A guide to buying an aircraft (1)

by | 2018-12-05
Knowing where to look to buy an aircraft.

What an exciting feeling: you decided to get yourself an aircraft, your own set of wings. From this side of the keyboard, I can assure you there is no better thought than owning your own aircraft.

No more renting at specific times only to get weathered out. When the weather does clear out, no waiting in line for the previous customer being late. Owning sometimes does bring excellent benefits should you decide to build a career and hours for the industry. If possible, owning an aircraft is the way to go.

Going from A to B? Where is B? If you ask me, the further the better and how much more interesting. I personally cannot stand driving for 5 hours, gazing at sometimes nice sights but otherwise boring landscape. No contest, Antoine de St-Exupéry or Richard Bach would support your new acquisition endeavor.

The process of ownership done the proper way will help to regain the required sobering. I stress done the proper way. One can always botch the operation by loose fitting the bundle to cut corners. But should you desire to live the dream and make it work, some time and effort will be required to resolve the many questions coldly evaluated. When it comes to airplanes, we pilots tend to be not so cold.

Why should I acquire an aircraft?

If one’s intent is to get in as many hours in a year as possible without going past 10 or 15, one has a problem. In fact, in the US, the average yearly number is lower than 40 hours a year for a private pilot: about 3,3 hours per month or less. At 120 kts this means 370 nm round trip flown every month or for the adventurous, 740 nm flown every 2 months. Flying every 2 months does help define the word anticipation. As we will discover, putting all this on a spreadsheet will confirm that renting per hour is probably cheaper. Yes, it is annoying to get checked out every time by the school’s instructor since you do not fly so much. We all  know how to take-off and land, right? There is a reason for this. According to CAR’s ( Canadian Air Regulation) let’s say at 30 hours a year, one is legal to fly. The mathematics are different. Insurance companies are experts at mathematics and they know the risk factor involved for low annual time pilots. Most experts acknowledge the fact that CAR’s currency and proficiency requirements are insufficient.

You are correct to say that a check is not required should you come every two weeks for that one hour flight, but from what is observed in the industry, you will quit flying after a couple of months out of numbness I suppose.

But this is not an issue for your new ownership since you do not mind and in fact do hire an instructor to « refresh » those abilities every year.

There is an old saying going around in hangars:« Pilots who get themselves in trouble are poor farmers or rich doctors. »  Not enough money to fly, not enough time to fly.

What type?

Resolving this one is fun. Are you going for a new or used, sorry pre-owned machine (don’t you love euphemisms)? Yep, there is nothing like new, period. No outstanding problems, modernity and smart engineering have taken a lot of wrinkles away on those cool models out there. You get after sale service granted sometimes gigamiles away from your homebase, but this is another issue. Aside from great performance, you most likely end up with modern avionics, 0 time engine(s), no noisy air leaks and stunning head turning looks. I would never want to be seen aboard a sub par, tacky machine (euphemism alert: read ugly). If it looks good, it will fly good. (William « Bill » Lear). New airplanes fit the bill. A deplorable pun alas intended.

Well then, we are not all in for a new aircraft. There is a very healthy used market out there and this is where things get exciting. More about this will be presented on a later posting.

No single design or model will match perfectly your aspirations. An aircraft is at best a compromise in performance to obtain a desired flight enveloppe quality (engineering) or a compromise on budget (owning/operation). By budget I not only refer to the capital outlay that certain models command but also at what kind of maintenance is required. You will want to maintain the aircraft, right? More on this later.

If you intend to fly around the Saturday morning patch why bother looking for high performance, speed and endurance? Why bother with high cost avionics? While on the subject of flying around the patch why not look at a taildragger (conventional landing gear)? They are so much a hoot to fly and will get you in the actual patch quite nicely. Great for a picnic! But let’s not kid ourselves, proper instruction is required to handle this kind of bird. Flying schools/clubs hardly ever rent these things because experience has demonstrated that pilots in the past had a nasty tendency to bend them. Whether this is the type of aircraft for you or not or any type for that matter, you simply have to be realistic about the capacity of the interface between the seat and the controls. The same story applies to floatplanes. Still in the department of flying around the patch and certainly vastly further, I mean hundreds of kilometers, gliders offer a tremendous yet too much understated pleasure to fly. 

Flying around the patch if you will, does not represent transportation as such. The same applies to soaring, the technique of flying a glider for a long time. Soaring provides the added benefit of making you a better stick and rudder pilot. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, astronaut Neil Armstrong and the most successful fighter pilot, Erich Hartmann are/were all well known glider pilots.

Another aspect to consider is whether to go certified, non-certified (homebuilt) or de-certified; more on this later.

Finally, owning an aircraft to go somewhere is for many a top priority. It is simply grand to fly where no airline will land. Be it exploring your local sectional chart or getting to some distant community, nothing equals owning your own aircraft to fulfill the task. At this point one only has to decide what type will bring the desired efficiency.

Who should get involved?

Lastly, are you going to own solo or with partners? This is, of course, a major question which is not so easy to estimate the relevance. One always desires to reduce costs and splitting those is an option. It also procures the much needed time in the air that an aircraft requires to stay mechanically fit. An aircraft that sits on the ramp and flies but 30 hours a year will cost bundles of maintenance per hour as opposed to the one flying all the time. This does not resolve the issue of the pilot, as such, not flying him/herself sufficiently annually. This concurs with the well known corollary that a pilot and the aircraft make one, once airborne.

Do take into consideration that partnership in an aircraft is much like being wedded. It associates all known elements, save a few, to the more conventional type of wedlock. Notwithstanding  the splitting of schedules, maintenance cost sharing… Not everyone abides by the recognized practice of preventive maintenance or simply adding or upgrading avionics and/or performance enhancing STC’s or even just the daily upkeeping. Oatmeal cookie crumbs, plastic wrappings or multitudes of organics leftovers tend to irritate many. The best advice is to choose wisely your partner(s) if you do not know them personally. Do produce a worthy prenuptial agreement.

On next post: Buying an aircraft (2), I will present the aspects of researching the chosen type, shopping for the proper fit and later pre-purchase inspections/maintenance/surprises and paperwork.

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