Flying is expensive. Why is this? Well most
would say its because of the cost of fuel, but thats not entirely true. The Airbus
a320neo can carry 6,400 gallons of fuel. Thats the equivalent of 376 fully tanked Toyota
For every mile that the a320 flies, it burns 1.5 Gallons of jet fuel. That works
out to a paltry .67 Miles per gallon. An a320 could barely fly from the Empire State Building
to Grand Central Terminal on that gallon of fuel. To fly the 213 miles from New York to
DC, that a320 needs 317 gallons of fuel.
With that amount, our Toyota Camry could drive
from New York to LA 49 times. But, we do have to consider that a Camry only seats five.
An a320 seats 154. So, assuming that our plane is fully loaded, it now has a per person fuel
efficiency of 104.7 Miles per gallon. Thats amazing! According to the Bureau of Transport
Statistics, airlines pay on average only $1.24 Per gallon of fuel.
So, flying from New York
to DC, you personally only use $2.50 Worth of fuel, so why do these tickets cost upwards
of $80! Well, theres so much more that goes into your ticket price than fuel. Before
we start, Ill quickly mention that these are all rough estimates. Many of these prices
will vary widely through time and there are certainly ways that airlines reduce these
costs, but this will give you a general idea of what actually makes flying so expensive.
The first thing we can add to our ticket price is crew costs. A pilot makes on average around
$79,000 a year which works out to about $44 per flight hour.
We have two pilots so for
our hour long flight from New York to DC so thats $88 to the pilots. A fully loaded
a320 requires four flight attendants who are each paid around $38 per flight hour for a
total of $152 bringing our crew costs up to $240. So, with our 154 seats that works out
to just about $1.5 Per person in crew costs. Alright, now were at $4 dollars.
we gotta pay the airports. New Yorks John F Kennedy Airport charges $6.33 Per thousand
pounds of airplane taking off, and our a320 weighs 172,000 pounds. That means we have
to give $1089 dollars to JFK or $7 per person. Dulles airport doesnt publish their landing
fees, but well assume its about the same as JFKs landing fees at $1005 for
our now 170,000 pound airplane.
These fees generally include the cost of using gates,
porters, and other airport resources, and divide down to $13.5 Per person. Our total
is now at $17.5. Now we get to the fun parttaxes. Theres a litany of different taxes and
they all vary by country, so for the sake of simplicity well just cover the ones
for the US.
The simplest tax is the Domestic Passenger Ticket Tax at 7.5% Of the ticket
price. That money goes to the FAA. If you land or take off a rural airport, which is
defined as, an airport with less than 100K. Enplanements during 2nd preceding calendar
year, and either 1) is not located within 75 miles of another airport with 100K+ enplanements
per year, 2) is receiving essential air service subsides, or 3) is not connected by paved
roads to another airport, they also tack on another 7.5%.
That, of course, doesnt
apply to either of our airports. The FAA also charges $4 flat for any flight within the
US, unless you go to Hawaii or Alaska. Then they charge $8.70. The TSA then adds a $5.60
Tax called the 9/11 security fee that goes to fund the heightened security since 9/11.
Those are only just for domestic flights.
If we were flying from New York to Paris,
we would also have to add on $17.70 For the International Transportation Tax, $5.50 For
the US customs user fee, $5.00 For the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Fee, $7.00 For the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Fee, and $14 for the French Civil Aviation
Tax. So with all the taxes and fees that apply for this short flight, were now at $33
Now, lets remember that airplanes are expensive. Our a320 costs 107 million dollars.
The service life for airplanes is not actually determined by flying time, its determined
by something called flight cycles, which is basically a fancy word for one flight. It
doesnt really matter how long an airplane flies in its service life, what matters is
how many times its pressurized. This is because every time its pressurized, micro
cracks develop around the rivets that connect the the metal plates that make up a fuselage.
No matter if a plane goes on a 30 minute flight or a 9 hour flight, the wear and tear to the
plane will be the same.
