when it comes to insurance can vary based on location, pilot experience, and claims history.
Pilot & Crew Salary
This may not apply to everyone reading, but if you’re not flying the helicopter yourself then you need to think about the costs associated with hiring a helicopter pilot and/or crew, especially if you’re planning on running a helicopter operation.
While the average salary of a helicopter pilot is approximately $94,000 a year, this can vary depending on several factors, including the type of job a helicopter pilot is hired to do.
For example, if you’re running an operation that only requires and is suitable for low-hour pilots like flight instruction or helicopter tours, this would cost less than flying helicopters for an offshore oil rig, private companies, or transporting business executives, or celebrities, etc.
The cost of the helicopter itself, maintenance and repair, fuel, insurance, and/or a helicopter pilot and/or crew are the most obvious costs associated with owning a helicopter.
But there are additional costs to consider too, including registration fees, hangar fees, airport landing fees, safety management compliance costs, navigation and communications hardware and software subscriptions, as well as personal protective equipment like aviation headsets.
Now you know how much a helicopter costs, check out our article on how much a plane costs to compare the difference.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.