Guide to buying an aircraft (3)

by | 2018-12-29
Where to look for an aircraft purchase.
Finding good advertisement.

On our last post on the subject we dealt with the shopping aspect of an aircraft and it’s operation cost to consider. This time, we found the type and model that will be adequate for our needs. We will need to learn about the specifics for the model prior any phone call to the prospective seller. We are not necessarily thinking about flight procedures as such, but more the historical background to the aircraft.

Certainly one will need to consider if he/she is competent sufficiently to handle the aircraft. The good news is that a decent check with a flight instructor should be able to cover this constraint.

Every model will carry it’s reputation good or not so good. Your job consists to confirm this reputation. Certainly, the C-172’s of this world have an excellent reputation, however what about other less known models?

A good starting point, as I mentioned in the previous instalment, is to read up literature freely available at the various specialized associations. Next, take the time for a discussion with your future mechanic. He will no doubt have a lot to say about one model or the other. He knows where the weaknesses are, where the notorious wear points are located, one model vs the other.

Getting to know AD’s

An important search is required. It consists to download all Airworthiness Directives (AD’s) for the model. This can be done at Transport Canada AD notes site or any country regulator’s site. Simply enter the aircraft’s ident or in the advanced search link, the model, should the aircraft come from abroad.

This list contains all AD’s for the airframe, engine and propeller. According to any modification installed, you must also verify if the various installed mods are not subject to those AD’s. For example, older aircrafts were simply not equipped with GPS way back when. A supplemental type certificate (STC) may have been published for the model in question (see lower). This same STC may be also subject to AD’s. The fun never stops! Otherwise, the installation might not be legal.

AD’s may be recurrent every year or every so much hours flown, say every 50 hours. They may be one time occurence only. AD’s can be sometimes quite expensive to complete, usually they occur at every 500 or 1000 hours intervals. Often a seller may decide to sell rather than execute an expensive AD. Vigilance is required. Technical logs shall demonstrate that work has been completed for every applicable AD. Applicable means that some AD’s apply sometimes to certain serial numbers.

Type certificate

If the type is already flying in Canada (or your home country), it is evident although verifiable, that it holds a type certificate issued by the government. If you desire to acquire let’s say an American registered aircraft, it is imperative that you verify that the type certificate exists for the make, and model and serial number in your country. A visit to Transport Canada type certificate database is required: This is also the place to check is any modification made over the years are STC’d.

I have witnessed a specific aircraft purchase with no model number (3 models where produced: no letter, A and B) from the USA. In Canada only models A or B held a type certificate, not the ones with no model letter. The import was blocked. For the small group of new owners, the experience proved to be time consuming (one year) and expensive to correct. Better be safe than sorry. It is worth to mention that often, rather than produce it’s own type certificate, Transport Canada will refer the reader to the country of the originating manufacturer for the type certificate. For example older models of Piper Aircraft where type certificated in Canada based on the FAA document.

Filtering times with advertisements

Once well informed on the desired type, it will be time to filter the various advertisements. The asking prices offer a disconcerting range of prices, for the same model! Initial elements to evaluate are the airframe total time, engine time, propeller last overhaul (in Canada it’s every 10 year as mandatory, not in the USA) and of course installed avionics.

The airframe will also be looked at according to the number of years since production and the number of hours flown. This will indicate if the aircraft was flown commercially or not. Commercial ops can sometimes be hard on airframes, think of multiple hard landings day in day out!

The reported state of the paint job and it’s reality is quite a subjective matter. Do count on at least 8000$ dollars to repaint a single engine aircraft if necessary. A good paint job can last at least 20 years and more if the aircraft is stored in a hangar. Yes, with heated hangar rent accounted for, one can easily paint an aircraft every three years you could say. But considerable amount of maintenance and downtime can be avoided. Never mind the convenience of a dry place to do your preflight inspection!

The same story applies to the engine(s) with the difference that an engine has a maximum time life. Further, it may sometimes make it to it’s maximum time to overhaul of say 2000 hours for some models. During it’s life, if the engine does not fly often, say 10 or 15 hours yearly, there is a slim chance that the engine will make to it’s max time to overhaul. If a seller mentions that the engine was started every week: beware, as this is worth absolutely nothing mechanically speaking. The engine requires at least 30 minutes in cruise to dispose of corroding compounds that lodge within the block. Should an engine not fly for extended period of time, it should be properly be put in storage state otherwise corrosion will invariably eat away at the cylinders and block. This corrosion forms mostly due to acids generated from within. 

Engines equipped with turbo chargers bring a wonderful addition to performance. They are also notoriously fragile when operated by ham fisted gorillas. Pay attention, as we will see shortly, to the engine tech log.


According to your needs, avionic equipment will be a huge factor to consider. Knowing the price of a new and installed components is imperative. In 2019, in order to obtain healthy and economical engine management, an engine monitor with all cylinders probed is indispensable. This instrument will even supply downloadable data for every minute flown. Engine trends are easily detected before any malfunction sets in. Further, excellent and precise engine leaning is obtained, where one or two gallons per hour can be obtained as opposed to approximate traditional leaning technique, depending on engine size of course.

With the price of fuel these days, an electronic fuel flow is also indispensable for accurate fuel management.

On the next article, we will deal with that first phone call to the person who « detains your aircraft! »

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