Helicopters are so expensive because they are very complex aircraft with many moving parts. This makes them expensive to design and manufacture, especially as very stringent safety standards must be met before a helicopter is able to become operational.
Things don’t get much cheaper once a helicopter has been purchased either. The cost of fuel, maintenance, and insurance all greatly contribute to the costs of owning and operating a helicopter. It’s no wonder that the purchase and operation of helicopters are largely limited to the military, the government and companies in which they are needed for specialized tasks, as well as for very wealthy individuals.
4 Factors That Make Helicopters So Expensive
With their rotors, engines, blades, transmissions, and fuel control systems, helicopters are very complex machines that require a great deal of research and engineering to design as well as possible. Due to this complexity, it isn’t as easy to automate production that would lower production costs.
It also doesn’t help that the production rate of helicopters is relatively low. This results in manufacturers being unable to take advantage of economies of scale like automobile manufacturers can due to being able to mass-produce vehicles to meet the demand for a much larger market.
It’s estimated that the maintenance and repairs of owning a car cost an average of $0.09 per mile. While we haven’t got the exact figures for helicopters, we can confidently say that it is substantially more. Maintaining a helicopter isn’t as easy as just rolling it into the shop and having one of many trained mechanics who is all competing for your business to take a look at it.
Helicopter maintenance is far more specialized with a helicopter’s major components like its engines and rotor systems requiring compulsory inspection at specific intervals. Other parts may also need to be regularly inspected, maintained, and perhaps replaced.
Helicopters don’t compare well to other modes of transportation when it comes to crash statistics, including other types of aircraft. This results in helicopter flights being classified as high-risk by insurance companies, thereby increasing premiums.
When compared to similarly valued fixed-wing aircraft, it is estimated that helicopter insurance premiums are 3-4x as expensive.
The amount it costs to fuel a helicopter is dependent on three things: the size of the helicopter’s gas tank, the type of gas the helicopter uses, and the price of the fuel.
Helicopters and airplanes use the same type of gas and fuel. This is either Avgas for piston-powered engines or Avtur for turbine-powered engines. So there is no difference there.
But a helicopter is far more expensive to run due to the nature of its design whereby all of its lift comes from its rotors. A helicopter also travels at slower speeds and can burn through a lot of fuel as it hovers, both of which impact fuel economy and efficiency.
If you’re wondering how much it costs to fuel a helicopter, let’s consider the piston-powered Robinson R22, which is one of the most economical helicopters to operate in the world. At a price of $6 per gallon of Avgas, it takes approximately $156 to fill its 26-gallon fuel tank.
How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Helicopter?
The cost of buying a helicopter can vary significantly.
A small two-seat helicopter like the Robinson R-22 has a base price of $250,000. A helicopter like the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma Mk II+ with its 24 passenger capacity, takes a crew of three to operate, and lets you travel in true style costs $29 million.
When it comes to U.S. military helicopters, the highly versatile Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk costs $21 million. Sounds expensive, right? Well not compared to the heavy-duty Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion that is capable of containing a fully armored military Humvee. It costs a staggering $95 million.
Are Helicopters More Expensive Than Planes?
If we compare helicopters and planes with the same seating capacities and maximum cargo load, helicopters come out as more expensive. For example, a Robinson R-22 costs approximately $200,000 compared to the $150,000 that a Cessna 172 costs.
The operational costs of owning a helicopter are greater than that of planes too. Not only do helicopters require more maintenance, but they are less fuel-efficient, and require higher insurance premiums too.