Piper Archer vs Cessna 172 Compared : Which Is Better?

Latest posts by Helen Krasner (see all)

The Piper Archer and Cessna 172 are both four-seater, all-metal aircraft that are popular with private pilots and owners alike. Either one is quite likely to be the aircraft a new pilot first flies after getting his or her license. New pilots are often looking for a four-seater aircraft so that they can take family or friends flying, rather than the two-seaters on which they might have learned to fly. And they want something which is fairly easy to fly.

So what are both these aircraft like to fly? Which is best, and what are the main differences between them? And which one should you buy? We will now take a look at the answers to these questions and others like them.

The Main Differences Between the Piper Archer and Cessna 172

The main differences between the Piper Archer and Cessna 172 are:

  • The Piper Archer has only one door on the right-hand side for access, whereas the Cessna 172 has two doors on each side of the aircraft.
  • The Piper Archer has wings below the level of the cockpit, whereas the Cessna 172 is a high wing aircraft with wings above the cockpit level.
  • The Piper Archer is somewhat awkward to climb into, as you have to stand on the wing to reach the door, whereas in the Cessna 172, this is not a problem, as the door is below the wing.
  • The Cessna 172 performs well on short runways and rough strips, whereas the Piper Archer is not quite so good in these situations.

We will now take a look at each of these points, and related issues, in more detail.

High Wing or Low Wing Aircraft: Which Is Better?

Fairly early on in their flying, students realize that most aircraft are either low wing and have their wings below the level of the cockpit, or high wing, with wings that are above it. Of course, it is possible to have a biplane with wings both above and below, but we’ll leave those for now as they are quite unusual these days. So what difference does this wing position make, and which is best?

When actually flying, there is little to choose between them. But in terms of visibility, the position of the wings makes a great deal of difference. In a low-wing aircraft like the Piper Archer, the wings obscure the ground as you are flying straight and level. This can make visual navigation harder, though that not much when you become accustomed to it. However, it is not so good when you are on a pleasure flight and particularly want to look at the scenery below you. You might prefer to buy an aircraft where your view is not obscured. But the advantage of a low wing aircraft is that, in turns, you can see the ground clearly, which is a distinct advantage when in the airfield pattern, and particularly when turning on to final in order to prepare for landing.

In a high wing aircraft like the Cessna 172, on the other hand, the visibility in the cruise is great! You can see everything below you, and for many people, this makes a fight much more pleasurable and also makes visual navigation easier. But in a turn, the wings obscure the ground, which is a problem in the airfield pattern when you are not used to it.

To be honest, pilots quite easily get used to both of these. However, if you are going to buy an aircraft, you might find you have a preference, so it is worth trying both to see which you like best.

Another difference between high and low wing aircraft comes when refueling since the fuel tanks are in the wings. With the Piper Archer, fuelling is not an issue, as it is easy to reach the wing. But with the Cessna 172, you definitely need a ladder in order to climb onto the wing. Is this an issue? Well, not often, but I have occasionally found myself needing to refuel a Cessna 172 and finding that a ladder is not available! Of course, you can carry a folding ladder or stool with you, but it does take up valuable space.

Another fuel-related issue is that when flying a low wing aircraft like the Archer, you need to monitor your fuel consumption and switch between the two tanks when necessary using a lever in the cockpit. This is not necessary for the high wing Cessna 172, as the two fuel tanks are interconnecting. This could be a safety issue; it is not unknown for a pilot of a low wing Piper aircraft to think they have run out of fuel when they have just forgotten to switch tanks!

Aircraft Access

Let’s take a look now at the access to both aircraft…

Climbing aboard the Cessna 172 is a piece of cake. The wings are above you, and you have doors on both sides, so you simply climb in, on the side where you will be sitting. To be honest, it’s not too different from getting into a car.

However, things are very different in the low wing Piper Archer. Firstly, you need to climb onto the wing to reach the door. This can be awkward if you are short and/or not that athletic. And your passengers might not be keen on doing that either. Secondly, the Archer has only one door on the right-hand side. This means that the pilot has to get in first, climb over to the left seat, and then the passengers get in. This is not so good if your passengers aren’t used to light aircraft and might need help.

Is It Dangerous To Only Have One Door?

There is a more important reason why you might not want to only have one door, and that concerns the safety aspects. In an emergency, such as an engine fire or similar, it could be essential that all occupants vacate the aircraft as quickly as possible. In a Cessna 172, with its two doors, that would not be an issue. But in a Piper Archer, everyone would have to leave through that one door. Now, to be honest, I’ve never heard of an accident where this was an issue. But I can easily see that it could be!

What About Short Runways and Rough Fields?

If you want an airplane for really short runways and rough fields, the Cessna 172 would be significantly better than the Archer. But actually, neither of these aircraft performs brilliantly in these sorts of situations. If this is something you intend to do often, you would be advised to get something like the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, which was designed to land almost anywhere, or perhaps even a helicopter!

Similarities between the Piper Archer Guide and the Cessna 172

You should know that, despite the above, there are possibly more similarities than differences between the Cessna 172 and the Piper Archer. Let us look now at these.

