The High Cost of Pinching Pennies

Everybody loves a bargain. I know I do. Heck, I may be the cheapest guy you’ll ever meet. But there is a cost associated with saving a dollar or two – and the general aviation crowd may not notice how dear that cost can be until it’s too late.

Consider the issue of fuel. We can’t fly far without it. But we all hate paying the ever-increasing rate to fill the tank. No, forget filling the tank. Plenty of us only fill the plane to the tabs in the tank, or limit our fuel purchase to the number of gallons needed to reach our destination, plus a small amount to establish a margin of safety.

You can’t blame people for trying to stretch their dollar as far as it will go. I sure don’t. There aren’t many aircraft owners who can cavalierly roll up to the pumps and announce, “Fill ‘er up, no matter what the cost.” Nope, that’s just not a phrase you hear very often.

Have you considered how the reality we general aviation fliers experience affects the guy (or girl) on the other end of that transaction? I’m talking about the FBO, of course. They represent the anchor business on most general aviation airports, yet they struggle as much as any of us — not that anyone is getting all misty eyed and sympathetic about their plight.

Let’s assume for a moment that the FBO isn’t run by a greedy, independently wealthy miser who wants nothing more than to empty your bank account as quickly as possible. As an experiment, let’s pretend your FBO is run by a hard-working individual who loves general aviation as much as you do. He (or she) is doing their best to keep costs down, while still ekeing out enough of a margin to keep the lights on, the line service crew working, and a functional mechanic in the shop.

The odds are good that when you see the fuel price go up by 10 cents at the local Sunoco station, your FBO manager’s costs just went up too. When you get to the airport and see the spike in price, that’s not a personal attack, that’s just business. Painful, practical, unfortunate business. But it’s business nonetheless.

So we gripe and complain and look for someone to blame. That’s human nature after all. Then we look for somewhere we can fuel up without paying the increase. Or if we have to pay more than we did for the last fill up, at least we try to find someplace that will be cheaper than our home FBO will pump it for.

Human nature may be natural, but it doesn’t necessarily lead us down a path that leads to our own best interests. Every sale your FBO loses puts them that much closer to swimming in red ink. And with enough loses, even the healthiest company can be weakened to the point of failure.

What if we as consumers started taking a somewhat different perspective of the situation? How do you suppose it would affect your FBO, as well as the other businesses on the field, if we began opening our arms to those businesses and using them when we have a legitimate need to do so. I’m not talking about charitable giving, I’m talking about careful consumerism. If you need fuel, make sure you buy at least some of it from your local FBO, and let them know that you’re trying to support them. Perhaps they’ll meet you half way and start offering a discount to regular customers or locally hangared aircraft. Maybe their service will improve as a result of the bone you throw them as they realize that good service is rewarded just as readily as low prices are. And maybe they’ll start to talk to you about their future plans to bounce the ideas off you to get your reaction.

Look at that. All of a sudden you’re having input into airport operations, business plans, and service amenities that are available at your home airport. Maybe you spent a little bit extra, and maybe you didn’t. But by supporting your local providers, you’re giving them an equal chance to support you and your peers, too.

Maybe taking this new approach will work for you, and maybe it won’t. It all depends how many of your peers you can get to adopt a new way of working with the local businesses on your field. The risk is worth the effort though, at least from my perspective. Because no matter what issues may linger about doing business with your FBO, or maintenance shop, or whatever you have – taking a stab at setting things right will be a whole lot more rewarding in the long run than the realization you will have one day if you don’t, when you find them out of business, boarded up, and gone.

Now that’s a reality we general aviators really don’t want to have to face. At least I know I don’t.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at

CalPilots Editor’s Note: What Jamie writes here also applies to local airport/pilot associations and state pilot associations. For some reason aviators don’t seem to understand how important it is to join their local airport/pilot association, as well as their state aviation organization. Why is this important? – Because the national alphabet groups (AOPA, EAA, NBAA) can no longer do it all. There are simply too many issues revolving around airports and aviation. Make sure you do your part and join your local airport/pilot org as well as your state org (assuming your state has one). We all need to work together and everyone can do something to help no matter how busy you are.

Go to the article on GAN web site.