Plane & Pilot
Sunday, May 1, 2005

Buying Your First Plane

It’s an issue practically all of us must address at one time or another. Virtually every pilot—student, private, commercial or ATP—dreams of owning an airplane.

In most cases, the first question a pilot must answer is the obvious one: How much money are you willing to spend on an airplane? In the majority of cases, this will be a finite number that will make the selection process easier. In others, a prospective buyer may be willing to spend as much as he or she needs to buy the airplane he or she wants. One way or another, a smart purchase, like a small fight, begins with gathering all the important information." />

Professional aircraft brokers who buy and sell aircraft all the time agree the better plan is to purchase a well-maintained machine with a low-time engine (preferably overhauled by a reputable shop), good paint and interior, and a decent avionics suite. Expect to pay a little (or a lot) more for such an airplane. You’ll wind up with a better aircraft, one you can fly immediately without having to invest an unknown amount of time and money.

If you’ve decided on a specific model of aircraft, you should contact the type club for that model and ask for all the help it can offer. Type clubs (find dozens of them at are accessible on the Web, and they can advise you about common maintenance problems, popular modifications and knowledgeable mechanics in your area and provide other information that may help in your decision. If you’re not already a member, consider joining the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (, as it may be able to offer valuable assistance.

Title Search And Pre-Buy

Once you’ve found a potential aircraft to purchase, you’ll need to verify that the title is clear and conduct a comprehensive pre-buy to determine if this might be the airplane for you. AOPA can help with the title search, but you’ll need to hire a pro for the pre-buy. Type clubs can be a conduit to a reliable mechanic.

If you’re serious about the airplane, you shouldn’t be afraid to spend a little extra money on a proper pre-buy. Assuming you’ve located a mechanic familiar with the model, he or she will know what to look for and will verify that all FAA airworthiness directives have been followed. The mechanic also should be able to give you some idea of what kind of expenses you may be facing down the road. In many cases, it’s worth considering giving your prospective purchase a complete annual.

If The Price Is Right…
No one wants to pay too much for anything. There’s always a temptation to negotiate a lower price, even when the owner has reached his bottom number. (Problem is, how do you know?) Keep in mind that if you’ve found the airplane, you may be better served to pay slightly more rather than bear the time and expense of continuing the search.

Just as there’s no way any magazine article can teach you to negotiate a price, there’s no way of knowing if this airplane will be a dream machine that you’ll enjoy for a decade or wind up trading out of in a year for something better. If you’ve made an honest assessment of your needs, been reasonable in your expectations and done an adequate job of researching the model and the individual machine, you should wind up with an airplane you can fly happily…until the next one.


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