What does it really cost to fly a paramotor?

When I first saw the advertisements for paramotors in Kit Planes Magazine, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Something can actually get you off the ground for $7,500? It must be a scam.”

At the time in 2002 I was a very active CFI teaching other college students to fly single engine training airplanes. Our primary trainer, the Diamond Katana, was a cute little plane with fairly good performance as far as trainers go. Although I was enjoying teaching others to fly, I was starting to realize that if you are going to have someone pay you to fly you will be doing a lot of work. I longed for the freedom of owning my own airplane and for the joy of flying it anytime I wanted however I wanted. I drooled over the Vans Aircraft RV7 (I still do) and tried to figure out how I could come up with the required $75,000 and 5 years of time to built the thing. With a new wife and kid, living off of student loans, it wasn’t looking promising.

After researching paramotoring for about a year, I started taking lessons with Chris Santacroce of Super Fly Paragliding at the Point of the Mountain in the spring of 2003 (an excellent choice by the way). By August of 2003 I had purchased a new Gin paraglider and a Sky Cruiser MZ100 paramotor, top of the line at the time. As an airplane flight instructor I had once logged nearly a 100 hours of flight time in a single month and I expected to really get some flying in now that all I had to do was buy a gallon of gas and a little bit of 2-stroke oil. My dreams of flying all the time however I liked were finally about to come true.

Early Frustration

Well, as you might have already guessed, it didn’t work out quite that way. To make a long story short, by the summer of 2004 I had sold my Sky Cruiser MZ100 paramotor for $1100 less than I paid for it only 9 months earlier and had only managed to log about 25 hours.

My paramotor flying career up to that point was one of continual breakdowns. It seemed that every time I wanted to fly something was broken, the muffler, pull starter, siezed piston, head with a hole burned in it, muffler, muffler, muffler. In fairness to the MZ100, the model I was flying had a custom built muffler produced by Sky Cruiser, the culprit for many of my problems. I have heard that the new MZ100 engine with a factory built muffler is much better. Sky Cruiser was good about fixing my engine for free but it cost me time and shipping expense.

At this point I considered chalking paramotoring up to a bad experiment and moving on. I had bought top of the line gear, taken lessons from one of the best instructors in the country and still I had only managed to log a few sporadic hours of flying. What a disappointment.

In the summer of 2004, while flying a Cessna, I was looking down on some rugged badlands terrain and came to a dramatic realization. Even with my engine headaches, paramotoring had been the most exciting and enjoyable flying experience I have ever had. I longed to be down in the gullies and hills carving it up, chasing coyotes and jack rabbits. I missed having the visibility of a completely open cockpit and the wind in my face. I wanted to smell the sage in the air and feel the temperature inversions as I flew over different terrain. Flying in a small airplane was fun in its own right, I would much rather fly myself then drive myself, but for the pure joy of flight nothing could compare with paramotoring. In a perfect world I would have a fast airplane to get somewhere, but when I got there I would still want a paramotor in the back of the plane to check out my destination with.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I had a new Sky Cruiser this time with the new Black Devil 172cc engine. It would be a big fat lie to say that my Black Devil engine has been a dream machine that has never given me any problems. I purchased one of the first of a new type of engine and experienced the problems that accompany any new product. The Black Devil has been significantly improved since I purchased mine. Overall I have been happy with the engine and plan to buy another Black Devil as my next engine. I don’t know of any stronger recommendation. As for paramotoring, I have never regretted sticking with the sport and I’m yet to find any flying machine that compares to the thrill of strapping a paramotor on my back and running into the sky.

My first question was “It sounds great but what does it really cost?” One good way to answer that question is to compare paramotoring with the most common form of flying in the US, renting a small general aviation airplane. Almost everyone who flies an airplane started by going out to the airport and renting a small plane for some lessons. Even Air Force pilots now are required to earn their private pilot certificate at the local airport before they show up for flight training.

Airplane Costs

First lets look at was it costs to fly an airplane. At most airports it costs around $100 per hour to rent a Cessna 172 or something similar, simple and strait forward right? Well, almost.

