Buying An Aircraft Get The Facts




Buying An Aircraft Get The Facts

By James Trusty



There has never been a market that has more information about the product available to the buyer for almost nothing than the aviation market.  So why, you might ask, would anyone purchase an aircraft without going through all those steps that will most probably insure that you get exactly what you think you are buying?  Well, sometimes, just like when we buy an automobile, house, or anything else that costs over ten bucks, that old ugly thing called “emotion” steps in and influences us in the final decision making process.  Bad mistake! 

I’m going to list a few steps that will help you be better prepared to make that decision.  Please feel free to add more to the list before you plunk down the big bucks required to purchase an airplane these days.


Begin by having a talk with yourself.  People already think you are nuts for thinking about buying an aircraft, so seeing you talk to yourself will not surprise them at all.  Ask yourself, what is my reason for buying?  Whether it’s for personal use, business, investment, tax benefit, training, amusement, or whatever other reason you decide, be specific.  You may want to write it down somewhere so that when a problem arises you can take it out and look at your reason for making this investment.  Be diligent in your description of why you must have an airplane, and you will probably find it fits into more than one category.   

Next, what type of aircraft do you want to buy?  Include size, price, powerplant, speed, brand name, color, single or multi-engine, fixed gear or retractable.  We are just in the paperwork phase at this time, so let’s do a lot of thinking.  No money has changed hands so this can actually be your wish list that can be cut down as you start looking in depth.

Is what you really want available?  Build it in your mind and on a piece of paper.  Take into account everything you feel an aircraft would have to possess in order to meet your needs and your particular specifications.  Will this airplane fly?  Does it actually exist with what you want it to have?  Can it be built?  Have you seen one before?  Where did it come from?

Now start with your research.  Why are you selecting this model?  What are the performance specs?  You are now leaving the “he said”/ “they said” phase and going into provable numbers.  Check out past performance records, owners’ comments, crash and damage statistics, and what the A/Ps say about this model.  Writing all this down for further evaluation at a later date will prove invaluable to you in your search for an aircraft.


Your next consideration should be cost, not necessarily how much can you pay, but realistically how much you are willing to pay.  Find out what you can about finance charges by calling and comparing different companies.  Check out the cost of insurance, the projected monthly maintenance cost, annuals, hangar rent, and hourly operational costs.  Find out if there are any tax benefits to owning your aircraft.  Can you really afford what you want or is it time to do some more research and remove some of the frills before you go out into the real world and start finding this flying machine?  You are now getting close to decision making time.   

Find it!  There are plenty of places to look with dealers located 10 miles apart nationwide, good magazines that specialize in aircraft sales (Trade-A-Plane, etc.) and don’t forget the Internet.  Sometimes just putting out the word that you are looking will be of help to you.  People listen and spread the word.  Owners become sellers.  The hardest part is really just beginning.  You are going to have to enter the real world of airplane sales and plan on doing some extensive traveling to feel and touch and listen and look some more before any decision can be made.   

Honesty may be in the eye of the beholder, but buying an airplane without checking it out completely can get you killed or take every nickel you can come up with every day it belongs to you.  Every time you start to feel the pangs of emotion pulling at your purse strings, ask yourself this question, “Have I ever sold a GOOD used car?”  A lot of times that same principle applies to any other type of used something sale.   

Found it!  Maybe.  If they are really interested in selling this craft, they will understand your hesitancy and your insistence on doing things right—like getting a Title Search and a pre-buy inspection from a totally unbiased mechanic, one who is willing to sign off in the logs.  Have the Airworthiness Directives run, the logbooks checked for accuracy and whether or not they are up-to-date, the service bulletins taken care of, accident history, and time left on the engine.  This last item can easily be measured in dollars for you.   

Before this purchase is completed, you should have the spread sheets in front of you that you have put together yourself which reflect actual costs, information, pluses and minuses determined by the facts, insurance, and the records in your possession.  Hang on to all these records for future evaluations you might need to make, and make one further inquiry before you make an offer.   

Get an appraisal!  The Blue Book is as up-to-date for airplanes as it is for automobiles and contains a wealth of information to add to your research.   

Recapitulation: Let’s go over it one last time.  A big decision requires time.  Reason for buying—check; what to buy— check; actually exist—check; research every aspect—check; located it—check; COST, within your guidelines, kinda sorta—check; pre-buy complete—check; appraisal—check.  In my feeble mind, I think that this particular aircraft meets all the requirements and specifications that I personally have set forth in this aircraft purchase search—check, check, check!   

Are you now ready to make an offer based on all the above information and an aircraft appraisal and let the chips fall where they may?  Watch that emotion!  Just being armed with all the facts and figures does not keep you from making a bad deal.  

Whatever you do at this point will at least be somehow based on the facts that you yourself put together and not on someone else that you can try and put the blame on for years to come, so step right in to it.   

Welcome to the small world of aviation ownership.  You are now that one person out of 1,500 in the United States who owns an airplane.  Well, that ought to be worth something, shouldn’t it?  It makes you wonder who the special person is, the one who owns the airplane or the 1,499 who don’t.  Just remember that it was your decision.  

For my part, I wouldn’t be without one.  It gives me something to talk about, good or bad, every day of my life.  Thank goodness I don’t have time to argue with the wife or worry about that old Dodge of mine.  My ever-waking thought is my 210 and actually most of the time everything is great, especially when 40 Tango and I go flying together.  We are special.  We are 1 in 1,500 that made the right decision.  What’s that noise?  Did I see some smoke? 

I’ll see you at the airport!  Always remember, pilots who don’t fly have no advantage over people who can’t fly.  What’s your excuse? 

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