Performance and Handling

Both of these aircraft are really easy to fly and perform well in most conditions. Engine sizes are similar, and there are a variety of specifications in both types if you have a preference. They are difficult to stall and almost impossible to spin, which private pilots welcome. Although, instructors sometimes complain that this makes them not that good for training.

Perhaps the main criticism leveled at both aircraft is that they are unexciting. Neither aircraft is particularly fast, and you would not want to use them for aerobatic maneuvers. They are simply a means to get safely and easily from A to B. But if that is what you want, then there is not a lot to choose between them.

Maintenance and Insurance

Both of these aircraft are easy and fairly cheap to maintain and insure. Because they have both been around so long and there are so many of them, finding a mechanic who knows how to work on them should not be an issue or be too expensive. Similarly, finding parts should not be a problem.

Similarly, when it comes to insurance, things should be easy and relatively inexpensive. Insurance companies are unlikely to ask for special pilot training, or indeed anything different or unusual. Insurance companies perceive both of these aircraft as safe, straightforward planes, and charge accordingly.


Prices of a new Cessna 172 and Piper Archer are fairly similar, usually around the $400,000 mark, depending on specifications. But if you don’t want to shell out that much for a new aircraft, both of these offer a wide choice in terms of secondhand models. The Piper Archer is said to be a little more expensive when it comes to used models, but with so much choice available, this is unlikely to make a great deal of difference.

Owner Reviews

Owners of both these aircraft are generally very happy with them, emphasizing the ease of flying them and lack of any problems they experience. Here are some comments from owners:

Cessna 172

“I find that the plane is very easy to fly and is extremely difficult to accidentally put it into a spin. You can slow from cruise speed to landing speed very quickly. Plus, with 40 degrees of flaps hanging out, it can easily land on short runways, aircraft carriers, or parking lots.”

“Owning a 172 is a little like marrying the girl next door. Sure, there’s always a prom queen out there, but you probably stand a better chance of knowing what’s ahead with the girl next door. I think I knew what I was getting when I became the owner of my 1973 Cessna 172 in 1978. And the longer I own the airplane, the more I am impressed by its many qualities.”

Piper Archer

“The Archer is an everyman’s airplane that provides excellent value and good reliability. It’s not as exciting as some of the more exotic aircraft available, but in my view, lack of excitement and low costs are a good thing in aviation.”

“All in all, this airplane is a joy to fly and own. As we look to the future, we have plans to purchase a new aircraft, and we seriously believe it will be a new Piper Archer III. The price is right, and its good record of safety and reliability sells itself.”

Alternative Aircraft

The Piper Archer is very similar to other members of the PA-28 series, such as the Cherokee or Warrior. The Cessna 172 is not that dissimilar to the Cessna 182 or the Cessna 150 or 152 if you are happy with a two-seater aircraft. Other competitors include the Cessna Cardinal, Grumman/AGAC Tiger, and the Beech Sundowner. Or, again, if you are happy with a two-seater, you might like to look at the Diamond DA20.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Are the Piper Archer and Cessna 172 suitable for all pilots?

Answer: They are not always suitable for everyone. If you are short, you may have difficulty reaching the pedals in some of these aircraft. I found this in the past. I am 5 foot 2 inches, and I could only fly the Cessna 172 using two cushions. After a scare when one of my cushions slipped on landing, I decided not to fly one of these aircraft again.

Many years later, I tried a more modern one and found that the seats moved further forward, and I could reach the pedals and fly it safely. So if you might have this as a problem, and particularly if you are planning on buying an older model, do check first. As an instructor once pointed out to me, not all aircraft are suitable for everyone, so do make sure.

Question: I fly out of a very short field. Would you recommend the Cessna 172 or something else?

Answer: The Cessna 172 should be OK for short field takeoffs and landings. The Cessna 152 is also good if you are happy with a two-seater aircraft. Other recommended types for short strips are the Aeronca Chief, the Super Cub, or the Citabria.

Question: I recently got my Private Pilot’s License and I would like to take my family flying. Are these aircraft suitable for children?

Answer: Yes, they are fine for your family. However, do make sure you explain to children about safety, how to get in and out of the aircraft, and what to do in an emergency. This is most important for the Piper Archer, with access through only one door, and it might be best to ensure an older person is always seated next to this door. But if briefed carefully, most children enjoy flying in light aircraft and can do so safely.

The Verdict: Which Aircraft Is Better?

So which of these two aircraft should you buy? Which would be best for you?

Both of them are safe, easy-to-fly airplanes, and many pilots enjoy flying either of them. They are both extremely popular.

However, in my opinion, unless you have a definite personal preference, the Cessna 172 is better. The high wing configuration means visibility is far better in the cruise, which can make flights much more enjoyable, particularly for passengers. But my main reason is a dislike and distrust of the fact that the Piper Archer has only one door. This makes access difficult, particularly if you are carrying passengers. And I still think this could be a safety issue, even if rarely. Added to all of that is the fact that the Cessna 172 is a better performer on rough ground and short fields.

These are both good aircraft. But there is a reason that the Cessna 172 is the most successful aircraft in history when considering its longecity and popularity. More than 44,000 have been made, and can that many pilots be wrong?

Research Sources

AOPA https://www.aopa.org

Aviation consumer. https://www.aviationconsumer.com

Plane and Pilot https://www.planeandpilotmag.com/

Scroll to Top