Answers for Pilots

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March 1, 2000

Buying an aircraft takes planning

Eufard "Ford" Cooper, AOPA 1192257, is a typical new pilot. Soon after he began his training five years ago, he assured his wife that they would be buying an airplane. Thrilled with learning to fly and getting his pilot certificate, Cooper immediately began researching his aircraft purchase. Since he was training in a Cessna Cardinal, that aircraft was his first choice. But as his knowledge and skill level increased, Cooper started dreaming bigger.

A call to the AOPA Pilot Information Center paired him with senior aviation technical specialist Rob Hackman, who guided Cooper through AOPA's extensive Web site. On AOPA Online, members can search for aircraft for sale, get information on AOPA's aircraft insurance programs, learn about aircraft financing, or access Vref, the aircraft valuation service. Hackman suggested that Cooper use the aircraft valuation service when he found aircraft for sale and was considering a purchase. The pair took the available information on the aircraft that Cooper found for sale and plugged the specifics into the easy-to-use Vref form. Cooper was then able to determine if the aircraft was in his price range. "The process really gave me an understanding of the values in the marketplace," said Cooper.

Cooper found aircraft for sale in publications such as Trade-A-Plane and Aero Trader, and began leaning toward the purchase of an older-model V-tail Bonanza. Hackman suggested that Cooper join the American Bonanza Society before he bought an airplane, providing access to a network of people that Cooper could discuss the aircraft with. AOPA's Airport Directory has an extensive listing of type clubs, and that information also is available on the Web. Hackman also sent reprints of AOPA Pilot articles on Bonanzas, as well as the AOPA publication Tips on Buying Used Aircraft.

"I found the technical specialists at the center — especially Rob — to be an excellent sounding board for my questions and concerns," said Cooper. "Because the specialists are pilots, they can sympathize as well as empathize."

The AOPA aviation technical specialists caution that buying a used airplane is nothing like buying a used car. While automobile purchases call for research, the purchase of an airplane takes a lot more homework. "There are a lot more things to look for when you are purchasing a used airplane," said Mike Brown, aviation technical services manager. For instance, a used car could have engine parts from other makes and models, but according to the FAA, a used airplane must only contain parts that are originally approved for that specific aircraft. FAR Part 91.7 requires the airplane to be airworthy. Airworthy, as defined by case law, means that it has to meet its original type certificate or supplemental type certificate or field approval.

The most important piece of advice for aircraft purchase is stated in AOPA Online's Tips on Buying Used Aircraft : "One of the most common mistakes in purchasing an aircraft is to buy on the basis of impulse without fully considering the effects of your decision. Take the time to analyze your requirements carefully and be realistic." The sale price of an aircraft is not your only expense to consider. Remember taxes, hangar or tiedown fees, airworthiness directives that may affect the aircraft you're looking at, and the cost of maintaining the aircraft you purchase.

Another word of caution from the AOPA aviation technical specialists: Don't get emotional about your purchase. "There are no steals," said Hackman. "If it looks too good to be true, it usually is."

Now, after owning a V-tail Bonanza for several years, Ford Cooper is calling the center and using the AOPA Web site again; his family has grown, and he's ready to step up to a larger airplane such as a Baron. "I'm dealing with similar issues this time around. [When I made] my first purchase, I was a low-time pilot looking at a high-performance airplane. Now I'm looking again at a higher-performance aircraft," said Cooper.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource anywhere for information and answers for pilots. The AOPA Online Web site provides members with access to a wealth of information and resources. The AOPA toll-free Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The 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.