On Buying An Airplane, Part I

Once you make the decision to buy an airplane, it is one of the most exciting times of your life. It can also be one of the most frustrating. Oh, and let me also say there is a little stress involved.

There are all kinds of sources for finding airplanes for sale. One of the best and oldest is Trade A Plane. They have been in business since 1937 and advertise airplanes, engines, jobs, instruments, aviation companies and real estate; in short, anything to do with airplanes can be found in the yellow pages of Trade A Plane or on their website, http://www.trade-a-plane.com. This is the first place to start when thinking of buying an airplane.

There are other sources all over the Internet, from individual sales people to other companies. You can also find airplanes listed independently by owners. There is no shortage to finding airplanes.

Here’s another important thing about airplanes. If you are going to buy a late model, fairly new airplane, prepare to drop massive quantities of dollar bills. No, make that thousand dollar bills. Maybe ten thousand dollar bills.

But you don’t have to spend that much in airplanes.

The first thing you have to think of is the mission. What do you want to do with your airplane? Do you just want to fly around occasionally in the afternoon or on weekends for fun? Will you use it as transportation for your family? Do you need to haul heavy loads? Are you going to fly in the mountains?

Every airplane is suited for a particular mission and how you are going to use the airplane will determine what airplane you should buy.

One of the first considerations is cost. Yes, we are talking the price of the airplane, but we are also talking about a lot more. In addition to the asking price, you also have to think about other considerations – such as storage, insurance, and maintenance. Oh, yea, gas and oil, too. Oops! I forgot to tell you about the overhaul allowance on the engine. Oh, and you should an avionics allowance also – sometimes radios quit working and have to be fixed.

I am not bringing up all these expenses to scare you; I want to make sure you are well informed and know what you are getting into in buying an airplane in terms of operating costs.

With regard to operating costs, this is a very important equation: the more it costs per month to keep the airplane, the less flying you will be able to do. In other words, if you have $700 a month in income you can devote to flying, and it costs $45 dollars to operate your airplane, you can fly 15.5 hours ($700/$45=15.55 hours). By the way, $45 an hour is very cheap; it is a goal many cannot achieve.

For the same $700 a month, an airplane that costs $185 per hour to operate will deliver only 3.8 hours of flying. There’s no question about it, flying, however you slice it, is expensive.

The first expensive hurdle to get over, of course, will be the actual cost of buying the aircraft. After you begin shopping, you will find airplanes can be ridiculously costly, or unbelievably inexpensive.

If you have your mind set on a newer model aircraft with a glass cockpit, prices for such a used airplane will probably start in the neighborhood of $180,000. Operating costs will be high for a multitude of reasons, one of which will be the expense of hull insurance.

On the other hand, on the lower end of the pecking order of good used airplanes, a solid Cessna 140 will cost about $23,000 to $30,000. This particular plane burns five gallons of fuel per hour and with the low acquisition costs, monthly insurance costs will be minimal. This airplane will provide hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of enjoyable flying for a very reasonable cost.

The question then becomes where you can find such an airplane. Additionally, what are you looking for in the search? What can you expect to come across in terms of used airplanes?

So, as you start looking for airplanes, you will find some are cherries, and many are trash. You have to realize that when people advertise their aircraft for sale, they are seeing it through their eyes. Typically, they will write glowing sales ads about their airplanes in hopes of bringing in more cash offers. I remember driving three hours one-way to look at a Cessna 170 that, according to the ad, was in perfect condition. When I arrived and found the aircraft, I did not even bother calling the owner to meet me. I just climbed in my car and drove home.

I eventually found my Cessna 170 in a manner others have found their aircraft. I discovered the airplane at my home airport, by accident. And of course, it was not for sale. At least, not at first. But as they say, everything has a price.

When considering a particular airplane, the first place to start is with the aircraft itself. Be aware some airplanes look like a million bucks, but are in fact not worth a plug nickel. By the same token, an airplane that looks fairly rough and flies almost every day may almost be a perfect airplane for consideration. If the airplane looks good, then you need to start digging a little deeper.

Remember the value of an airplane is determined by the number of hours on both the airframe and the engine. As long as the airplane has been properly maintained, high airframe hours may be insignificant, depending on the use of the airplane. In other words, an airplane used for transportation should display less wear and tear compared to an aircraft used for training pilots.


©2012 J. Clark

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