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What to Consider Before Buying Your Own Plane

What to Consider Before Buying Your Own PlanePilots may differ in many ways, but one thing most have in common is a desire to own their own plane. There are many planes on the market, as well as variables that determine which one is right for you. Before you head down to the dealer, here are some important things to think about, according to Plane & Pilot magazine. Taking time to address some critical questions such as these will help you determine what type of plane you should be looking at buying, and why.

First, know what you’re going to use it for. There are a lot of small aircraft on the market, and it’s easy to fall in love with a specific model’s looks and features. But the first thing you should do is sit down with a pen and paper and write out what you’re going to do with the plane.

What is its primary purpose? Shuttling executives between 9 and 5? Leisurely weekend sightseeing? Are you flying solo or with friends and family? What will your average load be? Don’t go for a faster plane if it’s not practical for you. If you have to off-load fuel to accommodate for passengers, just one stop for fuel will negate any kind of speed advantage, and a 10 MPH difference between planes is usually barely noticeable.

Consider time and distance. How much time will you realistically be able to fly, and what is the average distance of your flights? If you’re flying less than 500 miles, speed is relatively unimportant. According to Plane & Pilot magazine, on a 500-mile trip, the difference between 160 mph fixed-gear C-182) and 200 mph (Cirrus) is only 37 minutes. Is that 37 minutes worth the extra cost in fuel burn, maintenance and overall complexity? If your flight time and distance will be limited and speed isn’t a factor, consider a slower aircraft, or even more economical Light Sport Aircraft. Another benefit of slower speed aircraft — it will be more adept at landing on short, unimproved (grass or gravel) runways.

Also think about flight topography/geography. If you’re going to be flying and landing in mountainous areas, you’re going to need a more powerful plane than someone taking off and landing on flatlands.

Don’t buy more plane than you need. Nothing will take the joy out of flying like realizing a few months in that you bought a money pit. As mentioned above, be honest about how you’re going to use the plane, and don’t buy more plane than you need. Keep it simple — the more complex the airplane, say with retractable gear and/or constant-speed prop, the more it’ll cost to maintain.

Keep maintenance in mind, including the annual inspection, which generally ranges from $1,000 on up depending on the complexity of the aircraft. There is some general maintenance you can do yourself if you are capable, such as changing the oil and tires.

Keep the avionics basic — the plane will be easier and less expensive to maintain. And don’t underestimate a simple aircraft either: a Cessna 172 has delivered more utility to more people than any other airplane in history.

You’ll need insurance. There are two forms of aircraft insurance: liability and hull. Hull insurance will be a percentage of the value of the plane, but it varies depending on the type of aircraft, experience of the pilot in this specific type of plane, and other variables. Many pilots don’t carry hull insurance, but liability insurance is an absolute must, and usually not that expensive.

Factor in storage. You’ll have to store your plane somewhere, so have a plan for that, too. Most pilots store their aircraft at the airport/FBO. Types of storage include:

  • Outside tiedown. Much cheaper than a hangar, but exposes your plane to the elements.
  • Outside “shades.” Some airports offer carport-like structures that protect the plane from sun and rain.
  • Common-use hangar. Some FBOs let you store your plane in their main hangar, but it’s around the same cost as renting your own hangar.
  • Private hangar. Some airports allow tenants to rent or own their hangar, but they can be expensive.

Will you be able to resell it? It’s not too soon to think about selling your plane before you buy it. Like a car, does the plane have a good resale value? Beware of buying an off brand because it’s cheap — it may be hard to resell. And keep in mind that better-equipped aircraft usually sell faster than those without.

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