This new ReviewBeforeFlight blog will provide one pilot/owner’s view on plane ownership. As way of introduction, my name is Tom Nery also known as the PilotGeek and I’m a 1300 hour pilot with single engine land and an IFR rating. What makes me an expert, someone you should listen to? Probably nothing. I’ve bought a grand total of one airplane, a 1966 Piper Cherokee, Pippa, about a month before getting my license. Now 11 years later I still think that Pippa was the ideal plane for my primary mission, fun.
So let’s start this with some myth busting or probably more appropriately my opinions on myths I’ve heard, at the airport as well as with friends.
Myth 1 – You have to be rich to buy a plane.
While new airplanes are very expensive, there is a large availability of older airplanes. A quick query on the Trade-a-Plane website (www.trade-a-plane.com) found 96 planes for sale for less than $20,000 and 55 of those are certified planes from Cessna, Piper and Beechcraft. While still a significant amount of money, it is still less than most new cars. Also, like a car, loans are available to purchase, letting you spread your payments over time. Of course with a loan you’ll be expected to have a down payment, but that will still be less than the full purchase price. So my takeaway, most people that an buy a car could buy a plane.
Myth 2 – The least expensive plane to buy will be the least expensive to own.
Like most purchases, you get what you pay for. Let’s think about this for a moment. In a quick search, I found that you can find a Cessna 150 for anywhere from $14,000 to $39,000. That’s a large spread so there has to be a reason and it can’t just be the greed of the seller (although some can be attributed to seller’s investment). Most likely the range is a function of avionics, paint, interior and how much the seller really wants to part with it.
Myth 3 – I can save money by purchasing an airplane “just out of annual.”
Unless you have personal history with the plane and mechanic that has maintained, get an independent evaluation of the plane’s condition before you finalize the sale. Remember, unlike a car, if something goes wrong you can’t just pull over to the side of the road. So you want to make sure that your planned purchase was maintained by the regulations, is airworthy and won’t be a hole in the sky that float your money away. In summary – get a pre-buy inspection by someone familiar with the make/model but not the mechanic that’s maintained, someone near the seller but independent.
Myth 4 – A pre-buy on a plane you don’t buy will be a waste of money.
In fact the opposite is probably true. While a pre-buy WILL cost you money in the long run it will probably save you money to walk away from a plane needing major work. In my case, the pre-buy inspection found a few issues that allowed me to negotiate a lower price with the seller.
Myth 5 – Kelly Bluebook won’t help me know the value of the plane I’m looking at.
This one IS true, but if you’re a member of AOPA you can estimate the value of the plane typical avionics. While not perfect, it’s a good place to start.
Myth 6 – A low time engine is always a money saver.
Low time is good, but remember a plane needs to flown to stay in good shape. Given the choice between an engine with 200 hours over the lat 10 years, or 800 over the last 8 (like Pippa), I’d take the latter. The 100 hour/year flown on the second indicates to me that the previous owners trusted the plane and used it. Additionally, I know that it has stayed current the entire time so the other parts of the plane while used were maintained.
Those are the myths that come to my mind. Over time I plan on sharing many of my experiences with plane ownership. I hope you will help me by posting comments and questions. The latter will help me come up with future columns.
-Fly Safe, TNery1B9