On Buying An Airplane, Part III

Okay, after discussing where to find airplanes, we now come to the question of what to look for when appraising the airplane. As with any mechanical conveyance, there are things that stand out right away when you evaluate the machine.

When you start “looking under the hood,” you will find the condition of most airplanes will range from pristine all the way down to unacceptable. The key, as with any vehicle, is knowing what to look for.

One of your first considerations is the question of your experience level in aviation. If you have been in aviation for a while hanging around airports and aircraft shops, you probably have a pretty good idea of what to look for when searching for an aircraft to purchase. On the other hand, if you are a student pilot or a recently certificated private pilot, your knowledge in these areas may be weak.

If this is the case, definitely consider the services of an experienced airframe and powerplant (A&P) technician in obtaining their opinion about the aircraft following a pre-purchase inspection.

Just as with buying a car, there are obvious signs you can look for when considering the purchase of an aircraft. When it comes to metal airplanes, or all aluminum airframes, the thing to look for is corrosion. This is particularly important where rivets join one metal part to another.

On an aluminum airframe, seeing any residue, which looks like a white powder, might be a concern. You should also be aware there are different types of corrosion. In addition to finding the powdery residue on the metal, you may also see pitting or a general roughening of the metal surface. Another place to look for corrosion is where one type of metal joins another. Technicians refer to this type of damage as dissimilar metal corrosion.

In checking the engine, there are many similarities to car engines. You want to look out for such things as leaking oil, cracked or dry seals and gaskets, and again just as with the airframe, corrosion. Unlike car engines, aircraft engines are typically constructed with aluminum engine blocks with other components consisting of other metals. This gives rise to the problem of dissimilar corrosion. After checking the engine, if it looks good and passes your first visual inspection, it is time to get into the logbooks of both the airframe and the engine.

Here is a word of caution about aircraft and engine logbooks. These documents should include all of the factual information regarding any repairs, any preventative maintenance, and any maintenance mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. This is where you will find the airworthiness directives and service bulletin maintenance recorded.

Unfortunately, sometimes the information contained in aircraft logbooks is, well, not too factual. Some logbooks are as full of good fiction as you might find in the best novels on the New York Times bestselling list. This is where you need to have an A&P reading over your shoulder – more than likely, you will not be well versed in reading the hieroglyphics of the FAA Air Worthiness Directives. Additionally, a good A&P might be able to help point out some of the fiction in a questionable logbook.

Once you satisfied with the logbooks and decide on buying the airplane, you are now in the realm of negotiating the price with the owner. To help with this task, there is actually a “blue book” for airplanes that has information about the value of used airplanes based on type of airplane, number of hours on the airframe and the engine (which can be completely different), and the equipment on board, such as radios, transponders, and GPS units. Your banker may be able to help you in determining the actual worth of the craft.

After you and the owner agree on the price, it is time to complete the deal. You now own an airplane and it is going to cost you – beyond the purchase price. How much?

That is the topic of the next blog, On Buying An Airplane, Part IV.


©2013 J. Clark

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2 Responses to On Buying An Airplane, Part III

  1. Really helpful tips Joe thanks for putting this together. If only we could make sure everyone has this guide to hand when shopping for a new plane! I’m sure it’d save a lot of post-purchase regrets.

    • Joe Clark says:

      Jerry, that is one of my objectives – to make younger flyers more aware of the process and help prevent heartaches and increase joys…

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