Flying - - BUYERS GUIDE -

Buy­ing an air­plane can be one of the most ex­cit­ing, and the most ter­ri­fy­ing, ex­pe­ri­ences you will un­der­take in your fly­ing pur­suits. It’s im­por­tant to choose an air­plane that will serve your needs for the fore­see­able fu­ture with­out break­ing your pock­et­book. If you get it right, ex­pect to be­come emo­tion­ally at­tached to this prized pos­ses­sion. We’ve all heard pi­lots say it: “Oh, I wish I had never sold that air­plane.”

Apart from scratch­ing the fly­ing itch, the right air­plane can help you spend more time with your fam­ily, with the abil­ity to travel ef­fi­ciently to and from meet­ings or va­ca­tions in far­away places. How much is it worth to be able to re­turn home in time to tuck your kids in ev­ery night?

So how do you choose the right air­plane for you? Whether you’re look­ing for a small $100-ham­burger air­plane or a busi­ness jet, here are some tips on how to choose an air­plane you will love.


One of the big­gest fac­tors in choos­ing an air­plane is your bud­get. Don’t let the air­plane be­come a source of fi­nan­cial stress. Eval­u­ate how much money you can set aside for fly­ing ac­tiv­i­ties each month and stick to that num­ber.

Re­al­ize that the ini­tial pur­chase is only the begin­ning. The cost of the air­plane may in fact be the least ex­pen­sive part of your own­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence. You need to fac­tor in costs such as in­sur­ance, taxes, park­ing, fi­nanc­ing, up­grades, op­er­at­ing costs and sales tax de­pend­ing on where you live.

An­other po­ten­tially sub­stan­tial and un­pre­dictable cost that many air­plane buy­ers over­look is de­pre­ci­a­tion. Like with cars, new air­planes are most sus­cep­ti­ble. If you have a busi­ness need for the air­plane, de­pre­ci­a­tion and other costs can in many cases be writ­ten off. Avi­a­tion tax spe­cial­ists, such as Ad­vo­cate Con­sult­ing Le­gal Group in Naples, Florida, and Aero and Marine Tax Pro­fes­sion­als in Elk Grove, Cal­i­for­nia, can help, and those tax in­cen­tives might al­low you to stretch your bud­get.

The cost and avail­abil­ity of fi­nanc­ing can have a big im­pact on the amount of money you spend on your air­plane. The fi­nan­cial mar­ket was tight af­ter the re­ces­sion that be­gan about a decade ago, but money is now avail­able from a va­ri­ety of lenders at very com­pet­i­tive rates, says Louis Seno, chair­man emer­i­tus of Jet Sup­port Ser­vices.

For the lower end of the mar­ket, the Air­craft Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion’s fi­nance de­part­ment is what Seno refers to as a “value added bro­ker.” “They take your ap­pli­ca­tion, they look at your credit wor­thi­ness, they look at your air­plane and, rather than waste your time calling a bunch of banks, they tell you im­me­di­ately whether they have a home for your ap­pli­ca­tion,” he says.

The Na­tional Air­craft Fi­nance As­so­ci­a­tion (NAFA) is also a good re­source, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion such as what types and sizes of trans­ac­tions lenders of­fer.

For the tur­bo­prop and jet mar­kets, there is a lot of money avail­able, Seno says. “If it burns kerosene, it pretty much opens the mar­ket,” he says. “If you’re bor­row­ing money to­day on a tur­binepow­ered air­plane, there are a num­ber of sources.” Bank of Amer­ica, PNC and Wells Fargo are just a few ex­am­ples.

Get preap­proved for a loan, if you need one, be­fore you start look­ing for an air­plane so that you have an idea of how much money you can spend.


Once your fi­nanc­ing and bud­get are straight­ened out, fo­cus on your needs. Will you use the air­plane for busi­ness or strictly for fun? Would you like to fly as a sin­gle pi­lot or do you need a crew? How many peo­ple do you need to ac­com­mo­date in the cabin?

Per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties, such as speed, range and util­ity, must be con­sid­ered. Will you mostly take the oc­ca­sional lo­cal flight for lunch with a friend? If so, a two-seat pis­ton-pow­ered air­plane might work for you. If you live in Ore­gon and do reg­u­lar busi­ness in the Mid­west with sev­eral ex­ec­u­tives, you will likely need a tur­bo­prop or jet, which will pro­vide greater speed, com­fort and re­li­a­bil­ity. If you plan to fly in the back­coun­try, look for a tail­drag­ger, a pis­ton air­plane that can take a beat­ing or a util­ity tur­bo­prop, de­pend­ing on your needs for use­ful load and range. Also, re­mem­ber that the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of most air­planes doesn’t al­low for fill­ing all of the seats. If you need to bring four adults, for ex­am­ple, you will most likely need a six-seat air­plane.

