Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Top 20 Tips For Buying An Airplane

Preparation is the key to getting a great deal in today’s buyer’s market

6 DON’T GET EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED. Have you ever surfed the aircraft sale sites and fallen in love with one particular airplane? Unfortunately, this is a recipe for disappointment. Professional aircraft brokers recommend that you stay disconnected from any prospective airplane—yes, that’s easier said than done. Tell yourself, “It’s somebody else’s airplane.” This also holds true for factory-new airplanes. Be clinical, objective and precise. You can get all dreamy once the papers are signed.

7 ON DEMO FLIGHTS, VIGILANTLY MONITOR PERFORMANCE. This is especially true when buying a new plane. Remember, it’s a salesperson’s job to make you want the aircraft, so take his or her pitch with some skepticism. When the demo pilot is demonstrating the great climb performance, note the power settings and fuel flow: Maybe that climb rate will cost you in engine life or fuel. Compare what you see in the cockpit to the POH or manufacturer’s published numbers. Pay attention to cruise power settings and what speeds you’re seeing in the airplane that day. Timed speed runs between two or more checkpoints are very useful. Watch EGTs and fuel flows. What you’re seeing is the aircraft’s true performance, regardless of what the sales pitch says.

8 SPEED IS EXPENSIVE. DETERMINE IF YOU REALLY NEED IT. As pilots, our minds are hard-wired for speed. Owners will skateboard to China if it means a modification that will squeeze five more knots out of their airplanes. But do you really need that speed, and how much will it cost? GA research reveals that most single-engine piston flights settle into the under–300 nm range. Assuming no wind, a plane with a speed of 130 knots will traverse 300 miles in about two hours and 18 minutes. At 150 knots, the plane will make that trip in two hours—some 18 minutes faster. Buyers have to consider that those extra 20 knots will cost them 20% to 30% or more on the aircraft price, plus higher fuel costs, insurance and maintenance. Unless your travel distance is greater than 300 nm 90% of the time you fly, carefully consider whether extra speed is worth the added cost.

9 DETERMINE WHETHER “BUSINESS USE” WILL APPLY. Although the details should be discussed with your tax professional, airplane buyers can benefit from business use of their airplane. If you can legitimately apply “business use” deductions, then you can save a considerable amount of money—especially when buying new. Using an aircraft for business will allow you to apply depreciation and pay for use with pretax dollars, among other things. Consult with your tax professional: It could save you thousands of dollars.

Real Stories Of Aircraft Buyers

Used Airplane

Buyer: Youri Bujko
Airplane: 1964 Mooney M20E
Airport: Santa Monica Airport
Profile: Youri is a professional money manager who recently fell in love with flying. After earning his private certificate at American Flyers, he rented at various FBOs for a month. He was turned off, however, by the way renters treated the aircraft, and he wanted something to accommodate his six-foot-five frame. He bought quickly, without a prebuy inspection, and wound up spending more on repairs than he paid for the airplane.
Typical Mission: Solo or trips with his wife. He’s purchasing a vacation home in Big Bear and looks forward to flying there from Santa Monica (about 80 nm).
Why This Airplane?: Mooney’s reputation. The M20E was inexpensive but still fast; it’s also roomy enough for his six-foot-five frame.
Intended Vs. Actual Use: Youri eventually realized the airplane was too small. It couldn’t accommodate his whole family and fuel for long trips. Additionally, maintenance was too expensive, and there were more repair problems than anticipated.
Best Flight: All of them. There’s a sense of freedom, and the communion of man, machine and nature is incredible.
Top Tips: Get an extensive and thorough prebuy inspection. Quantify your mission. Consider co-ownership.


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