Buying an airplane isn't quite as simple as buying a car. From operating costs, maintenance requirements, storage and insurance, there are many elements to consider when purchasing an aircraft. If you're a first-time buyer or are considering an aircraft purchase, take the time to investigate the process, learn about the market and ask a lot of questions. To get you started, here are a few things you'll want to consider:
What's your budget?
This seems obvious, but first-time buyers should take a detailed look at their budget. There are many costs associated with owning an airplane beyond the price tag. You'll need to consider the loan payment, insurance, maintenance, operating costs, hangar or tie down fees, and other surprise costs that might occur out of your control like mandated avionics upgrades.
What can you fly safely?
Everyone wants a larger and faster airplane, but don't be tempted to buy an airplane that's out of your league. Buy an airplane that you're comfortable flying safely and within your personal skill limitations. Even a slightly more powerful engine, or just a slightly larger airplane can have much different handling characteristics, and advanced avionics can leave you behind in a hurry if you're not familiar. Buying an airplane you don't have a lot of experience in can lead to regret.
What's the purpose of the airplane?
First-time aircraft buyers need to evaluate their reasons for buying an airplane. What kind of aircraft will provide the function you need? If you really analyze your purpose, you may find that the aircraft you initially have your eye on isn't actually in line with what you need. If you intend on flying an occasional joyride on the weekends in the local area, for example, you probably don't need an overpowered multi-engine machine with top-of-the-line avionics. If you travel long distances for business, an IFR certified, speedy, retractable gear aircraft might be more in line with your needs. Try to avoid buying an airplane based on emotion. Just because it looks cool or has large, powerful engines does not make it a good fit for you.
How much is insurance? What are the requirements to be insured?
Insurance is complicated. Buying aircraft insurance is not quite as easy as buying auto insurance. Nor is it as cheap. Make sure you know what the insurance costs will be before you start looking for airplanes to purchase. It's no fun to buy your dream airplane just to find out that insurance will be double what you thought it might be - after the insurance company requires you to attend an expensive training class and obtain a certain number of instructional hours in the airplane. These are standard procedures, but can be costly if you're not prepared prior to choosing an aircraft.
Where will you keep it?
Will you buy or build your own hangar? Will you rent one from the airport? Is there hangar space available at your airport, or will you be tossed out on the ramp? Do you have a back-up plan in place in case your hangar owner decides not to renew your lease? You'll want to ensure you have a place to store your aircraft, and you'll need to budget for those storage costs.
Who will maintain it?
Choosing a maintenance facility is probably the most important decision you'll make as a new aircraft owner. But don't wait until after your purchase the aircraft to choose a maintenance facility. Finding a trusted mechanic to help you with your purchase will save you time and money in the long run. A trustworthy mechanic can help you with a pre-buy inspection and can offer advice about certain aircraft types and model numbers before you make the purchase. And after the purchase, your mechanic will need to be someone you can completely trust and rely on to provide quality maintenance in accordance with the FAA and manufacturer's standards.
What technology will you need?
Taking a detailed look at aircraft technology is necessary when you're purchasing an airplane. Make sure you know what technology is necessary for your flying purposes, know what you're willing to sacrifice, and know how much you're willing to pay for the added conveniences of certain technologies. You might be able to get away with purchasing an older aircraft with outdated avionics if your flying is accomplished in good weather and in uncontrolled airspace. But if you often fly in Class B airspace, or mostly on IFR flight plans, you'll want to invest in modern avionics. And what about other technology, like aircraft anti-ice systems, digital engine monitoring, or weather radar? Do you need these things or, if not, do you intend to fork over the money for the added convenience and safety factor?
What's the resale value?
They say nothing lasts forever, and there will likely come a time when you'll want to or need to sell your aircraft. Do some basic market research about your aircraft to make sure that you'll be able to sell it easily when you want to. Is there a known mechanical problem with this particular make and model? Will the age of the avionics prevent people from wanting to purchase it in five or ten years? Is the safety record good, or is it a type of aircraft that has particular hazards associated with it? Is the logbook history complete and accurate? Has it been well maintained?
There's a lot to think about before buying an airplane. Talking to a number of skilled aviation professionals about the topics listed above will assure that you're armed with as much knowledge as possible before making decisions before, during and after the aircraft buying process. Still in over your head? Consider an aircraft broker.
Have you successfully purchased an airplane before? Share your advice with us!