If your planned mis­sions vary, fo­cus on the most com­mon trip. In some cases, you might need two or more air­planes to suit your needs. For ex­am­ple, if you do aer­o­batic com­pe­ti­tions on the week­end and take reg­u­lar busi­ness trips with a cou­ple of em­ploy­ees dur­ing the week, you can’t sat­isfy your needs with one air­plane. You’ll have to bud­get for two, though rent­ing is also an op­tion for the air­plane that doesn’t work for your pri­mary mis­sion.

Speed costs money, and you might not yet be in the cat­e­gory of pi­lots who can af­ford a Cessna Ci­ta­tion X, which nib­bles on the su­per­sonic range. Although speed im­proves pro­duc­tiv­ity, stick to air­planes within your bud­get. For smaller air­planes, speed can come at a cost other than dol­lars. Air-race air­planes are hardly built for com­fort. Un­less you are com­pet­ing, find the right bal­ance be­tween speed and com­fort.

An­other im­por­tant per­for­mance con­sid­er­a­tion is the take­off and land­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. Make sure it doesn’t stretch any safety mar­gins. It would be a shame to do the flight plan­ning for the first trip home with your new air­plane only to find out that you can’t safely land at your home air­port.

If you travel in­fre­quently but want the flex­i­bil­ity of own­er­ship, a part­ner­ship might be a good so­lu­tion. Part­ners in Avi­a­tion (PIA) spe­cial­izes in putting co-own­er­ship deals to­gether that elim­i­nate many of the prob­lems that can be as­so­ci­ated with shared own­er­ship. You can set up a con­tract with PIA to help you find a part­ner and struc­ture an agree­ment. The re­tainer fee is re­fund­able if a sat­is­fac­tory match is not made, says Tom Ber­tels, PIA’s co-founder and chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer.

Fi­nally, when you’ve found an air­plane that fits your bud­get and your needs, make sure it fits your hangar too. Some air­planes’ di­men­sions are ei­ther too wide or too long for a stan­dard­size hangar.




The air­plane type is just one fac­tor in choos­ing a spe­cific air­plane. Round gauges and VOR nav­i­ga­tion used to make the tran­si­tion from one air­plane to an­other pretty straight­for­ward. But, the com­plex­i­ties of nav­i­gat­ing through the dif­fer­ent menus in glass cock­pits make avionics a big com­po­nent of choos­ing an air­plane.

“Some­one who’s been fly­ing an older Cessna 421 for the past 20 years is prob­a­bly go­ing to be just fine go­ing into an older Ci­ta­tion with round gauges. But if it’s an owner-pi­lot com­ing out of a Cirrus SR22 G5 with Garmin G1000, and that’s all he or she has flown, that pi­lot is prob­a­bly not go­ing to be com­fort­able go­ing into a plat­form with­out a fully in­te­grated flight deck,” says Cyrus Si­gari, co-founder and CEO of JetA­viva.

An air­plane with tra­di­tional in­stru­ments will be less ex­pen­sive. But a glass panel pro­vides much greater sit­u­a­tional aware­ness, and once you know the sys­tem, it will un­doubt­edly make in­stru­ment fly­ing much eas­ier. Traf­fic and weather data on the screens also pro­vide in­valu­able data. Some in­sur­ance com­pa­nies even pro­vide dis­counts to glass-equipped air­planes, says Jerry Cle­mens, founder of Cle­mens In­sur­ance Agency, of Par­sons, Kansas.

Garmin has clev­erly sim­pli­fied the tran­si­tion be­tween a wide va­ri­ety of air­craft types by in­tro­duc­ing sim­i­lar avionics suites into mul­ti­ple air­craft cat­e­gories. Go­ing from fly­ing a light pis­ton with a G1000 sys­tem to a jet with a G3000 is un­doubt­edly eas­ier than tran­si­tion­ing to an air­plane with a Honey­well Primus Epic sys­tem. How­ever, the tough­est tran­si­tion is from ana­log to glass, or vice versa. Learn­ing a sys­tem’s but­tonol­ogy is not nearly as chal­leng­ing.

An­other ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion is the ADS-B man­date. If the air­plane you want to buy is not equipped, ex­pect a fairly hefty avionics in­voice some­time be­fore Jan­uary 2020, es­pe­cially for larger tur­bine-pow­ered air­planes.


Are you plan­ning to fly your new air­plane sin­gle-pi­lot? As a low-time pi­lot, it’s eas­i­est to build ex­pe­ri­ence in a less com­plex air­plane and step up grad­u­ally.

If your mis­sion ab­so­lutely re­quires a jet, don’t fret. Other than the ob­vi­ous (cost), the type of flight ex­pe­ri­ence you have, your re­cency of ex­pe­ri­ence, your age and your learn­ing abil­ity all fac­tor in. “We’ve had a few clients with about 200 hours who bought a Phe­nom 300,” Si­gari says. You’ll need to fly with a men­tor pi­lot for sev­eral months be­fore the in­sur­ance com­pany will let you off on your own, and of course, you’ll have to bud­get for a type rat­ing, which will set you back sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars. But if bud­get is no is­sue, a lack of tur­bine ex­pe­ri­ence won’t pro­hibit you from get­ting your dream air­plane right away.

