How Much Does It Cost To Operate a Helicopter?

Some assets are synonymous with wealth, like massive homes, exotic vacations, and private jets. However, private jets aren’t always practical. For true flexibility and convenience, those who can afford the best often choose helicopters. They can take off and land almost anywhere – no runway required – which makes long commutes obsolete. 

Some of the celebrities who own private helicopters include: 

  • Michael Bloomberg – net worth $59 billion
  • James Cameron – net worth $700 million
  • Mariah Carey – net worth $320 million 
  • Clint Eastwood – net worth $375 million
  • Harrison Ford – net worth $300 million
  • Angelina Jolie – net worth $120 million
  • Madonna – net worth $850 million

Most of these helicopter enthusiasts have helicopter pilot licenses to pilot the crafts themselves, which reduces cost and increases autonomy. Does that mean helicopters are only available to the rich and famous? Is it possible for less-prominent people to enjoy the benefits of chartering or owning a private helicopter? 

How Much Does It Cost Monthly To Own A Helicopter?

The cost of owning a helicopter starts with purchasing the craft – and the price varies dramatically depending on the model and any special features. On the low end, a basic two-seater like the Robinson R-22 can be purchased new for around $300,000. Pre-owned R-22s can be found for much less – perhaps $100,000. 

Helicopter prices increase steeply from there. The more passengers the craft is capable of carrying, the higher the cost. For example, Airbus makes the H155 helicopter that can transport two crew members and up to 12 passengers.

It is unusual for an individual to own one of these – they are primarily used by corporations to transport executives. The Airbus H155 can cost $15 million or more when purchased new, and they are still quite pricey when purchased secondhand. Used H155s start around $8 million. 

When considering the monthly cost of owning a helicopter, the biggest expense is any payments that are required for a purchase that was financed.

How Much Do Helicopters Cost To Run?

Once the price of the aircraft is considered, the next group of helicopter-related expenses are fixed costs. For example, helicopter insurance is a must, and premiums are quite a bit higher than standard aircraft insurance

Helicopters are more expensive than jets because they have more complex components. In addition, though they are considered quite safe, the fact that helicopters typically fly close to low-level terrain – unlike airplanes – makes them a higher risk from an insurance perspective. 

Liability-only policies with up to $1 million in coverage might run between $2,800 and $4,000. The same policy for a private jet could be as low as $500. If the cost of the helicopter, known in the industry as hull value, is also included in the policy, premiums can go up by $15,000 to $20,000 for the year. 

Other expenses that must be considered before the helicopter takes flight include hangar fees, safety management compliance costs, communication and navigation software, and similar. Maintenance and repair by specialized helicopter mechanics should also be factored into any helicopter budget. 

How Much Does It Cost To Operate A Helicopter Per Hour?

The direct hourly costs of operating a helicopter come down to the pilot and the fuel. If you can’t pilot the chopper yourself – or you don’t want to – the average pay for helicopter pilots in the United States is approximately $100,000 per year. 

Education and experience can impact the cost of hiring a helicopter pilot, but the biggest factor that influences pay rate is location. In Massachusetts, a helicopter pilot might earn just $50,000 a year, while hiring a New York helicopter pilot could cost up to $180,000 per year. 

The cost of fuel is directly correlated to the amount of time spent in the air. That, too, varies widely depending on the type of helicopter. Small helicopters that are powered by pistons generally use between six and 16 gallons of fuel for each hour of flying. Large helicopters that are powered by turbines use at least 20 gallons of fuel per hour, and some can go through hundreds of gallons per hour. 

Helicopter fuel isn’t the same as the gasoline used in cars, and it typically costs quite a bit more than standard gasoline – sometimes twice as much. As a result, all other expenses aside, when the question is how much does it cost to operate a helicopter per hour, the answer is… a lot. 

Of course, the costs vary widely depending on the helicopter’s size. The tiny Robinson R-22 has an operating cost of $164 per hour, while the Airbus H155 has a direct operating cost of $1,593 per hour.

Is Owning A Helicopter Worth It?

There are all sorts of reasons why people consider purchasing a helicopter. Some plan to launch a business offering helicopter-based services, others need the flexibility that comes with any time/anywhere takeoff and landing, and a large number have a real passion for flying. They want to earn a pilot’s license of their own so that they can take to the skies at their leisure. 

Whether owning a helicopter is worth it comes down to personal values. Buying and maintaining a helicopter is a costly endeavor, which means that money can’t be used for other things. If your passion is flying and you want to forgo other hobbies to pursue your dream of owning a helicopter, then it may certainly worth it.

In terms of the value a helicopter offers for flexibility and convenience, it’s a matter of basic cost/benefit analysis. If the expense of owning a helicopter is lower than the time and expense of other methods of travel, then owning a helicopter is worth it.

If the time and money saved on other forms of travel doesn’t outweigh the expenses associated with owning a helicopter, then owning a helicopter isn’t worth it. The same goes for helicopter-based businesses and other reasons one might consider this type of purchase. 

How Rich Should You Be To Own A Helicopter?

This question can only be answered once total wealth is compared against financial priorities. Anyone who can scrape together the cash needed to buy and operate a helicopter can own a helicopter in theory, but that doesn’t mean they should. If the expense isn’t offset by some sort of return – and there’s no passion driving the purchase – perhaps funds would be better saved or spent elsewhere. 

That calculation changes for the wealthy because there is more money to spend on non-essentials. Bigger discretionary budgets mean unnecessary purchases are possible.

So, in terms of how rich you should be to own a helicopter, the answer isn’t black and white. It requires careful analysis of whether those funds are needed elsewhere. If they aren’t needed for basic necessities or to prepare for future financial goals, then buying a helicopter is harmless, regardless of total wealth. 

What Is The Cheapest Way To Fly A Private Helicopter?

If owning a helicopter isn’t practical, but you still want to enjoy a bird’s-eye view, there are other options available. Some flight schools offer low-cost introductory lessons so you can experience the excitement of flying a private helicopter. If you want to go on to obtain a license, helicopter pilot training averages $200 per hour. It can be more or less depending on the location. 

Alternatively, you can experience a helicopter flight from the passenger’s seat. Many tour companies offer reasonable pricing for pre-set routes, or you can rent a private helicopter to take you anywhere you want to go. The average cost for an hour in a two-seat helicopter with a pilot is approximately $300. That figure increases for larger flights with more passengers. 

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