Plane & Pilot
Monday, October 1, 2007

$500 Per Month?

You can own an airplane on a budget

We Did It
We’ve proven the chair warmers at the coffee shop wrong. The great dream of flying and owning your own airplane is within reach for the average guy. Use this article as a guide and come up with new and creative ideas of your own.

Rural airports are more fun and a lot cheaper. at smaller airports, there’s typically a friendly spirit of cooperation and camaraderie among all the flyers.

The Next Step?
Get a copy of Trade-A-Plane or The Controller, and start calling on ads for airplanes that sound good in your area and can be easily inspected. Don’t rush, but do be prepared to buy without undue hesitation when the right one comes up. Get your Bank of America second mortgage set up, call ahead for insurance, then go and inspect your potential airplane. Hire a well-respected mechanic to help you evaluate it, and don’t expect to purchase a brand-new airplane. A $20,000 airplane may indeed have its faults, but they should be limited to mostly normal wear and tear and cosmetic items. Remember, for our budget to work, we need to start with an airplane with the fewest major glitches and no major engine or airframe work coming up soon. If you can make friends with an owner who already has the model you’re looking for, he or she may give you some good insight on what problems are critical and which ones are minor.

We did it for actually a tad under $500 per month. I truly believe that owning an airplane can be one of the happiest experiences you can have, and that it is within the reach of everybody. The average guy or gal can own an airplane.

$500-Per-Month Airplane “Gotchas”

By picking a simple and modern airplane, a lot of maintenance issues can be automatically avoided, but there are still “issues” that can throw your budget out of whack. A good, thorough prepurchase inspection should catch the largest potential expenses, but things do break from time to time, hence the need for the contingency funds. For $20,000, you should expect a pretty decent, ready-to-go airplane with a low-time engine, good log books, no serious corrosion issues and moderate airframe time. Note: Almost all Cessna 150s and Piper Tomahawks have been trainers at one time or another, and may have damage histories related to student use. Make sure that your mechanic reviews the FAA Form 337s (which describe the repairs), check the NTSB Website ( for narratives of the accident and then carefully inspect the repairs for proper workmanship. A repair from damage done 10 or more years ago will have little impact on the airplane, provided it has been properly repaired, it has been inspected by your guy and the test flight reveals no abnormal flight characteristics. If you’re a new pilot, have a high-time, seasoned flight instructor fly the airplane to verify proper rigging and handling responses.

Also, before purchase, have a competent mechanic check for firewall damage, cracked or low compression cylinders, oil leaks, corrosion, hidden damage, proper rigging, correct prop blade dimensions, etc.

It’s perfectly okay to “flunk” an airplane on a prepurchase inspection. There are some pretty creepy examples of every type of aircraft out there that sellers have a hard time getting rid of. It’s better to say “no” to a problematic airplane now than to get stuck with a money pit. On the other hand, don’t expect perfection with a 30-year-old airplane, just a solid ride with normal wear and tear and minor scrapes and bruises. As you fly, remember that the radio, the transponder, the altimeter, vacuum pumps and other accessories can go out.

Don’t be flabbergasted if fate deals you an expensive maintenance bill, just have a plan on how you can prudently handle it and keep flying. Good contingency budgeting means you’re never going to be flat-footed when something breaks. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when” something will break, so don’t fret about it. Even $40,000,000 Gulfstreams break occasionally.


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