Following the Half-percent


Remember, OPEC is not as powerful as the Maple Syrup Producers

I remember a few years ago reading a news story that reported that India was raising taxes on fuel substantially to pay for environmental compliance and to address global warming. Amidst protests, they subsequently dropped the additional tax in kerosene, saying that fuel grade would be left alone since it was the cooking fuel for so many of the poor in India.

Being slightly cynical, I pointed out to Nell that it was also the same thing as jet fuel, and therefore they had just dropped the tax on any of the private jets tooling around India or popping in and out. It seemed transparent that the wealthy and powerful in a country would make sure that they were not facing new taxes if they could avoid it.

Having a new plane that burns jet fuel (also known as diesel, also known as kerosene) I have gained further insight into this phenomenon and, not easily surprised, I am extremely surprised. (Numbers in this post are from March 2016, but I am sure that the proportions remain the same.)

Before I had taken delivery of the plane I flew the DA62 and I was listening to one of the pilots that had flown it across the country. We were talking about how JetA (the jet fuel) was often cheaper than AvGas (the leaded fuel that the rest of the piston fleet burns). He said, “Well, we have a CAA card, so there’s additional discounts, but in Texas this week flying it across I got fuel for $1.29 a gallon.” We were standing on the tarmac of his home airport where JetA was $4.04 a gallon.

Okay, some of that is regional, but when I got home I researched fuel cards. Right away I signed up for AvFuel and I’ve been looking into the CAA card (I am not sure I qualify, since I am not flying the plane commercially). I get access to a website where I can plug in the airport I am flying into and AvFuel will give me special pricing for fuel, allowing me to pre-approve the purchase and pay for it through the AvFuel membership.

JetA at Santa Monica is through Atlantic Aviation. It is $7.07 a gallon. Last week I flew up to Camarillo, all of twenty minutes north, parked at Sun Jets, and paid $3.50 per gallon. I have since learned that most people in the Los Angeles Basin pop over to the Chino airfield, where I would pay $2.50 per gallon. The plane holds 76 gallons, so if I managed to glide in empty I’d save three hundred forty-seven dollars.

This is one of those hidden things. I have been involved in aviation for a decade and I was unaware of it. On top of the discounts, volume purchases make a difference. That’s not possible with our plane (it’s tiny compared to other JetA burners), but a Gulfstream actually drops another twenty cents a gallon off the price I am getting because they are putting more than two thousand gallons in.

So when you think of the private jet crowd burning gallons of fuel to get from New York to Los Angeles for the Oscars, know that they are not paying retail for the fuel. (Even for non-jet-set types like us, the Southwest ticket to get from LA up to the Bay Area is two hundred dollars a piece. The fuel we’ll burn to do that shouldn’t cost us more than sixty dollars, and it will be at least Nell and me in the plane.)

I was always aware that in the little plane we were riding the frayed end of a red carpet when stopping in at these little airports (and the little corners of the big airports), but this glimpse into how they are able to duck out of retail costs was a surprise to me. (I am pretty sure that one reason I am treated so well when I stop in an FBO like Atlantic or Signature is that they don’t know if my day job is flying a corporate jet. There are so few pilots in the country that you just don’t know, the percentage that wind up being charter jet captains and toddling around in their little four seater on the weekend is probably pretty high. So even though I’m getting less than two hundred dollars worth of fuel I might be pulling up in my Citation X the next week and they’d be looking at tens of thousands of dollars worth of fuel. One little hint to that was when I stopped in the Napa airport FBO and for my fuel purchase they offered a demi-bottle of some local vintage, but I saw a sliding scale stuck to the counter and a charter jet captain would walk away with a whole case.

Edit: As of June 2016 I have the Corporate Air Association fuel card. It is, indeed, the best of the bunch. Often a dollar less than the AvFuel price. It’s a little tricky because they only allow one FBO on the field to be a supplier (so the FBOs bid against one another to get the slot), so sometimes it is the FBO that I don’t like as much, then I decide if it is worth $39 to park with the people I like. There’s also a website which was bought up by ForeFlight called JetFuelX that tracks all of these different fuel cards and I can check ahead of time to see where it is going to be cheapest as I am headed into an area. This is much more price shopping than I am used to.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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