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Mission Driven Decisions

When it comes to buying an airplane, the process can be thrilling yet daunting. Whether you’re a private pilot, commercial pilot, or CFI, figuring out what you need from an aircraft is crucial. This guide will help you navigate the skies of airplane purchasing with a focus on two key elements: mission and budget.

Defining Your Mission

Before you jump into listings to buy an airplane, you need to determine your mission. Keep in mind, most buy for 90% of your use, the rest of your use can be met through rental or flying commercial. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Speed and Altitude

  • Speed: How fast do you need to travel? If you’re a barnstormer or enjoy leisurely flights, a 100hp Champ 7ECA may be your next plane. However, if time is of the essence, you’ll want something with a higher cruise speed like a Comanche.
  • Altitude: Different aircraft have different optimal cruising altitudes and capabilities. Decide if you’ll be flying low and slow or high and fast. If you live in Arizona and commute to see the grandkids or to work in California you may need a turbo prop to climb over the Sierra Nevadas.

2. Passenger Capacity

  • Seats: How many people will you be flying with? A small trainer aircraft like a Cessna 152 is great for solo flights or with one passenger, but for family or group trips, you’ll need more seats. There are many single-engine piston aircraft that can carry a larger family comfortably but to get the speed and performance often a turbo prop or twin will be in order. 

3. Flight Distance and Duration

  • Short or Long Flights: Are you planning short hops or cross-country adventures? Consider fuel capacity and flight time. Aircraft like a Flight Designs CTSW are fantastic for short flights, while something like a Beechcraft Bonanza is better suited for long-distance travel.
  • Downtime: How much downtime can you tolerate? If you’re looking for a time builder, a plane with lower maintenance needs might be essential. If you like to wrench on your aircraft an older, non refurbished aircraft may be a good fit.

4. Flight Environment

  • Airports and Airspace: Will you fly into busy Class B airports or smaller, rural airstrips? You will need ADSB.
  • On-Airport or Off-Airport Landings: Some aircraft are better suited for off-airport landings. A rugged bush plane might be ideal if you plan to land on unpaved runways. 

5. Personal Preferences and Abilities

  • Mechanical Abilities: Are you mechanically inclined or do you prefer to leave maintenance to the pros? Some aircraft may require more hands-on maintenance.
  • Attention Factor: Do you want to attract attention on the ramp with a warbird or classic aircraft, or fly something more under the radar?

6. Comfort and Convenience

  • Climate Control: Consider whether you need climate control or a pressurized cabin for comfort.
  • Payload and Storage: How much cargo will you be carrying? Aircraft with higher payload capacities can handle more gear.
  • Ease of Access: How many doors does the plane have? Do you prefer to walk in or slide in with a glove like fit into the cockpit?

Budgeting for Your Aircraft

Once you’ve nailed down your mission, it’s time to talk numbers. Your budget will influence not just the purchase price but also the ongoing costs of owning an aircraft.

1. Initial Purchase Cost

  • New vs. Pre-owned: New planes come with warranties and the latest technology, but they’re more expensive. Pre-owned planes are more affordable but vetting the individual aircraft history becomes essential (see future blog posts) to limiting hidden maintenance costs.
  • Financing: Look into financing options if paying upfront isn’t feasible. There are multiple aviation specific lenders and often your local bank will entertain a loan collateralized by an airplane. Airspace is working in cooperation with lenders to help streamline the process, stay tuned for more info coming soon.

2. Ongoing Maintenance and Repairs

  • Maintenance Schedule: Aircraft require regular maintenance checks, which can add up. Plan for these recurring costs. Ask the current owner for detailed data on what has been done and how much annuals cost.
  • Repair Costs: Aircraft need repairs from time to time, those with more complex systems or if they have significant AD’s or SB’s that have been ignored can be more expensive to repair. Be sure to factor in potential repair costs.
  • Parts Availability: For vintage or unique aircraft, parts may be harder to find and more expensive. Tapping into type groups on Facebook can help in finding the parts at the best price. Some sellers have a stockpile of parts and are willing to sell with the aircraft.

3. Operational Costs

  • Fuel Efficiency: Different planes have different fuel consumption rates. Consider how much you’ll be spending on fuel for your typical flights. In a retract insurance may cost more but the fuel economy is significanly improved. This Comanche burns 11 GPH at 140MPH
  • Hangar Fees: Storing your aircraft at an airport can be costly. Look into hangar availability and fees in your area. In many cities hangar space is at a premium right now costing more than your first mortgage payment but traveling a short distance to a rural airport opens a lot of opportunities for affordable hangar space and great piloting community.
  • Insurance: Aircraft insurance is a must. Rates vary based on the aircraft type and your flying experience. Find an agent you can trust to work hard for you. Once a pilot hits 60 years old rates begin to climb regardless of incidents, certifications and hours. Keep communication open with your agent to remain insurable

4. Resale Value

  • Depreciation: Some aircraft hold their value better than others. Consider the long-term resale value when making your purchase. Keep in mind much of the money spent on ownership does not increase resale value it maintains it. Regular maintenance and thorough annuals are necessary to maintaining value. Improvements like panel upgrades and major overhauls can increase resale value.

Making the Decision

With your mission and budget in mind, you’re ready to explore the market. Websites like AirSpace, Barnstormers and Trade-A-Plane are excellent places to start. Whether you’re listing a plane to sell an airplane or searching to buy an airplane, these platforms offer a wide range of options.

When you find potential aircraft, take the time to inspect them thoroughly. From logbooks to the aircraft itself. AirSpace has all logbooks, many images and even startup videos of the aircraft available on their website to make this process easier. If you’re not confident in your mechanical skills, hire a professional to inspect in person. This can save you from costly surprises down the line.

Final Thoughts

Buying an airplane is a significant investment and a dream come true for many pilots. By carefully considering your mission and budget, you can find an aircraft that fits your needs and enhances your flying experience. Whether you’re a private pilot looking for a time builder or a commercial pilot seeking a reliable workhorse, the perfect plane is out there waiting for you.

So, get out there and start your journey. The skies are waiting!

Happy flying!

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