HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Increasing fuel costs are grounding many of Connecticut’s private pilots and forcing some small airports to boost their fees for lessons, hangar space and equipment rentals.

Some aviation buffs say the hobby has become too expensive as aviation gas used in their planes hovers between $5 and $6 per gallon.

“It’s definitely causing a strain,” said Thomas Vrissis, a pilot who flies at Brainard Airport in Hartford and said fuel there has gone up a dollar per gallon since January.

At Skylark Airport in East Windsor, the usual 3,000 gallons of fuel sold monthly has dropped to 2,000 gallons, airport manager Mike Koczera said. He says flying there has dropped about 30 percent as fuel costs have increased.

Connecticut pilots are mirroring a national trend, according to a recent survey of several thousand members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

It found that two of every five people surveyed said they had cut their flying time in half, or even more, because of higher fuel costs. Many others said they’d scaled back by at least one-third.

Recreational flying represented more of the decrease than business travel, said Kathleen Vasconcelos, a spokeswoman for the association. That’s also true in Connecticut, where some pilots and instructors say the tax write-offs for business travel help ease the crunch.

For aviation enthusiasts like Vrissis, though, cutting back on other expenses is worth the sacrifice to enjoy their favorite hobby.

“We’re willing to sacrifice and forgo other luxuries in life,” he said. “I don’t go out to eat a lot, I don’t buy a lot of electronics.”

Aspiring flight instructor Chazz Logue, 19, who began flying on his 15th birthday and is a ground instructor, said fuel costs haven’t deterred him either.

“Most of the pilots I hang around with are as career-oriented as I am,” he said. “It’s just something we have to deal with in order to do what we want.”

Pilots predict there is a breaking point at which fuel will be too expensive for most aviators, but they are unsure what that price will be.

“If you had asked me a year ago what would happen if prices got to their current level now, things would have dropped, but we haven’t seen it,” said Bill Thomas, manager of the Simsbury Airport.

“I’m beyond guessing. There probably is some level, but I have no idea what it is. We haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

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