Fuel Prices Thinning the Skies
July 29, 2009
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    July 6, 2008

    Jim Alexander is feeling the pinch of higher fuel prices.

    Alexander, a pilot and founder of Jim Alexander Aircraft Sales, no longer fuels his 1960 Cessna 180 to fly for fun as often as he once did. It’s too expensive.

    “No question,” he said. “I can’t justify it.”

    And while Alexander still sells used aircraft, he no longer keeps them in stock.

    “You’ve got to carry them too long,” he said.

    Record oil prices are affecting recreational pilots, the sales of small used aircraft and the sale of aviation gas and jet fuel.

    “People in general aviation… are subject to the sluggish economy and high fuel costs just like everyone else,” said Dan Hubbard, a National Business Aviation Association spokesman.

    Pilots who fly for fun and for discretionary reasons have felt the most pain.

    “The recreational side of flying is really taking a hit,” said Paul Wyatt, editor of Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest.

    Those pilots have slowed or stopped buying planes.

    “There’s definitely a lull in the smaller market of piston aircraft,” he said.

    A recent survey of aircraft owners and renters by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association showed fuel prices have had a dramatic effect on flying.

    Seventy-two percent of those responding have curtailed flying, the AOPA said. Forty percent cut back 50 percent or more.

    Aviation fuel costs about $5.50 to $6.50 a gallon, said AOPA spokeswoman Kathleen Vasconcelos.

    “They just simply can’t afford it,” Vasconcelos said.

    Those who travel for business, however, are still flying.

    “The more serious the usage of their aircraft is, the less likely it is to impact their decision to use it,” said Cosby Stone of Trade-a-Plane, a publication that advertises airplanes, parts and services for sale.

    Wichita Cessna Aircraft dealer Steve Dunne agrees.

    No one buying a new $400,000 single-engine piston aircraft is complaining that fuel costs $5 a gallon, Dunne said.

    “They’re going, ‘Am I going to sell as many widgets to Wal-Mart next year,’ ” he said.

    His sales are steady, he said. But he stays out of the older single-engine market, where “airplanes are starting to stack up on the used market.”

    Stone is seeing a similar trend.

    The value of older two- and four-seat single-engine aircraft — planes suited for recreational flying — has deteriorated more in the past few years than that of high-performance aircraft, Cosby said.

    The value of aircraft models still in production, however, is stable or in some cases appreciating, Wyatt said. Buyers have faith in the support and parts availability.

    Sales of new business jets have not been affected, planemakers say.

    A Bombardier Aerospace forecast predicts order-taking to continue to be brisk, although at a slightly lower pace than last year, spokesman Leo Knaapen said.

    In addition, any slowing of the U.S. market is being offset by international sales, said Hawker Beechcraft spokesman Andrew Broom.

    More than 60 percent of the company’s orders are from outside the U.S., he said.

    Fuel prices have hit fixed-base operators, who sell aviation gas and jet fuel.

    In Wichita, Yingling Aviation’s jet fuel business is steady or growing slightly, said Lonnie Vaughan, Yingling’s chief financial officer. But aviation fuel sales, which are about 10 percent of total fuel sales, were down about 30 percent in June, Vaughan said. June was a rainy month, which contributed to the drop, he said.

    Nationally, sales are down anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, said National Air Transportation Association spokesman David Almy .

    Alexander, the pilot and plane salesman, says it just comes down to economics.

    “Just to turn $5 and better fuel into noise, a lot of people are not doing that anymore,” he said.

    Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or

    Date: 2008-07-06