Driving versus Flying

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My wife recently spirited me away on a two-night trip to Paso Robles, CA, but staying on the coast in Cambria, just south of Hearst Castle (a worthwhile tour!). I thought it would be fun/interesting to contrast what such a trip would be, door to door, using GA aircraft versus a car to travel from Santa Clara (nee Silicon Valley) to Cambria, CA.

According to Google Maps the trip by car, without stopping, takes three hours. The factors in speed limits and time-of-day traffic, which for mid-week was pretty light. Since Highway 1 is closed at Big Sur because of the bridge failure, US 101 South is the route to take (faster anyways - HW 1 is beautiful, but one Winnebago can really destroy your lap times). Posted speed limit ranges from 55 to 70. Recommended California fudge-factors are to add 10 MPH to those limits - just saying. My Ford Expedition can make it 1-way on a single tank of gas, so technically it can be done in the allotted time. Bladders say otherwise, and we did stop for 10 minutes at a very nice rest stop in San Miguel.

GA Aircraft
First, the constants.

  • Travel from home to KRHV Reid-Hillview Airport, again according to Google Maps: 20 minutes
  • Travel from KPRB (Paso Robles) to Cambria: 40 minutes. In fairness, the mountain pass was shrouded in fog and it was slow going for a bit.

Now it gets a bit tricky and here is where I think the wisdom of the community can help out since I am not a pilot IRL.

  • Check-in, pre-flight inspection, and load luggage @ KRHV, warm-up: 40 minutes
  • Unload luggage, check-out, and get rental car in KPRB: 30 minutes

Do these times sounds reasonable? I omitted the time that would be spent purchasing gas - bad form on my part!!!

I flew two different but typical GA aircraft, both enjoying a 5 knot tail-wind: The A2A Cessna 182 and the MilViz C310. Travel time was measured from when the plane just started to move after obtaining ground clearance and when the engines were shut off. Both departures were from KRHV runway 13L and landing on KPRB 19, so pretty much straight out and straight in for both airports. Altitude was 3,500 feet - keeps it visually interesting and there are no obstacles to worry about.

  1. Cessna 182: 151 knots average ground speed while cruising, 70 minutes overall. For you A2A fans, that did NOT include warming the engine up - that was allocated to pre-flight.
  2. Cessna 310: 187 knots average ground speed while cruising, 52 minutes overall. 

The winner by time is a toss-up:

  • Traveling the roughly 200 miles in a car for three hours gets you there in 180 minutes, door to door. Add the pee-pee break of 10 minutes and we are at 190 minutes.
  • The Cessna 182 took 200 minutes. 20 + 40 + 70 + 30 + 40.
  • The Cessna 310 took 182 minutes. 20 + 40 + 52 + 30 + 40.

I think we can agree that the costs are going to favor the automobile, although at the going rate of 55 cents per mile operating expense per IRS guidelines will add $100+ to the tab. Still, at the going average of $180 per wet hour, not too mention rental car, the cost adds up for an aircraft.

It was, as expected, a fun and interesting experiment. I own Orbx SCA and the new high-resolution mesh from Pilots so the flying was visually entertaining pretty much the entire way. What was GREAT fun was doing the drive a couple of days later, and contrasting the visuals at ground level. While Orbx and Pilots do a great job, there is nothing like the real thing. And this time of year, both in P3D V3 and in real life, California is lush and green and did not disappoint. Had a great time, picked up a lot of great wine, and packed on about 5 pounds. Oink!

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Fun thought-experiment. Thanks.

You know what they say..."time to spare, go by air."

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The wild card is if you don't hold an IFR endorsement and the weather.


scott s.



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The Flight Option is really for anyone passionate about flying and too much money to spend. So you saved a bit of time but wasted even more time then the time you saved bragging about how much time you saved. People are like that :laugh:

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Although not applicable in your exact scenario. But if you're ever trying to decide between flying commercially or yourself, don't forget to add the GA non-TSA convenience cost. :)

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Hi Folks,

Yep - good comparison - here's my real world example of a trip I make often both by both car and plane... First time I've put this to paper...


Middletown NY to Boothbay Harbor ME


Driving - FORD F150 Pickup Truck - 20 MPG

420 mi - 21 gal - 7 hr 12 min - plus stops 30 min

Total:  420 mi - 7 hr 42 min - 21 gal


Flying - Beech Sundowner  - 10 GPH (planning - actual probably closer to 9GPH)

Airports KMSV Sullivan County NY - to - KIWI Wiscasset ME

Driving 33 mi - 1.65 gal - 45 min to Sullivan County Airport

Flying 306 mi - 23 gal - 2 hr 12 min (no wind)

Prep Plane 30 min

Driving 18 mi - 0.90 gal - 37 min from Wiscasset Airport

Total: 357 mi - 4.0 hr - 25.5 gal


A few extra gallons (probably about the same) to cut travel time in half... Each has it's tradeoffs - (weather/traffic) however the best is when traveling on a holiday weekend and the roads are jammed packed with traffic which can add hours and you're flying over the top at 120 MPH... Obviously the shorter the trip - the less benefit provided by flying...






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