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Why Are Planes So Expensive to Make?

The average passenger airliner costs between $82 and $230 million. Even a single-engine plane costs upwards of $100,000. While airplanes are incredibly expensive, the average new car costs just $36,000. This leads many people to wonder why airplanes are so expensive to make.

TLDR – The high cost of a passenger airliner is partly due to the extensive research and development needed to create the airliner. Building an airplane also requires comprehensive testing. All components, from belts to windows, are tested to ensure they meet safety and quality standards.

How Much Does It Cost to Manufacture an Airplane?

The list price for a Boeing 737-800 is $89.1 million, which is one of the least expensive passenger airliners. The Boeing 777-9 starts at $442.2 million. 

The two biggest factors that influence cost are design and testing. Before manufacturing the plane, airplane manufacturers need to design it. This involves a team of engineers who may spend years refining their designs.

After beginning production on a line of airplanes, the manufacturer needs to begin sourcing parts and components for the planes. Every single item in the plane needs to meet specific standards for safety and quality. The extensive testing process dramatically increases the price of even the smallest component.

Airline manufacturers also have fewer suppliers compared to manufacturers in other industries. For example, a car manufacturer may outsource the production of brakes for a line of cars. The manufacturer may have dozens of brake suppliers competing for a contract, which helps to drive down prices.

With fewer suppliers, airline manufacturers pay more for each component that is not manufactured in their facilities. Boeing and Airbus obtain most of the components needed for their planes from a limited selection of third-party suppliers.

Dozens of companies may produce brakes for cars but only a few companies make airplane seats or engines. This allows them to charge more for their products, which drives up the costs of manufacturing an airplane.

The manufacturing process for airplanes is also time-consuming. The average plane takes about 9 to 12 months to complete. Manufacturers employ thousands of workers at multiple facilities, which is factored into the cost of the plane. 

Airplanes are also expensive due to limited competition. As with the third-party companies that supply airplane components, airline manufacturers can charge more for their products because customers have fewer options. Airbus and Boeing are the only US manufacturers of commercial passenger airliners. 

Why Is Private Flying So Expensive?

Private jets are costly for owners and travelers. The high cost is due to several factors, including ground services, fuel, and maintenance. Travelers also need to cover the cost of labor when hiring a pilot for a private jet.

Landing and handling fees at airports can easily add up to $2,000 or more for a single trip. Airplane owners also need to cover insurance, maintenance, and other expenses. Due to the various costs involved, some private jet charter companies charge $4,000 or more per hour of flight.

The cost also depends on the type of private jet. A mid-size or super-mid-size jet is likely to cost significantly more compared to a light jet, such as a Cessna Citation. A private flight on a Bombardier Learjet or a Hawker Beechcraft may cost $5,000 to $7,000 per hour.

What Are the Most Expensive Components on an Airplane?

The engine is one of the most expensive parts of an airplane. The engines used in large passenger airliners can cost many millions of dollars. For example, the 747-400 has three engine options ranging in price from $11 million to $12.2 million.

The avionics, which includes the controls and GPS navigation systems in the cockpit, are also costly. A basic GPS navigator for a small plane costs about $20,000. A full avionics panel for a 747 may cost $100,000 or more.

Another major cost is the cockpit windshield and the windows of the airplane. The average cockpit windshield costs over $26,000 while each window may cost about $500.  

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The seating is also quite expensive, costing $3,000 to $5,000 per seat. High-quality seats for airplanes that handle long flights can easily cost $10,000 or more per economy seat. 

First-class seats tend to start at about $60,000. The most expensive first-class seats cost over $1 million.

Air France aviation Premium economy class B777-300ER
Editorial Team Air France aviation Premium economy class B777-300ER

Most modern commercial flights provide in-flight entertainment for passengers. While most of the inflight entertainment systems consist of one or more TV screens, speakers, and playback devices, they can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The manufacturers of in-flight entertainment systems charge about $10,000 to $20,000 per seat. The Boeing 747 has a seating capacity of about 366 passengers. The entertainment for a 747 may cost $3.6 to $7.2 million.

To summarize, let’s sum up the cost of some of the components of a Boeing 747 airliner. Keep in mind these are estimates and actual numbers vary from model to model.

  • Engine: $12.2 million each (x4)
  • Avionics: $100,000
  • Cockpit windshield: $26,000
  • Windows: $500 each
  • Economy seats: $10,000 each
  • First class seats: $60,000 each
  • In-flight entertainment: $20,000 each

How Much Does a Single-Engine Plane Cost?

The average single-engine plane costs about $15,000 to $100,000 used. The Cessna 150 is one of the least expensive single-engine planes, starting at $15,000. It was originally produced in 1958 and remains a popular choice for pilots.

As owning an airplane carries more of a risk compared to driving an automobile, obtaining financing for an airplane is more difficult. Lenders are more likely to require collateral or charge a higher rate of interest.

Cessna pilot and flight bag 2
js Cessna pilot and flight bag and headsets

What Is the Cost of Owning a Small Plane?

After the cost of purchasing a plane, airplane owners need to deal with a variety of related costs. The cost of owning a small plane includes parking, gas, insurance, and maintenance. 

Most airplane hangars charge about $275 per month to park a small plane. Pilots may also pay $100 for tiedown gear for the plane and things like wheel chocks

Pilots are required to have their planes professionally inspected each year. This costs between $600 and $1,200, depending on the region and the type of plane. Airplane owners may also need to deal with occasional maintenance issues outside of the yearly inspection.

The cost of fuel should also be considered, which averages about $5 per gallon. Single-engine planes can burn through about 5 to 10 gallons per hour, costing the pilot $25 to $50 for an hour of flight.

If the pilot intends to fly the plane and land at an airport, they may pay $100 to $500 in airport fees. With these costs, the average owner may spend about $5,000 to $10,000 per year owning and flying a plane.

Is it Less Expensive to Fly Your Own Plane?

Compared to chartering a private jet, flying a plane is likely to be less expensive. A private airplane owner needs to cover the costs of fuel, insurance, and maintenance. Analysts estimate that the average owner spends about $150 to $200 per hour of flight. 

Chartering a single-engine plane may cost $500 to $1,500 per hour, which is at least 250% more than the highest cost of flying a plane.

When chartering a light jet, travelers can expect to pay about $1,500 to $3,000 per hour. A mid-size jet may cost $4,000 to $8,000 per hour while a long-range jet costs about $8,500 to $13,000 per hour.

Flying a plane is much less expensive compared to chartering a plane, but owners may also need to account for the initial cost of the plane. With an average cost of $15,000 to $100,000, an airplane owner may need to fly for many hours before saving money compared to hiring a plane and a pilot.

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