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Buying an Airplane: Choosing the Right Airplane

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Deciding which airplane to purchase is a difficult decision for many. There are many options involved: Single-engine or multi-engine? Retractable or fixed gear? High-wing or low-wing? New avionics or traditional?

Aircraft ownership comes with a lot of decisions, but if you stay focused on your specific needs, choosing the right one will be easier.

1. Look at Your Logbook

The type of flying you do most of the time should determine the type of aircraft you get. A pilot flying many long cross-country flights for business trips or vacations might enjoy extra speed and capacity of a turbo-charged single engine. A private pilot that flies just for fun in the local area would be probably overspending if he bought the same aircraft.

You’ll also want to consider whether you’ll be flying in instrument or visual conditions. If you don’t want to be (or can’t afford to be) deterred by weather and you have your instrument rating, you’ll want an IFR-capable aircraft with de-ice or anti-ice equipment. If you’ll be giving joy rides to friends and family in nice weather, you can get by with minimum instruments and equipment.

Still unsure? Examine your logbook for what you do most of the time, and think about what type of flying you'd like to do in the future. It never hurts to have more equipment than you need on board, as long as you learn how to use it.

2. Safety First

Choose an airplane based on your personal experience and ability. If you have spent the majority of your training time or have logged countless hours in a high-wing airplane, stick with a high-wing airplane if possible.

Just because it seems cool to own a multi-engine airplane doesn't mean it’s smart. Twin engine aircraft are more challenging to fly, not to mention more costly to operate than single engine aircraft. There’s a very real safety risk with multi-engine aircraft, and your insurance costs will be much higher, especially if you have little experience in it. Unless you’re very confident in your multi-engine flying skills and will commit to staying that way, lean toward a single-engine aircraft.

If you want an airplane that’s different from what you've spent the majority of your time in, plan on spending some time flying it with a flight instructor first to make sure it’s within your capabilities as a pilot, and most of all, to make sure you actually like flying it.

3. Affordability

In addition to the purchase price of an airplane, there are many other ownership costs to consider when buying an airplane.

To begin with, operating costs for two different single-engine airplanes can be very different. An airplane might have a low purchase price, but a very high operating cost. An airplane with a low purchase price of $50,000 could have operating costs upwards of $40,000 per year. A $200,000 airplane might seem pricey to some, but may only cost $20,000 per year to operate. Either one might be a good situation, but you’ll want to know what you’re up against once you purchase the airplane.

Additionally, you may find a really good deal on an older aircraft model, but will spend a considerable amount on necessary maintenance after purchasing it. Annual inspections, for instance, tend to cost more for older aircraft than newer aircraft. If the airplane is very old or a rare model, the price of parts will be higher.

Another aspect to consider is the cost of insurance. Insurance alone might decide your future aircraft type. Some insurance companies will put high hour requirements on certain high-risk aircraft. If you don’t meet those requirements, you’ll be uninsurable. It’s best to research the insurance process once you have an idea of what you want to buy; the direction of the insurance company may help you decide which aircraft you should single out.

4. Resale Value

Aircraft resale value is something that many people forget about during the aircraft buying process, and accordingly, this is where people lose money.

Many people decide to sell their airplane within a few years of buying it for a variety of reasons – they want to upgrade, decide they can’t financially justify it anymore, or maybe they developed medical issues. Any of these things can happen to you. For these reasons, you may want to look for an aircraft that will be easier to sell in the future.

Research the things that help and hurt the airplane’s resale value. For instance, an aircraft approaching its TBO time means it will be harder to sell. Certain aircraft models are known to be less safe than others, and might be harder to sell. An airplane with incomplete or damaged logbooks will be more difficult to sell.

On the other hand, new paint jobs, new interior and new avionics and a good safety record will all increase the resale value of an airplane.

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