Aviation Maintenance

And you thought your car was expensive…

The true cost of aviation is absurd. And I don’t think the general public is aware of this fact. FLYING IS EXPENSIVE. All too often I hear people complaining about how the prices have gone up, now they charge for landing fees, now they charge extra for baggage, there are no peanuts anymore, the in-flight meal was sub standard. On and on the list goes about all the rising cost of flying to some tropical destination for a fun filled vacation in the heat.

Enough already.

Time for a reality check.

Why do you fly?

  1. Because its faster, WAY FASTER – It takes less than 6 hours to fly to Mexico instead of 6 days of hard driving.
  2. Because its safer, MUCH SAFER – Statistically speaking you are far more likely to die in a car accident on your way to the airport, than in the airplane.
  3. Because its more comfortable, WELL MAYBE NOT – I argue that 6 hours in a sardine can will probably do better for your butt and back, than 60 hours in a car.
  4. Because its cheaper, WHAT? HOW? – Return air fare to Cancun is as little as $500/person from where I live, I paid over $1100 in gas alone to drive my family half that distance, to California last year.

There seems to be something out of place here. I realize that air travel is now the preferred way to get places in a hurry. But how can it be the best way to travel in all areas? To the average person there is probably no question here, who cares. But since I have an inside track on the industry, the math really doesn’t add up. There is no way the public should be getting this level of service for so cheap.

Case in point:

While doing some tidy up in the parts area at work, I decided to look up the purchase price of a few things. This was my favorite item by far.

Retainers for a DHC-8 Q400

These little circles (AKA retainers) are machined from aluminum and painted with Zinc-Chromate primer. They are about the size of your thumb nail (1 inch diameter) and are installed as part of the landing gear doors. What do you think they are worth? Maybe 20 cents?

No, they are machined parts and not mass produce so that will drive the cost up a bit, perhaps $1.00 each?

Wait! This is aviation, and aviation is expensive so I’d say more like $5.00 a piece….right?

Wait for it. Wait for it. Actual cost paid for these authentic parts…….$993.75………………EACH! That’s $1987.5 in that little baggy there. Good grief you’d think they were made out of solid gold with that price tag.

So the natural question should be, What makes them so expensive?

Its not the fancy materials they are made out of. No that’s just regular aluminum, probably 6061 which is not all that special. Its not that they took some huge number of man hours to produce, a CNC lathe probably turns out hundreds of these in an hour. Its not that fancy coating of green paint, that stuff is sold cheap by the gallon. Where is all that money going? What does $993.75 really get you here?


The bulk of money paid out in aviation is going directly into the pockets of the insurance companies. Why? Because if this little aluminum circle is deemed to be the cause of the crash. Then the manufacturer is going to be on the hook for paying out a couple million dollars for each and every person that died in said crash. So the insurance company needs to make sure that it has enough cash waiting in its coffers. And that means getting the little guy to pay out big. They have found a way to take advantage of the heavy regulation which surrounds aviation and keeps it safe. Or maybe they are just gouging?

This problem becomes very apparent when you are ordering parts that come from a common source. There are plenty of things on airplanes that a built by general manufacturers. There’s no way around this. Order a regular AN style bolt with a 10/32 thread on it. Pennies a piece right. They sell them by the pound for crying out loud. Until you want that little slip of paper which makes it certified authentic and usable on aircraft. Now all of a sudden we bump the decimal point over a couple notches, and a 1 cent bolt becomes a 1 dollar bolt.

Its ridiculous!Aviation is having a very difficult time moving forward due to this over the top charging system, yet somehow we see progress.

At any rate, next time you fly off to enjoy the heat of vacation and the flight attendant offers you a glass of water, instead of a beer. Before you complain about it, just remember that you are traveling in one of the most highly engineered pieces of equipment man has produced. Its fast, safe, reasonably comfortable and extremely cheap compared to the other options you had for travel. You chose this flight because it was by far the best option, and you should be grateful that they offer water at all on this flight.