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The Piston Aircraft Pre-Buy Inspection

by Jeremy Cox 1. December 2006 00:00
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The aircraft pre-purchase inspection is perhaps the most important aspect of buying an aircraft.  An aircraft pre-purchase inspection done well can save you thousands of dollars, done poorly and it could cost you your life!

It is pretty common for most prospective buyers of small, light aircraft, i.e. 'below 12,500 lbs, or 5,700 Kgs' commonly known as 'Puddle Jumpers' to handle the entire sales/purchase transaction themselves without any assistance from a professional broker. Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach; it's just like you buying or selling your own home without using the services of a real-estate agent. I don't recommend this approach, but it is of course your prerogative to do so.

As you have decided to go it alone, here follows some points to remember.

Always ask to see a complete and consecutive set of log books that commence from the date of new delivery of the aircraft, up to the present day. If the candidate aircraft has many thousands of hours on it, then you should be faced with a substantial number of books. If you don't have all of the books, then it will be impossible for the owner to certify to you that the aircraft has 'no-known-damage-history.' This is a very important issue when you are trying to determine the market value of the candidate aircraft.

It is also normally a wise decision to select a pre-buy inspection facility or mechanic that does not normally have a relationship with the current owner. This is unless of course that the aircraft is not 'new' and still under the factory warranty.

Have the facility or mechanic perform the pre-buy inspection in accordance with a written checklist. If the chosen facility or mechanic is a specialist in this specific type of aircraft, it will be likely that they/he will have their own checklist to follow, which is normally over-and-above a normal aircraft inspection. In the situation where there is no specific pre-buy checklist available to your chosen facility or mechanic, and you have checked with the owner group or club that follows this specific aircraft type, then I strongly urge you to include all of the items normally required by the Annual and 100 hour inspection specified by the manufacturer of the aircraft. If the aircraft is an antique or a homebuilt machine, then I suggest that you use appendix D of cfr 14, FAR 91, subpart 43 as your guide.

Do a test flight first and make sure that your mechanic is along for the test. Have a specific flight profile that you wish to follow, to enable accurate trends to be captured for analysis post flight. Also make sure that the autopilot and all of the applicable avionics work correctly and accurately.

If at all possible, have the aircraft pressurized with a 'huff' cart on the ground, to check for leaks, if the aircraft is a pressurized type. Don't just rely on the test flight to verify that the system is working correctly.

Don't just rely on the results of a differential compression check of each cylinder, have each 'jug' and the rest of the engine borescoped too.

Invest in a Spectral Oil Analysis Program (SOAP) kit for both the engine oil and airframe hydraulic systems. Hopefully the candidate aircraft's owner has been maintaining the aircraft under such a program for as long as he has owned the aircraft, and then in this case you will only have to verify with the laboratory that the program is current and up-to-date.

Have several of the special inspections specified by the manufacturer of the aircraft, accomplished as a part of the pre-buy inspection. These might include a Symmetry Check, Lightning and Gauss Checks, a Heavy Landing Check, a Fabric Hardness/Condition Check (in the case of fabric covered aircraft), an Ultrasonic or 'Coin-Tap' Test (in the case of composite aircraft) and possibly a Rigging Check (especially if the aircraft is a wire-braced Bi-Plane.)

It goes without saying that a complete and comprehensive verification of the Airworthiness Directives, Service Bulletins, Service Letters, Supplemental Type Certificate changes and Major Component Total Time in Service and Serial Number confirmation is an absolute must-do as a part of your pre-buy inspection.

As soon as all of the above items and possibly a great deal more have been performed for you to complete your pre-buy inspection, make sure that both you and the seller receive a written report of all of the findings as a direct result of the pre-buy inspection. Hopefully you have already written into the purchase agreement that has been agreed too, and signed by both you and the seller that the aircraft will be delivered to you in an 'Airworthy Condition.' If this is so, then you now have a shopping list of items that may well be the responsibility of the seller to either fix, or discount off the purchase price before you can close the transaction. Remember that the cosmetic condition of the aircraft is generally irrelevant to the airworthy condition of the aircraft, unless a specified standard has been agreed to in the purchase agreement.

If you have a damage and corrosion free aircraft that is airworthy, then you probably have a keeper.

As always you can reply to this discussion with questions and experiences, let others know about how you have handled your pre-purchase and any ideas as they apply to the 'Puddle Jumper' Pre-Purchase Inspection.


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