“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

$4.85 per gallon

Today I paid $4.85 per gallon for fuel. It was a very painful fillup since I needed almost 40 gallons. In context, that means I had used about 3/8 of a the fuel in my tanks. I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm a pilot, and I'm referring to the fuel in my airplane.

Because much less "avgas" is refined as contrasted with the vast quantities of automobile fuel, avgas is more expensive. My particular airplane, a Piper Saratoga, cruises at about 168 knots (193 statute miles per hour) while burning about 18 gallons of fuel per hour. That works out to about 10.7 statute miles per gallon.

I took it out for some "pattern work," that is, executing touch and go landings for the purpose of staying sharp and probably burned about 10 gallons or so. In light of my extraordinary efforts to save an ounce of gasoline here and a teaspoon there, how does my flying fit in?

It certainly enables me to accomplish things I otherwise couldn't. For example, I have an employee in the field, working a project in Fresno. He will work Sunday night until about 6am Monday morning and needs to be back at our office in Long Beach by 9am. This could not be accomplished without the airplane, but the cost of doing it will be about $500.00. That figure values my time at zero (which many who know me say is appropriate).

But in the end, I really do it because I like it. What will my breaking point be? I'm not sure yet but I know it's out there somewhere. The aiplane holds 102 gallons of fuel, and I was told by someone that avgas is going for $6.25 per gallon in Las Vegas. When I fly there, I burn around 25 gallons each way, so figuring half the trip at $4.85 Long beach prices and half at $6.25 Vegas prices, the fuel for that trip costs about $280.00. That's a steep price if I fly alone. The airplane has six seats. It's really only comfortable for four, though I've had as many as five. But with four, including me, that's $70.00 per person. Of course, being a private pilot, not commercial, I can't charge my passengers. They're allowed by regulations to share the cost, however.

Now, I can fly at a considerably more efficient airspeed and use less fuel to make the trip, but you get an airplane to GO FAST and it's beyond my tolerance to pull the power back and cruise at 120 knots (138 statute miles/hour)to save fuel. To drive there and back using my current technique would use 20 gallons and cost something like $65.00. I could take the same three passengers and make the round trip for a little over $16.00 apiece, leaving everyone an extra picture of Ulysses S. Grant for the tables, should they be so inclined. That trip would take not quite 5 1/2 hours each way and would be a major test of my passengers' patience.

I am currently projecting that, in the year following the start of my driving experiment, I'll use 884 gallons of automobile gasoline. Had I used my pre-experiment driving techniques, I estimate I would use about 1310 gallons in the same time. I estimate that I use about 1,080 gallons of avgas per year.

I guess my flying negates any ability I might have thought I had to brag about diminishing my use of fossil fuel or my "carbon footprint." Still, at the end of the year I will have saved 426 gallons of auto gas. That's better than if I hadn't done it.

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