High fuel costs hit private pilots, RAM hard

By: Max Orenstein Email
By: Max Orenstein Email

KNOXVILLE (WVLT) – Crude oil closed at more than $140.00 a barrel on Friday, sending the nation’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded to $4.07. The same type fuel sold at a premium on marina docks still cost less than $5.00 a gallon, but if you owned an airplane, filling up over the weekend near a large city meant paying more than $7.00 a gallon.

On Sunday, fuel prices at Knoxville’s Island Home Airport were a little more in line with those on the dock. To fill up your plane would have cost you $5.23.

Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical was well aware of the cost of filling up over the weekend, and he knew even though his trip was short, it would still cost a lot.

Brock, who was recently featured along with RAM on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, had spent the previous few days overseeing an expedition to Pikeville, Kentucky. Since the trip to Pike County is considered short by air, he flew up in a small Cessna aircraft. But even though a Cessna is small and uses a fairly efficient engine, the price to pump fuel into the plane still ended up costing RAM more than $5.50 a gallon.

“It's a big bite out of our budget when we're trying to provide medical care for people and our biggest expense is the fuel to get there,” Brock said.

The price for fuel could cost the non-profit organization even more depending on where the expedition is. For long distance trips, RAM’s founder pilots in with supplies with a Douglas-built DC-3 left over from World War II. These days there are less than 400 of the properly driven planes still in use, and every time Stan fires it up, it burns through fuel at about $500.00 an hour.

“It makes us really think hard before we go on an expedition,” he said, “specifically on how the best way is to get our equipment down there.”

Private pilots are hit just as hard in the wallet by the increasingly high cost of airplane fuel. Bobby Keeble is just getting back into flying. He knows each trip in the air can be a big expenditure, but like anything else, there is always a price to pay.

“It gets expensive sometimes,” he said. “You just have to weigh your options and be careful about what you do.”

According to Brock, Remote Area Medical has had to pay up to $8.00 for a gallon of fuel.

You can read more about the organization by clicking on the link below.


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