Re­gard­less of what air­plane or air­planes you are con­sid­er­ing, call your in­sur­ance agent to make sure it makes sense. Aside from the price quote, be clear about the amount of train­ing that will be re­quired be­fore you are in­sured to fly solo.


Eval­u­at­ing the ex­pected op­er­at­ing costs for an air­plane can be dif­fi­cult. Fixed costs, such as park­ing, in­sur­ance and taxes, are pre­dictable, but many as­pects of air­craft own­er­ship are not.

Do your best to pre­vent pay­ing for bigticket main­te­nance items by study­ing the engine time. An engine over­haul can cost more than the air­plane it­self. The same goes for the paint and in­te­rior. Look at how many hours the air­plane has flown in the re­cent past. Hangar queens are gen­er­ally main­te­nance pigs.

Ask a me­chanic about the ap­prox­i­mate cost of an an­nual in­spec­tion for the model you are in­ter­ested in. Then fac­tor in at least a cou­ple of main­te­nance events each year. In­quire about manda­tory and re­cur­ring ser­vice bul­letins and air­wor­thi­ness di­rec­tives, as these can be costly. For ex­am­ple, although they pro­vide a nice safety op­tion, bal­lis­tic para­chutes have to be repacked ev­ery 10 years, which costs sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars.

Fuel will likely be your big­gest vari­able cost. Re­al­ize that the per-hour fuel burn is only one part of the equa­tion. Cal­cu­late the fuel burn over the av­er­age mis­sion. While

the hourly fuel burn on a light-sport air­craft is dra­mat­i­cally lower than that of a high-per­for­mance pis­ton or a tur­bo­prop, the time it would take for you to reach dis­tant des­ti­na­tions in an LSA may cost you nearly as much in fuel, and cer­tainly a lot more in lack of pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Fre­quency of main­te­nance can also be a big ques­tion mark. If dis­patch re­li­a­bil­ity is im­por­tant, a new air­plane from a rep­utable OEM might be the best choice since it comes with a war­ranty. Many high­erend OEMs, such as Gulfstream, have rapid-re­sponse ser­vice teams that will quickly help you get air­wor­thy if you are grounded. They may even be able to pro­vide trans­porta­tion op­tions if you need to get some­where be­fore the air­plane is fixed.

One-offs and small-scale pro­duc­tion air­planes have ramp ap­peal. But the fun ends as soon as you break a unique part. Get­ting some­one to man­u­fac­ture that one part can take months and be very ex­pen­sive. Un­less you are in­clined to pro­duce your own parts for a home­built air­plane, buy an air­plane that can be sup­ported by gen­eral main­te­nance fa­cil­i­ties around the coun­try.

For jets, main­te­nance costs are gen­er­ally wrapped into set plans, such as engine pro­grams, that are paid through a monthly fee. Op­er­at­ing costs for these air­planes are eas­ier to pre­dict. But re­mem­ber to fac­tor in ad­di­tional fixed costs such as re­cur­rent train­ing and pos­si­bly salaries for a men­tor pi­lot or other crew mem­bers.

If you are hav­ing a hard time eval­u­at­ing the to­tal op­er­at­ing cost, get help. Type clubs, such as the Mooney Air­craft Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (MAPA), Cirrus Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (COPA) and Ci­ta­tion Jet Pi­lots (CJP), can be very help­ful re­sources. Some air­plane mod­els, such as the Cirrus SR22, for ex­am­ple, have gone through many mod­i­fi­ca­tions and up­grades, and it can be con­fus­ing to know what you’re get­ting when you buy used. A spe­cial­ized bro­ker, such as Aerista in the case of the Cirrus, that spe­cial­izes in the mod­els you are in­ter­ested in can be very help­ful in find­ing the right model for your bud­get and needs.

Once you've homed in on a few po­ten­tial air­plane mod­els, there are sev­eral re­sources on the in­ter­net that can help you find your dream air­plane. Con­troller, Trade-A-Plane, Barn­storm­ers and Air­craft Shop­per On­line (ASO) are the most com­monly used web­sites.

Fig­ur­ing it all out can be a daunt­ing task. But the good news is there is a lot of help to be had. An ac­qui­si­tion agent, an un­bi­ased ex­pert who will charge a flat fee for help­ing you find the right air­plane, can walk you through the steps and help you stay within your bud­get.

Cost and mis­sion pro­file aside, make sure that the air­plane you choose makes you happy. Does it look good? Is the in­te­rior com­fort­able? Does it give you the speed you need? Does it have the bells and whis­tles you re­ally want? And be­fore you pull the trigger, ask your­self one fi­nal ques­tion: When you open up your hangar door, will that air­plane make you smile?

BUD­GET MIS­SION Cal­cu­late how much money you can spend and stick to that num­ber. Eval­u­ate your most com­mon flight pro­file and find an air­plane that fits it.

OP­ER­AT­ING COSTS AVIONICS EX­PE­RI­ENCE What equip­ment are you most com­fort­able fly­ing be­hind? Will you be able to fly the air­plane, and can you af­ford the train­ing you need? What fixed and vari­able ex­penses can you ex­pect?

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