For those of you too young to remember the song that inspired the title of this article, it’s very much akin to the question many pilots hear when talking with non-flying people. “How much does it cost to get a pilot’s license?” I always chuckle when I hear that question. It makes me want to answer, “Why, are you going to stop flying after you earn your license?” Of course the better question is, “how much does it cost to fly?”

Whether talking about buying that doggie in the window, or the required investment to start a new hobby (e.g. flying, golf, etc), a cash outlay will be required. But the cost to get started is dwarfed by the ongoing cost. Unlike the business world, where corporations focus on total cost of ownership (TCO), we as individual consumers focus on initial costs only.

In addition to understanding the total costs, Corporations seek to understand how much value is realized from their investment. Yet, as individuals, return on investment (ROI) is rarely considered. This is probably because it’s hard to put a numerical value on emotional gain. If we could prove our annual flying costs would put at least that much back in our pocket, we could easily rationalize we were ahead of the game. But value goes beyond money. How much is it worth to you to spend more time with family and friends? What about learning new things, seeing more of this country, gaining self-confidence, helping others, being part of a club, or even just putting a smile on your face? People define value in their own special way.

There is an old saying that a mile of highway takes you one mile and a mile of runway takes you anywhere. While it’s a wonderful and true statement, many student pilots are merely “scratching an itch” when they get started. Once the private ticket is earned, it seems we fall into the $100 hamburger trap. Don’t get me wrong. I love my time with friends at fly-ins and restaurant runs, but there is more value to be realized. Ultimately, each pilot will determine his or her “value proposition”. Microsoft used to have an ad campaign, “Where do you want to go today”. I think it’s an appropriate question for each of us to answer.

There are plenty of obstacles that can deter us from flying. Cost an issue? Find a “flying friend” who will split costs and PIC time with you. With the addition of a second pilot, use that extra set of eyes to allow you to safely try new things or practice basic skills (when is the last time you practiced your PTS maneuvers or flew hard IFR).

If it’s a lack of time that is the issue, make flying part of your other activities. Have a date night with your spouse that entails flying to a new location each week for dinner and a show. Fly to see family on a monthly basis. Use a plane to take you to a different golf course each week. Commit to flying an “Angel Flight” mission once every quarter and add real meaning to your flying and value to someone else.

Invest in training, which results in new knowledge, a new rating or an endorsement. Never mind that you live in the Midwest. Take a mountain-flying course, and then find a way to use your new found knowledge. Learning to fly a tail dragger, glider or seaplane is great fun, and adds to your skills. You may have no plans to use a commercial or instrument rating, but the increase in proficiency and confidence is worth the price of admission.

Flying is an expensive endeavor, which is not helped during these tough economic times. But significant personal value can be returned if we take advantage of the utility provided by our passion. Ultimately each of us defines value in different terms, but maybe it truly does come down to the smile on our face. Maybe the question is not, “how much does it cost to fly, but rather, “how much does it cost not to fly”?

Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25 year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying.