Searching For The Right Airplane

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There are pilots, even student pilots, so enamored with their new hobby or budding career that they rush out to buy a plane and get on the fast upgrade track. Easy to make a mistake that way.

Odyssey Aviation Publications

The student pilot was learning to fly in a Piper Cherokee when he saw his first Cessna 310. He decided on the spot that he was going to own one. During a subsequent discussion with friends he was told that if he planned on being a commercial pilot he should skip the single engine airplane and build twin time. That was all he needed to hear.

An ad in Trade-A-Plane sounded inviting. He called the broker and talked to him about the airplane. It had a fresh annual, the salesman told him, so this airplane would run well for the next five years. Again, that was all he needed to hear. He bought the airplane and had it delivered to his Michigan home base.

First Hint of Problems

This was long before the tight insurance market that we have been experiencing for the last several years, but our proud aircraft owner could not get insurance for his bird. At least, he couldn't get anyone to cover him when he flew it. So, he decided to fly without insurance.

At first he could not find an instructor who would fly with him. It seems that the majority of the instructors in the area did not want to be exposed to any liability if anything happened as a result of a solo signoff. But he finally did find someone who was willing to teach him in the high-performance twin and sign him off for solo when the time came. It never did.

It did not take long for problems to crop up with the airplane. The annual inspection that the broker touted as being very thorough turned out to be a sign off in a logbook and that was all. A mechanic trying to troubleshoot a rough running engine quickly found several airworthiness issues with the airplane. It was grounded.

Our not so proud aircraft owner did not have the money to fix the airplane. It sat for more than a year until he was able to pay for the repair work.

When I spoke to the now not so proud aircraft owner he told me that he realized too late that he had not done anything right regarding the purchase of the Cessna 310. He said he would be much more careful in the future. I lost track of the still student pilot shortly afterward, and I understand that he sold the 310. I don't know if he ever got a license or not.

The Rush To Buy and Upgrade

Many first time buyers have no idea what they are doing when they approach the aircraft purchase process. Too many of them are, like the 310 buyer, still student pilots who not only have no idea of what kind of airplane will fit their personal or business needs but what the different makes and models will do for them.

Student pilots are always wise to delay any decision to purchase an airplane until they have the knowledge to determine which airplane will suit their needs best. And that usually means buying an airplane that they will keep for five years or more.

Buying a Cessna 150 to learn to fly in, followed by its sale and the purchase of a Cessna 172 to get an instrument rating, followed by the purchase of a 172RG to get a commercial license in will cost a great deal of money over the term of the purchases and sales, not to say anything about the cost of maintenance or upgrades each aircraft might require. It is much better to rent to get to that point.

Once the commercial license is in your pocket you will be much better equipped to make the decision regarding the type of airplane that will best serve you and how to go about purchasing it.

Don't Stretch the Budget

The beginning of the process is the determination of how much money you have to spend on an airplane and then the narrowing down of the makes and models so you know which are the ones that will do the best job for you at the most reasonable cost. When you are looking at the overall cost of the purchase be certain you include not only the actual purchase price of the aircraft, but the associated costs such as travel expense, taxes, and any other costs that directly result from the purchase.

Too many people can't afford the airplane they want and they stretch their budgets to make the numbers come out right. That is not a good idea. It reminds me of the balsa wood model airplanes I had when I was a kid. With a rubber band connected to the plastic propeller I would spin the propeller until the rubber band was very tightly wound. When I let go of the propeller one of two things would happen. Either the rubber band would snap and the airplane would not fly, or it would take off into the air until the energy the rubber band supplied was exhausted and then glide back to the ground.

People who overbuy, that is they buy an airplane that they really cannot afford, are going to see that "rubber band" snap too many times while they own the airplane. The problem with real airplanes is that when they are poorly maintained usually things will break when the airplane is being flown, and if you lose the right combination of systems at the same time you may return to earth long before you intended under very unfavorable circumstances.

So, before you let yourself be dazzled by pretty looking airplanes that are on the "For Sale" ramp take the time to determine exactly what it is that you can afford to own. And don't allow some high-pressure salesperson talk you into moving up into another airplane that he has for sale because it may fit the purchase price bill. An old Cessna 310 can be bought for the price of a late model Cessna 172, but guess which one is going to eat up your fuel and maintenance dollars faster?

Lease?

Some of those who find that they cannot afford the airplane they want to buy will consider a leaseback or partnership. If you decide to go the leaseback route be sure the operator you are dealing with is completely honest with you. Most leasebacks are not all that great for the owner unless the airplane flies a lot. But when the airplane flies a lot it becomes a high-time aircraft very quickly, and often its cosmetics need refurbishment long before they otherwise would. The high-time airframe and worn cosmetics have costs associated with them that are seldom recouped by the owner.

Partnerships can work well if you get the right partner. People who disagree on how the airplane should be operated or maintained should never be partners. Partnership agreements that favor one party or the other do not work well. They usually result in chaos and the sale of the airplane. It is very difficult to find the right partner. Make sure you take the time and make the effort to do it right.

So, now you are thinking hard about the type of aircraft you really need and can afford. That is a great start in the search for a new aircraft. Don't be in a hurry. There are always airplanes available if you take the time and make the effort to search them out. It's the people who make an unwise decision because they don't want to invest more time and effort in the process who have the lion's share of the problems.


More articles about buying aircraft are found in AVweb's Used Aircraft section..