For most people buying their first airplane can be ranked in conjunction with buying your dream home, getting married or name any other significant event in your life. Buying your first airplane means the completion of a dream. One of the greatest highlights of my career is seeing a first time buyer act like a 6 year old on Christmas morning when I hand him or her keys to their new airplane.
The thought of purchasing an airplane can seem daunting. After all, only 1 in 100 people in the U.S. have a pilots license, much less own an airplane. For those looking for an adventure to a far off land, a 100 dollar hamburger or a Business tool to be more productive, rest assured that purchasing an airplane isn’t rocket science, it’s “plane science” which is a whole lot easier so lets begin.
This article will present a step by step process to make your dream come true. Step number 1; make sure your spouse or significant other is on board. I firmly believe that this is the biggest dream killer. If you pass step one (lucky you), then step two is to take inventory of what you are looking to accomplish. What is your mission? Is it to take your wife and kids on a 100 mile trip to the coast on a sunny day or do you often find yourself needing to be in a Business meeting three states away and the weather is usually marginal? Here is the key, purchase the airplane that meets your mission at least 80% of the time. Don’t by a six place airplane if 90% of the time it is just you and your wife flying. The extra gas, aircraft cost, insurance, and maintenance of purchasing the extra seats you won’t be using will more than pay for the rentals of the times when you do need the extra seat. The same can be said for buying an airplane to fly you from New York to Florida twice a year. If you are a low time or student pilot, call an aircraft insurance agent to help determine what airplanes you can safely fly. If you are just learning to fly, don’t expect to be flying a King Air any time soon.
Along with determining your mission, determine how much a year you are willing to set aside for an airplane. The purchase price is just one piece of the pie. You will have to do research and find out how much a hangar or tie-down costs at your Local airport as well as fuel and shop rates for oil changes and annuals. If you plan on buying a used airplane, set aside money for unscheduled repair bills, and a pre-buy inspection. A good rule of thumb that I have heard from mechanics is budget the price of the annual to cover the unscheduled repair bills. Also, the monthly cost to keep all available subscriptions on a glass cockpit is often overlooked and can run over 100 dollars month. Don’t forget that if you keep your airplane for a long time, you will have to eventually pay for an engine overhaul.
Now that you have determined your mission and know how many premium Starbucks coffees you must forgo to afford your next love (I mean airplane), it is time to begin the search process. A great place to gather information is by attending large aircraft expos such as Oshkosh or Sun N Fun. It never hurts to ask around the Local FBO or spend some quality time on the internet searching airplanes. Asking an aircraft broker or sales representative would result in several airplanes to meet your mission and price.
With several different airplanes in mind, the next step is to determine the most important features you want in an airplane? The honest truth is that there is no ideal airplane for everyone that has everything. Each airplane has its strengths and weakness. I recommend rank ordering what strengths you think your ideal airplane should have. A few ideas include: safety record, speed, avionics, payload, cabin comfort, visibility, range, efficiency, cost of maintenance, etc. I would like to expound on these a bit. First, safety record. Airplanes are safe, just some have a better safety record than others. The best way to research a specific airplane is to visit the NTSB Website at http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp and do a search on the airplanes you are interested in. Comparing the avionics panel is like comparing a house with a pool to a house without one, it makes a big difference. Airplanes with glass panels are in demand and offer a higher resale value than non-glass equipped airplanes; they also command a higher price. Airplanes with a Garmin 430 or 530 GPS are more desirable than Loran equipped airplanes or no GPS at all. I hate to admit this but it is true, almost any GPS other than a 430 or 530 is almost undesirable in today’s market. If you are a recreational flyer going to the beach, a Garmin G1000 might be overkill, whereas flying with a Garmin G1000 cross county on an IFR plan might be quite useful. The cost of maintenance could be found by contacting a sales representative or asking another owner of the airplane that interests you. Speed, payload and range can be found on the manufacturers’ Website or a write up in an aviation magazine. For cabin comfort and visibility, you will most likely have to wait until the demo flight.
By now, you should be down to just two or three models that fit your mission, piloting skill level, price, and features. Before you start dialing for demo flights, you may want to make sure your bank is OK with you buying an airplane. Companies such as Dorr Aviation, Airfleet Capital or AOPA can help you secure financing. Even during this economic downturn, there is plenty of money that banks are willing to lend to someone who qualifies. Plan on putting 15-20% down. Banks are usually willing to lend upwards of 20 years and aircraft financing rates are very favorable at the time of this writing. Once you are preapproved, you won’t have any more doubt and you will be in a much stronger position to make an offer on your next airplane. On a side note, if you don’t qualify for the airplane you are considering, getting into a partnership may be an alternative; (however, I will save partnerships for another topic on another day.)
One additional question that I often hear is should I buy new or pre-owned? Books can be written about new verses used so for the purpose of this article and as a general rule of thumb, if you can go new as a first time buyer, then do it. It will save you headaches when it comes to repairs and having an airplane warranty is nice to have. Buying new can also help with your taxes. The downside of buying new is being prepared to take a depreciation hit when it comes time to sell or trade in.
Finally, if you are looking for a new airplane, give your Local sales representative a call and schedule a demo flight. If you go used, you may have to do some dialing and schedule several different visits to find your next Christmas present.