Guide to buying an aircraft (2)

by | 2018-12-15
Finding the best aircraft

You have found the right type and model to fulfil your expectations, abstraction to motorized ultralights, advanced or not or paragliders. No doubt they are a thrifty way to fly but beyond the realm of this article.

In the previous instalment we reviewed general factors that should be considered prior the purchase. We will now look at different certification, market, where to search and operational cost.


A certified aircraft signifies that many stakeholders participate in your safety and to the good airworthiness of your aircraft when operated in respect to the AFM.

The manufacturer end it’s engineers monitor closely the products even though the assembly line has been shutdown eons ago.

The regulator, Transport Canada and it’s own engineers approve the certification program and also monitor the performance for the certified models. For example, mechanical or structural problems can and will over time manifest themselves. These problems can range from a simple sun visor falling off it’s mount to corrosion discovery in the spar box or defective manufacturing of exhaust valves. These problems will end up as an airworthiness directive.

Let’s not forget our certified mechanic who maintains and inspects the aircraft according to Transport Canada and the manufacturer’s requirements. Once his intervention completed, a signature applied to the aircraft journey log establishes the responsibilities implicated.

Those three levels described are always taken for granted but mainly establish that we have quite a team behind us when we apply take-off power for departure.

Non-certified aircraft are mostly amateur built aircraft. Regardless, the projects are monitored by the regulator and certain approvals are required. The manufacturer may offer support at various level. No official maintenance program is enforced, however the owner is required to accomplish the equivalence to a certified aircraft.

Workmanship quality varies from one builder to another. Apparently some models are prebuilt at the manufacturer plant.

A decertified aircraft was once certified. It’s owner at one time opted to apply de-certification procedures in order to abstain from the rigours of certified aircraft maintenance. It is worth noting that a de-certified model cannot, at least not so easily, be re-certified. Also a de-certified aircraft will loose a lot of market value in reference to it’s certified counterpart. Might as well fly solo.


There are many sights and publications that provide shopping opportunity. Still the best is sometimes to look for local airport billboards. There is nothing like seeing an aircraft on the spot.

In Canada, a lot of aviation publications contain their own classified advertisement. COPA, the Canadian Owners and Pilot Association, presented recently the Canadian Plane Trade which offers good volume of ads.

Many Canadian sellers will post on American sights, which in turn offer remarkable volumes allowing for good market evaluation:

There exists many more. Brokers also specialize in aircraft sales with personalized service.

It is also well worth your effort to join a specialized aircraft type association like the Short Wing Piper Club, the Cessna Flyer Association, the international Comanche Society or the Mooney Aircraft and Pilots Association. These owners groups provide wealth of information and are even sought after experts by the FAA when technical assistance is required.

The used aircraft market is quite important in size, so is the continent. You may have found the perfect fit aircraft but it is quite an endeavour to undertake should your future flying beauty be located 3500 km away from home base. Looking locally may mean searching just south of the border. A Montrealer searching in Vermont is indeed local. Some import procedures will be required in such a case, more on this later. 

Operational cost

For those interested in operational cost many elements should be looked at aside from the contorsions of shopping at a distance. Fuel is a major element. It varies from one city to another. Various engines consumptions also vary from one size to another and according on how it’s managed.

I will not mention capital cost and ohhh how much one could gain by investing otherwise. We are not sinking in voluntary simplicity here: we are equipping ourselves with an aircraft! The currency mentioned lower is in Canadian dollars. Do remember that most of the transactions, aside from your local mechanic’s labour, will be in us dollars. Finally those numbers are for initial reference only, they have a tendency to be of variable geometry.

  • Fuel: for a 150 hp engine count on 26 litres/hour
  • Oil:
    • 1 us quart for every 2 or 3 hours should the engine be well sealed
    • 8 us quarts every 50 hours when oil is changed for an oil filter equipped engine otherwise ever 25 hours.
    • Aeroshell sells for 11$/us quart
    • An oil filter (30$) every 50 hours
  • Annual inspection: should there be no major snags about 25 to 35 hours labour, depending on type of course.
    • ELT certification 150$ plus transport
    • Certain aircraft models although very appealing ( I stress again)may demand quite a lot of labour, talk to a mechanic.
  • Insurance: 
    • Civil liability at least 2 000 000$ coverage is the norm.
    • According to type, class and your experience the premiums may vary a lot.
    • Do expect to spend between 1 500$ to 2 000$ for an average 4 seater, always subject to the bird’s value and it’s configuration.
  • Engine overhaul: should the engine be run and maintained professionally expect to make it to it’s 2000 hours and by then count 24 000$ to overhaul, plus about 20 hours labour for removal and re-installation.
  • In Canada, propellers require to be overhauled every 10 years no matter what. Count for a constant speed prop, off a 150 hp aircraft, about 3 500$ and add 6 hours of labour.
  • It is wise to add about 2,5% of depreciation on the value to fund for upcoming snags should you desire to maintain the aircraft perfectly.
  • annual parking fees vary very much from one place to the other. Outside 200 to 500$/year is close in many case. Inside a heated hangar you may need to lay 200 to 700$/month.
  • If you fly IFR, a GPS database for North America requires 600$ expense.

Shortly we will deal with what type of equipment should be attached to the aircraft, what questions to ask to the seller before the inspection visit to avoid surprises: they await you!  Also a favorite of mine: the eternal paperwork.

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