Buying an airplane: Asking yourself the right questions

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Buying an airplane is one of the biggest decisions you can make. Initially we start with some simple (or not) questions. In future segments we’ll decend down into the details of purchasing an aircraft.

Before we can proceed you need to ask youself some fundamental questions:

1.) What is your budget?
This isn’t how much you ‘can’ spend, it’s more like how much should you spend – more on this later.

This one will take the kids and the kitchen sink cross country

2.) What is your mission?
Simple question, most of your answers won’t be so simple.

3.) What are your capabilities?
Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

4.) What turns you on?
Another wierd question that you might not have expected.

5.) Do I really need an airplane?
The answer will be no, but we should get it out of the way.

The answers:

Question 1.) Buying the airplane is only part of the equation. You have make sure that you leave enough money available to KEEP your beautiful new stead. Remember your domestic partner in making this big financial decision.
Some costs you may need to consider:
– Hangar rental (varies by location)
– Insurance (not required unless you finance it, but liability is prudent)
– Fuel (nuff said)
– Engine reserves (the amount of money set aside per hour for a future overhaul)
– Oil changes ($100-ish)
– Annual inspections (could be in the hundreds or thousands depending on a/c type and condition)
– Database updates (depends on equipage)
– Subscriptions (XM radar comes to mind)
– Incidental maintance ($65/hr for an A/P in most locales + parts)

This is not to scare you off, but you need to be realistic. If you over-buy you will more than likely not be able to keep it or if you do it’ll set a lot.

Keep in mind there are a lot of fun aircraft that offer a great buzz and are cheap to buy and cheap to operate if your mission is to just fly.

The J3 Cub is an affordable classic everyone loves!


Another option is airplane partnerships. Which I will post a separate entry.

Question 2.) The mission.

If you can overcome the urge to try to do EVERYTHING with one model of aircraft, you’ll be happier. Airplanes are full of compromises. (A short field airplane isn’t likely to go super-fast. A high-flying cross-country speed demon isn’t going to be cheap. An nice antique airplane probably won’t be a great instrument platform. Your aerobatic thorobred might not be comfortable for more than an hour of flight. You get the point.) You need to be really honest with yourself so you don’t have buyer’s remorse. This is  an individual decision, but one in which you should ask for lots of advice and do exhaustive research – you’ll thank me.

Some typical missions:
– Carry the family
– IFR capability
– Aerobatics
– Cross-country range
– Need for speed
– Short field capability
– Low and slow sightseeing machine

Again, if if they made an aircraft that could do all that, you wouldn’t want it – too much of a compromise.

Question 3.) What are your capabilities?
This is a real question. There are lots of great airplanes out there, but you have to be qualified 1st. Easy enough, you hire an instructor and you get trained. Ok, then you have to maintain proficiency – that means you can operate safely at any given time post training – different from legal currency. If you are low time and won’t be able to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to staying proficient in the airplane you should look at something less demanding. Some people have the intellect to go find an instructor and get refreshed before putting themselves and others at risk, but not everyone is so disciplined or have access to CFI on a moments notice.

Question 4.) What turns you on?
What ever you buy, you need to love it. Ownership is impractical so it needs to ignite a passion in you. Easy!

Question 5) Be honest, you don’t ‘need’ an airplane, you ‘want’ one. Wanting one bad enough will be the only way you make it happen. Embrace your passion and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Even if you can’t afford a fire-breathing Cessna Corvalis, what ever you end up with will be yours and you should be proud. Ownership is one of the best aspects of flying!

For more information try the links below:

AOPA great information for anyone wanting to know more about general aviation

EAA good articles and videos relevant to aircraft ownership

Barnstormers for airplane for sale ad

Trade A Plane for airplanes for sale

Controller for all kinds of used aircraft for sale plus jets for sale, for you high-end guys

Aircraft Shopper Online


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