So You Want to Buy an Airplane? Read These Tips First

Important Tips for Buying Used Aircraft

Aircraft ownership can be amazing—there are few other purchases that will shrink time and space like an airplane can. Whether you are looking to go on amazing adventures across the country and beyond, make your business day more productive by reaching clients with speed and ease, look at the world upside down in an aerobatic aircraft, or just go cruising around the patch on a nice spring day, there is an airplane that is right for you. With over 200,000 general aviation aircraft registered in the United States alone, you’ll more than likely be faced with a plethora of choices to make about which aircraft you want to buy. Whether you are looking for light aircraft for sale, used jets for sale, or even a used fighter jet, there is a used airplane for sale that is right for you.

The trouble is that buying an aircraft isn’t like buying a car—you aren’t going to walk onto the “airplane lot” and come out with the keys to a flying machine that you can have any confidence in. Buying a used airplane of any type requires time, careful consideration, and plenty of due diligence. This article will walk you through the aircraft purchase decision process and give you some points to ponder that will help you buy not just any used aircraft, but the used aircraft that meets your needs.

First things first—Do you really need an airplane?

It may seem silly to ask whether or not you really need an airplane, but depending on your reasons for flying one, it is actually a pretty important question. If you are considering the purchase of a used aircraft to further your business, an airplane can be an amazing productivity multiplier; it can help you squeeze more work in to your day, reach your clients faster, and an airplane makes an impressive impression on your associates and clients. But, airplanes that are used for business work best only if you are going to be flying a lot. If you look at the business and personal flying that you intend to do and you see at least 350 hours per year of flying, you are a prime candidate for aircraft ownership. With that amount of flying, you can virtually guarantee that your airplane is helping you do more business in less time. If you plan to fly less than that, you may want to reconsider your purchase. An aircraft on the ground still costs plenty of money to keep maintained—while it is in the hanger or tied down to the ramp the it is doing nothing to help your business. If you won’t be flying much, renting or partnering with another owner may be better for you. If you consider yourself in the market for a business jet but don’t plan to fly much, exploring the options available through various fractional ownership programs may be easier on your time and budget.

If you are planning to fly just for pleasure, you can pretty much disregard the above advice. Just make sure that you understand that airplanes cost money whether they are flying or tied down, and that your new vehicle of aerial enjoyment will come at a certain cost. Not to worry— AircraftSales.US can help you buy the used airplane that is right for you.

Know your mission

Knowing what you’ll be using an airplane for will help you to choose the right used aircraft for the job. Will you be taking a team across continents to visit clients around the globe? Are you a high net worth individual looking to connect you and your family to vacation properties that are hundreds of miles apart? Maybe you own a small business, and you need a way to connect you and one or two other key staff members to manufacturing facilities and venders that are a couple of hundred miles apart. Or, you could just want to have some fun and fly yourself and a friend around when the weather is nice.

Understanding what your typical reason to fly will be will help you to choose the right used aircraft for you, which will save you money and frustration in the end. Once you have defined your typical mission, a good rule of thumb is this: Get the aircraft that is designed for the mission that you’ll want to accomplish 90% of the time. For the other 10%, rental, charter, or fractional ownership will be the right call for you.  Make sure that you buy the aircraft you need, not the aircraft you necessarily want.

Know what is important to you—and what you are willing to compromise

Once you understand what your typical mission will look like, it is essential that you make a list of the aircraft characteristics that are important to you—then rank them in order from most important to least important. No aircraft is absolutely perfect at everything; often, the right aircraft for you is less about perfection and more about the right combination of compromises.

For instance, if you plan on operating from short runways, you’ll likely have to compromise seating capacity or speed. If going fast is your most important aircraft attribute, you’ll likely have to be willing to sacrifice fuel efficiency. Generally speaking, the larger the aircraft is, the greater the complexity of ownership will be. Understand what your complexity threshold is or consider engaging the services of an aircraft management company to help you take the best possible care of your asset.

Know your budget and the hidden costs of ownership

It goes without saying that having a clear idea of your budget and establishing financing arrangements is essential before you start shopping for a used aircraft. But, there are other costs to consider beyond direct acquisition: maintenance, fuel, tie down/hangers, taxes, and insurance all can add costs that can turn out to be significant. Then, there is the depreciation of the aircraft; airplanes rarely appreciate in value, so getting the advice of a good accountant is essential to understanding how the valuation of your aircraft over time can affect your bottom line. While you are considering your budget, you may also look into arrangements that can defray some of the cost of ownership such as leasebacks or shared ownership.

Whatever your budget is, don’t stretch it once you’ve established a number. Aircraft ownership is a lot like owning a boat or home; unexpected costs are the norm rather than the exception. Keeping to a strict budget in the acquisition process will help you to save up for unplanned maintenance events.

Doing your due diligence

Once you have settled on a likely used airplane to buy, it is important that you don’t fall in love at first sight! Proceeding through the purchase process dispassionately will help you identify potential pitfalls and deal killers like unresolved maintenance issues, aircraft maintenance logbook discrepancies, some corrosion under that brand new paint, or missing regulatory documents. Always fly the aircraft before you buy it, and make sure that the seller has really valued the aircraft appropriately; AOPA has a great resource called Vref that can help you nail down the true value of the aircraft you are looking at. For corporate jets and large turboprops, consider engaging an experienced aircraft broker; determining the value of these aircraft can be a very complicated exercise.

Summing up

Purchasing a used aircraft of any size is a complicated legal, financial, and regulatory process. Do your homework; there is most likely a web forum dedicated to the ownership of the aircraft you are interested in. These forums can be valuable resources for buyers and will provide you with the intelligence you need to ask the right questions. If you are in doubt, get help! A good attorney, CPA, or broker can all be worth your time and money when it comes to ensuring that your purchase goes smoothly. Above all us, approach the purchase process objectively—doing so will help you buy the right used airplane that will give you years of usefulness and enjoyment.

1 Comment

  • Johnny McCarron| September 30, 2017 at 2:07 am Reply

    It has been my dream since I was 12 to own my own airplane. I have just started working towards my private pilots licence and I look forward to getting some hours in. I have three brothers who are all pilot as well.

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