Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Buying Your First Airplane

Navigating the purchase maze

And Then There’s The Skill Thing
Skill should not be a deciding factor in what airplane you’re going to buy, as it always can be improved through training. With the right training, any pilot can fly any airplane. This assumes, of course, that you really want to put in the work required to develop the appropriate skill set. If not, then that points you in the direction of a specific group of airplanes and away from others. And don’t forget that we now have LSA for those who want to get into the air with a minimum of hassle and expense.

The Dirty Word: Money
Plan ahead, analyze what the expenses are and prepare for them. Look carefully at every financial aspect of owning an airplane before ever buying one, because the actual acquisition of an airplane is only the opening bell.
There are so many airplanes out there, and so many factors weigh into what’s best for you.
Complexity Can Be Expensive
No new airplane is “simple” in the purest sense of the word. But the more complex the airplane, the more it’ll cost to maintain. If it doesn’t have retractable gear, you don’t have to worry about maintaining it and remembering to lower it (and insurance is cheaper). If it doesn’t have a constant-speed prop, it can’t begin to leak or be affected by ADs. If the avionics are basic VFR and not solid-glass IFR, they’re easier and cheaper to keep running. However, don’t think that a simple airplane won’t give great utility. Look at a Cessna 172: simple as dirt, but has delivered more utility to more people than any other airplane in history.

Acquisition Financing
Surprisingly, even in this economy, money is available for financing airplanes. Some lenders say they have experienced only a minor tightening of credit. They feel this is because the airplane buyer normally has a higher credit rating and is doing better financially than the average borrower. It’s a lower risk.

Where Are You Going To Store It?
Airplanes have to live somewhere, and unless you’re one of the lucky few who lives in a fly-in community, your new bird probably will bed down at the airport. In that environment, there are four basic choices available:

• Outside tiedown. This is the least desirable as it exposes your new treasure to the elements. But it also costs a fraction of what a hangar does, and is almost always available without a waiting list.

• Outside “shades.” Some larger airports offer carport-like structures that provide good protection from the sun and some protection from rain. The cost is generally three times that of an open tiedown, although that varies from airport to airport.

• Common-use hangar. Many FBOs will hangar your airplane in their main hangar, and services included with the rent include pulling it out for you and use of their passenger facilities. The cost, however, will often be the same as renting your own hangar.

• Private hangar. Finding hangar space can be a real problem in some areas, and the cost is driven very much by location. Larger metropolitan airports routinely charge $400-$600/month, while small airports in small towns have far less luxurious hangars for around $100/month. Some airports allow tenants to own their hangar, while others don’t. Until this year, waiting periods for rental hangars were years long, but the economy appears to have shortened those times considerably.

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