Answers for Pilots

By the numbers

April 1, 2002

Educated owners do the math

Whether you're buying, selling, or just trying to figure out how much insurance to carry, it pays to know the numbers. The numbers come from AOPA's Aircraft Valuation Service by Vref. This service can help you determine the retail and wholesale values of most airplane makes and models.

Each day, dozens of members request aircraft valuation information through AOPA Online and the AOPA Pilot Information Center. The majority of those queries come from first-time buyers who want to be sure they're getting a good deal. Others come from people who are thinking of selling one airplane and buying another. They typically want to determine an appropriate asking price. The Aircraft Valuation Service by Vref can also be a useful tool for owners who want to be sure that they are carrying the right amount of hull insurance. Still other members want to know the value of their airplanes for tax purposes. "They're usually the only people who are unhappy to learn that their airplane has gone up in value," quipped AOPA Aviation Technical Specialist Jim Knight.

The more information you have about an aircraft you want to value, the more complete the resulting estimate will be. Knowing airframe total time, engine time since the last major overhaul, the makes and models of the avionics, and the condition of the paint and interior will help you develop an estimate of both retail and wholesale values for airplanes with matching characteristics.

Of course, pilots who are just beginning the search for that perfect airplane may want more of a ballpark figure. The make, model, and year of an aircraft are enough to get you basic value information that assumes the engine is in the middle of its lifespan, all ADs have been complied with, the interior and paint are in good condition, and the avionics are the same as the day the airplane rolled off the assembly line.

If you are just beginning the shopping process, the Aircraft Valuation Service by Vref is a good place to start. Not only will you learn the likely price range, you'll also get some basic performance data and a list of some of the most common modifications and equipment with information about how they affect the value. Notes in the valuation report may tell you how many of a specific make and model were produced, how many of those are currently registered, and identify any recent airworthiness directives.

All of these services are available online, and you can compare as many as six aircraft each day. The help file can answer the most common questions and explain how to interpret a valuation report. But sometimes a telephone call to the Pilot Information Center is a good idea.

Information about turboprop and turbine airplanes can be obtained by phone, as can data about recent trends, including whether prices for a particular model are going up or down. If you know of past structural damage, you can find out how it may change the value. Only damage that occurred within the past six years affects the book value.

The aviation technical specialist who answers your call can also tell you how many of a particular aircraft sold during the most recent quarter and how long they took to sell on average. You can even find out how the current price compares to the new price. "Don't be surprised if a 20-year-old airplane is worth more now than the day it left the factory," Knight advised.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resources anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA provides information for its members through a vast array of communications technologies. You can reach experts in all fields of aviation via AOPA Online (, the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA), and e-mail [email protected]). Aviation technical specialists respond promptly to member requests while AOPA Online provides members with access to information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of aviation. The center is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

AOPA Web resources

AOPA's aircraft valuation service, provided by Vref, helps you determine the value of an aircraft instantly.

Make sure you know what you're getting before you buy with the AOPA Title Service.

Learn how you can finance your airplane purchase with the AOPA Aircraft Financing Program.

Pilots' Guide to Insurance: Renters', Aircraft Hull and Liability provides information about insuring your airplane.

Pilots' Guide to Taxes: Income, Personal Property, Sales and Use can help you unravel the tax implications of aircraft ownership.

The Pilot's Guide to Multiple Ownership can help you learn more about sharing the cost of airplane ownership.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Senior Director of Communications, AOPA

AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.