The real kicker in flying a rental airplane, or owning your own plane or car for that matter, is insurance. For most pilots it costs about $1,000 per year. Some elect to not fly with insurance, but if you crash the rental plane you bought it. Even a “old beater” of a Cessna 172 will cost at least $50,000 to replace and even a just ding is rarely less than a $5,000 bill. Of course that is assuming you didn’t damage anything or hurt anyone on the ground. If you did, then you are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you rent a plane, it is best to be insured. And no, just because the flight school has insurance for themselves doesn’t mean you are insured. There are a lot of pilots who rented or borrowed a plane thinking they were covered because the owner of the plane or flight school “had them on the policy” and then found out later when the insurance company sued them for the damages that it didn’t work that way. Being “on the policy” only protects the owner or renter of the plane and not you unless you have your own aircraft insurance policy.

Cost per hour if you rent a Cessna and average flying one hour per week in a year:

$100 per hour for Aircraft Rental
$19 per hour for Insurance ($1,000 Premium/52 hours)
$119 per hour Total or $6,188 per year.

Cost per hour if you rent a Cessna and average flying one hour per month in a year:

$100 per hour for Aircraft Rental
$83 per hour for Insurance ($1,000 Premium/12 hours)
$183 per hour Total or $2,196 for the year.

The point of the comparison is that the more hours you fly the less expensive the insurance becomes per hour. If you only fly 10 hours in one year the cost of insurance is equal to the cost of aircraft rental. There also other expenses like flight reviews, medical exams, pilot gear, etc.—you you get the idea.

Paramotor Costs

Now lets look at what it costs to fly an paramotor. You can buy a top of the line paramotor and paraglider as a package for about $7,500. Some are a little more and some are a little less, but that seems to be about the average. That deal is typically on a top of the line $6,000 paramotor and a top of the line $3,000 paraglider. By buying them together you typically can save around $1,500. In essence, the paraglider will cost about $2,500 and the paramotor about $5,000.

Paragliders have a limited life. You can expect most new paragliders to last 5 years or 300 hours. In addition to the initial expense of the paraglider you should have an annual inspection performed by a certified glider shop. Glider inspections usually cost about $150 and you will need at least 3 over the life of your glider. A used up paraglider has essentially no resale value unless you pawn if off on some unsuspecting victim who doesn’t know any better on ebay, not a good idea.

To run the paramotor it will cost you about $5 per hour in engine parts, $3 per hour is fuel and another $4 dollars per hour in other expenses like propeller repairs, cage repairs, tools etc. Just to make the comparison easier we will also assume that you sell your used paramotor for ½ of what you paid for it new after 5 years. If you keep your paramotor you will need to replace all of the limited life parts such as the harness, fuel tanks, engine mounts, netting etc. By refurbishing and flying your paramotor for another 5 years you can drop the cost of paramotor depreciation by a significant amount.

You can also reduce the cost of running and maintaining your paramotor by getting thoroughly trained to at least the USPPA PPG2 level before you head out on your own. Its amazing how expensive stuff gets when you break it (or don’t know how to fix it) because you shortchanged your instruction let alone how dangerous it is to know just enough to really hurt yourself. Just look at my initial experience. I knew how to fly it, but I didn’t know how to fix it. The lesson—don’t just have your instructor teach you how to fly, have your instructor teach you how to fly and maintain your paramotor. If you skip either one of these very important steps you will have a miserable first year just like I did.

Cost per hour to fly a paramotor if you average flying one hour per week over 5 years:

$11 per hour for the paraglider and paraglider inspections ($2,950/260 hours)
$12 per hour to run and maintain the paramotor ($5 parts + $3 gas + $4 misc.)
$10 per hour for paramotor depreciation ($2,500/260 hours)
$33 per hour Total or $1,716 per year

Cost per hour to fly a paramotor if you average flying one hour per month over 5 years:

$49 per hour for the paraglider and paraglider inspections
$12 per hour to run and maintain the paramotor ($5 parts + $3 gas + $4 misc.)
$42 per hour for paramotor depreciation ($2,500/60 hours)
$103 per hour Total or $1,248 per year

As you can see, the cost per hour of flying a paramotor goes down the more you fly just like an airplane. The thing is, even if you only manage to fly for one hour per month you can still fly your own paramotor for about what it costs to pay the insurance premium on a rental plane every year. If you ask me, that is a great deal.