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Finding Value: Assessing an Aircraft Purchase

AirSpace took a break from this buyer’s series last week to highlight an incredible S-51 Mustang that is coming to auction during the week of Oshkosh. Now let’s get back to the subject started a couple of weeks ago and help aviators get in the left seat of their very own bird. Keep reading for section 3 of the ultimate buyer’s guide from research to purchase.

Choosing and buying a plane is a complex endeavor and so incredibly personalized that summing it up in a few blog posts is simply impossible. The goal is to inform aviators so that they are equipped with information and techniques to make choices that serve them well for years to come. No aircraft is perfect; however, there is an aircraft that is right for every buyer.

So far, the series has discussed defining mission and budget. This framework is the foundation upon which all other stages of the new acquisition will stand. Additionally, it covered defining the types of aircraft that will fulfill that mission within a given budget, further honing in on what aircraft will serve that mission best.

The following guidance comes from decades of experience hunting for the right aircraft for all types of aviators. This is a peek under the cowling of AirSpace’s process that has helped aviators find the right aircraft at the best value possible.

Once a few types, years, and features are defined, the next step is to fine-tune the value of the aircraft available on the market. There are a few value tools out there that use historical sales data. These tools can sometimes be spot-on, but they often need to be used as part of a duplicative system to find what aircraft are actually selling for in the current market. This is especially true in the current quickly changing market.

For valuations, AirSpace uses two value tools: VREF and Aircraft Blue Book. There is also Amstat for turbine and jet aircraft. Both VREF and Aircraft Blue Book require a subscription to access their data, and a buyer may not be able to rationalize the cost of these for a single purchase. AOPA members have access to a limited version of VREF. Despite its limitations, it is a useful tool. Current aircraft on the market are also considered to assess value. Asking prices are not always indicators of value, as some sellers are realistic and ready to sell, while others are influenced by personal motivations or overestimate the value added by maintenance.

Creating a spreadsheet with VREF data along with all the possible aircraft on the market that fit specific criteria is a sensible approach to organizing the aircraft of interest. Include year, make, model, key features, asking price, and time on the market. Search for NTSB incidents and inquire with the owner about any known incidents or issues.

For instance, if an aviator is looking for a Cessna 182 Skylane or a Piper Archer, listings might be found on sites like,,, Facebook Marketplace, and Similarly, for a warbird like the S51 Mustang or an L16, these platforms can provide a range of options with detailed information to compare.

This is a lot of legwork, but buying an aircraft is a significant purchase. Even a budget-friendly single-engine plane, such as a Piper Tomahawk for a student pilot or a Cessna 150 for a CFI, can cost as much as a child’s first year of college (if they choose a state school) or significantly more. Twin-engine aircraft, like the Beechcraft Baron or Piper Navajo, may also be considered, especially for commercial pilots needing more capacity and range. Once the list is narrowed down, logbooks can be requested for the next step of reviewing and vetting.

Final Thoughts

Finding value in the aircraft market requires a thorough approach. By using valuation tools, researching current market listings on sites like,,, Facebook Marketplace, and, and meticulously tracking and comparing options, an informed decision can be made. This process ensures the best possible deal for specific needs and budget. Stay tuned for future posts that will dive deeper into reviewing logbooks, inspections, and finalizing the purchase.

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