The latest issue of AOPA Pilot magazine contains the following data:
- In 1967, median household income in the U.S. was $12,000 and a four-seat Piper Cherokee was $16,000.
- Today, median income is roughly $48,000 and the same airplane (they still make it!) is $230,000.
Where it took 16 months of income to buy a basic four-seat airplane in 1967, it takes 57 months now. The question is “Why?”
Airplanes are made in small quantities and have not benefited from automation and capital investment in tooling the way that automobiles have, so you wouldn’t expect their price relative to incomes to have fallen. On the other hand, there have been some efficiencies introduced such as computer-controlled machining so the number of labor hours should have been slightly reduced.
Workers in airplane factories are not paid more than average and roughly the same number of working hours are required to build an airplane.
Airplane companies are not ridiculously profitable. In fact, many struggle to survive.
People often cite litigation as a reason for aircraft being expensive and say that one third of the price of a new airplane goes to liability insurance, but that still doesn’t account for most of the increase.
It can’t be regulation because the FAA was just as bureaucratic back then and most of the designs that are being produced today were certified in the 1950s and 1960s.
[Unrelated items from the same magazine: (1) We lost 8,314 bombers during World War II, counting only B-17s and B-24s and counting only those lost in the European theater. Each B-17 carried a crew of 10; each B-24 carried 7-10 men. (2) a Formula 1 driver survived a crash in which the G forces were estimated to be 178.]