Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Skylane For The Flight Levels

A turbo benefits far more than high-altitude cruise

At a base price of $432,800, the Skylane TC is almost $35,000 north of the entry-level Skylane. The extra dollars buy the turbocharged engine and the onboard 50-cubic-feet O2 system, capable of sustaining the pilot for five hours. Both airplanes come equipped with the Garmin G1000 and everything listed above, but without Synthetic Vision. Add SynVis and the new infrared system, EVS (basically a police-style, FLIR device), and you'll pay $30,000 extra.

Since the demise of the Piper Dakota in 1994, the Skylane has been pretty much alone in its class, though Maule continues to build a limited number of 235 hp four seaters in your choice of nosewheel or tailwheel configuration. Turbo 182s outsell normals by a wide margin, specifically because of their ability to leap out of tall strips in a single bound and fly high with ease.

The Skylane marches on, not the fastest, not the quickest climbing, not the most comfortable, but perhaps the best overall performer for the price in general aviation. After 50 years in production, the Skylane continues to outsell virtually everything. It's a near-perfect example of a design that offers more than enough for less than too much.

Why Buy New?

The owner of the new Mirage had not completed his Flight Safety transition course, so he was riding as a passenger when we departed Vero Beach for an air-to-air photo session out over the Atlantic. I had flown his airplane earlier in the day for an evaluation of performance, and now, we were lifting off in formation on Piper's resident photo ship, a Saratoga HP with the aft left doors removed.

As we climbed out above the beach, holding position for Jim Lawrence's camera, I asked the owner what he had owned before. He commented he had earned his license in a new Warrior, sold that and stepped up to a new Arrow for his instrument and commercial tickets, and finally was transitioning to the Mirage, his third airplane.

In the interest of the story, I asked if he had ever considered a used airplane, and he answered, almost disdainfully, "Of course not. I fly my family in my airplanes. I wouldn't think of flying anything used."

Some pilots cite that as a major reason for buying new, the simple ability to control how the airplane is treated, especially how the engine is operated, from the very beginning. Most new aircraft are released from production flight test with no more than three hours on the Hobbs, so the new owner will typically be entrusted with all future experience until he sells the airplane.

Another obvious benefit of buying new is the warranty. Aircraft warranties are nothing like those on luxury automobiles that may extend to five or more years, and cover practically everything except preventive maintenance, but a good warranty can protect you from most major problems associated with a new airplane. The warranty on a new 2011 Turbo Skylane is two years, and separate warranty periods may apply to the avionics. Conversely, most used planes offer 30-60 days or no warranty at all.

Some pilots laugh at the mere suggestion of new technology on modern airplanes, but the fact is, current airplanes often reflect improved sophistication over older models. The laws of aerodynamics and the economics of FAA certification make significant increases in climb, cruise and range unlikely, but manufacturers nevertheless continue to innovate in safety, avionics, comfort and convenience.

In the case of the Skylane, the introduction of the Garmin G1000 in 2004 was an acknowledged step forward in pilot convenience and safety. Use of AmSafe energy-absorbing seat belts was another big boost in safety. Similarly, there may be other new technology available on a new aircraft that you can't easily purchase on a used airplane, often not at any price. This can include such options as TKS icing protection, a backup alternator and battery, and a variety of Garmin avionics options, such as SVT (synthetic vision) and EVS (infrared), plus ESP (Electronic Stability and Protection—a full-time automatic attitude-monitoring system), traffic and terrain warnings and other valuable pilot alerts.

Yes, you may be able to buy near-equivalent aftermarket products that will come close, but when you consider the cost of the systems themselves plus the installation and the downtime, you may be better served to buy them installed in a new airplane.

If you think strictly in terms of price, you may feel the used aircraft has all the advantages, and on the surface, at least, that might seem to be the case. Looking at the latest issue of Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, a 2011 Cessna Turbo 182T has an average-equipped price of $432,800. Drop back only two years to a 2009 model, and the average used price reduces to $340,000. According to ABPD, a 2007 model T182 now costs $280,000.

Remember, however, that a new airplane eligible for business writeoff may actually be less expensive than a used one after the LEGITIMATE tax benefits of the first two years' deductions. You'll note the use of the word "legitimate" above. That's because a business airplane is a giant red flag to the IRS.

The only new airplane I've owned (out of six) was a new Mooney 231 that was purchased on a pure lease to an avionics company as a product demonstrator. I didn't even see the airplane for the first three years; yet, I had to prove to the IRS that the Mooney was a legitimate taxable business each year.

With the benefit of accelerated depreciation and investment tax credit, the 231 was an excellent investment for the first three years. The second three years were more of a financial challenge, and I sold the airplane in its seventh year of ownership. (Beware the capital gains tax.)

Finally, there may be some minor, implied benefits of a new airplane over a used one. You can choose your colors, paint schemes and interior options when buying new, rarely when purchasing used. Friends and family may be happy to fly in a new airplane; not so eager to climb aboard a far more affordable 10- or 20-year-old machine.


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