This is why large long-haul airplanes are often older. They
might only go through one flight cycle per day while small regional jets could go through
eight or ten. So, back to our a320. Our plane is actually a pretty durable aircraft.
can fly up to 60,000 cycles. So if we divide the total price of our plane by the maximum
number of flight cycles, we get that $1783 per flight must be devoted towards paying
off the initial price of the airplane. Per person, that works out to $11.5 Dollars. Were
now at $44.5 Dollars.
To keep this plane safe, airlines have to also perform regular maintenance.
For our hour long flight, an airline has to do maintenance that will cost $646 in labor,
$276 in parts, $603 in inspections and component overhauls, and another $596 in engine restoration.
Thats $2121 total or $14 per person. Were up to $58.5 Dollars. We also have to consider
the non-flying part of flying. Overseeing any flight is an airline which is a business
that has costs in and of itself.
They need to pay administrators, executives, software
engineers, marketers, consultants, customer service personal, public relations agents,
janitors, along with rent, benefits, travel costs, utilities, and more. Its hard to
put an exact number on how much per person this works out to, but well make a conservative
estimate of $10. Were up to $68.5. Alright, insurance.
An airline will pay about $106,500
per year for insurance for an a320 and assuming our plane spends eight hours per day in the
air, $36 of this insurance is for this hour long flight, or about 25 cents per person.
So, our very rough grand total is $68.75. Well round this up to $70 since there are
various small things I didnt cover such as hotel costs for crew members, plane storage,
apu rental, liability insurance, etc. That means that $10 of our plane ticket is profit,
but keep in mind that all my estimates were on the conservative end and its all assuming
a fully loaded airplane. In the end, not a ton of the money actually goes to the airline.
Back to my first line: flying is expensive.
Well, it really isnt and its getting
cheaper. To fly in the magic metal bird across the country from New York to L.A. In six hours
costs around $340 roundtrip. To drive in our very fuel efficient Toyota Camry across the
country in forty hours costs $340 just in fuel then an additional $300 in estimated
maintenance and depreciation costs.
In the past 30 years, the average inflation adjusted
airfare has dropped by 50% and its still dropping. In 1974, it was actually illegal
for airlines to offer a flight between New York and LA for less than $1442 inflation
adjusted dollars and now you can sometimes find these flights for less than $200 round
trip. One of the reasons for this drop in prices is the rise of efficient airplanes.
Certain innovations such as composite construction, better aerodynamics, more efficient engines,
and, perhaps most notably, winglets have driven down the cost of flying. Heres the one
and only Real Engineering to explain winglets.
As you said, the airline industry is constantly
finding ways to drive down their fuel consumption. In the early 70's, fuel prices rocketed, and
engineers were forced to find ways to make their planes more efficient. One way they
found was with winglets, which are those little curly bits at the end of the wing. Let's have
a quick look at how they work.
Winglets were introduced to decrease induced drag, which
occurs when high-pressure air below the wing begins to bleed over the edge into the low-pressure
air above. This flow creates vortices off the tips of the wings that creates drag and
reduces lift which reduces the fuel economy of the plane. Winglets act to reduce these
vortices by reducing the airflow over the edge of the wing. For a full explanation and
a look at the history behind winglets, head over to my channel and watch my new video
which features a special guest appearance from Wendover Productions.
Thanks Real Engineering! Be sure to go
check out and subscribe to Real Engineerings channel. If you like this channel, I guarantee
you will enjoy his. Ill leave you with the real reason specific airfares are expensive,
but also a reason why theyre getting cheapercompetition, or lack there of. The airline industry is
one with very little competition.
Airfares from New York to LA are cheap because theres
a lot of demand and theres a relatively high amount of competition. Five different
airlines fly direct from New York to LA, two of which are budget airlines. People dont
care that much which airline they fly, they care about the price, so airlines will try
to match the price of the budget airlines. Compare this to a route like Denver to Gunnison
Largely because only United makes this flight, you will often pay more
than $500 for this 130 mile flight. So, thats why your plane tickets cost so
much. Next time you book your travel, youll know why youre paying so much and also
how little of that actually goes to airlines. Thank you for watching.
If you enjoyed this
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week Ill be back to my normal seriesThat Wikipedia List..