Answers for Pilots

Let's make a deal

May 1, 1999

Prepurchase tips for buying used aircraft

For 74-year-old pilot John Blumie, AOPA 620929, the Citabria listed in Trade-A-Plane seemed just the ticket. A 3,000-hour private pilot and owner of a Piper Cherokee Six, Blumie wanted a light, fun aircraft to fly in the soft summer evenings over Connecticut (Citabria spelled backwards is airbatic). But Blumie, who has bought and sold several airplanes in his 25-year flying career, knew to do his homework before making his purchase: he called the AOPA Pilot Information Center.

"We offer guidelines and can calculate the reasonable market value for used aircraft," said Paul Smith, an AOPA aviation technical specialist. "This is not an appraisal, but we'll offer the best advice we can."

For Blumie, the asking price was higher than the valuation that Vref suggests for the aircraft. He's decided to wait and see whether the airplane sells or if the owner will adjust the price. "I don't need the airplane, and I'm glad I called AOPA; they always have the information I need to know," he said.

Smith himself recently purchased a 1942 Aeronca L-3. Because of his interest in history, Smith knew he wanted a vintage airplane, but that did not alter the basic steps he took toward its purchase. "Inspect everything," he says. "Check the logs, have a title search done, do a 337 search [for modifications with FAA field approval], and get an AD [airworthiness directives] list that verifies the work that applies to that plane. And if you need help, call us."

Aviation specialist Kathy Minner and her husband, Tony, recently purchased a 1956 Beech Bonanza. "The important thing to remember when buying used aircraft is that airplanes are built to fly, and when airplanes don't fly, they don't stay in shape," she says. Minner suggests a very good prepurchase inspection — almost a complete annual — performed by a mechanic that you know before any steps to purchase are taken, and if necessary, follow up AOPA's Valuation Service with an on-site appraisal. "It may be more expensive up front, but if you're going to sink a lot of money into an airplane, an annual is cheap insurance," she says.

The Minners are good examples of typical first-time buyers, although Kathy's background at AOPA helped the couple to avoid the normal pitfalls, such as purchasing an airplane just because you can. "You need to determine what it is you want out of the aircraft," she says. The Minners knew, for example, that their airplane needed decent cruise speed because they'd be using it for family and pleasure trips; they wanted four seats because they'd want to travel with their family members and friends; and the couple wanted the craft to be IFR-capable so that their trips would not be affected by most weather conditions. The airplane the couple purchased answered most of their needs, but they have been upgrading the avionics. "We knew that in order to have it the way we wanted it, we'd have to make some changes. But we would rather be flying it as we're fixing it up, than waiting for the perfect fit," she explained.

A call to the AOPA Pilot Information Center will yield much of the information you will need before you purchase a used airplane. AOPA's Aircraft Purchaser's Kit contains Tips on Buying Used Aircraft, a 90-page booklet that details costs, contracts, financing, paperwork, and registration; Pilots' Guide to Taxes: Income and Personal Property, Sales, and Use, with details on previous cases and rulings; Pilots' Guide to Insurance, concerning policy, liability, and coverage; and documents such as a bill of sale, registration forms, and applications for radio station licenses and restricted radiotelephone operator permits. The kit is available in print for $5 and booklets can be downloaded online ( www.aopa.org/members/files/guides/).

Once you've chosen your aircraft, AOPA can continue to help. If you want financing preapproval, contact the AOPA Aircraft Financing Program (800/627-5263, priority code AAKG; Web site: www.aopa.org/info/certified/afp.html) for financing assistance. Be sure to call the AOPA Aircraft Insurance Agency (800/622-2672) for a free quote, and rely on the AOPA Title and Escrow Service (800/654-4700) before completing your sale to ensure a safe and lien-free transfer of ownership. When you've made your deal, you'll want to affix your AOPA wings decal (it's in the package!) on your new aircraft and take advantage of the AOPA credit card with its 3 percent FBO rebate program which helps you save money on fuel, flight training, pilot supplies, maintenance, and all purchases at qualified FBOs (800/523-7666).

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best source available anywhere for information and answers for pilots. The AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. Information is also available on the Web (www.aopa.org) . The AOPA Pilot Information Center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.