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Answers for Pilots

A five-step process

Buying an aircraft takes planning

"I've just found the perfect airplane for sale in Trade-A-Plane. I can't live without it. Help me make the right decision soon — it could sell this weekend!"

Passionate pleas such as this from AOPA members who call or e-mail the AOPA Pilot Information Center would get the following response from AOPA Aviation Technical Specialist Jim Knight: "Whoa, buddy, hold on there."

"You need to take a couple of key steps before you put your money on the line," he said. Knight appreciates the enthusiasm that prospective aircraft buyers show; however, he cautions that taking swift action without following his recommended "five-step process" could result in disappointment — for both buyer and seller.

The most important piece of advice for an 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."

Knight's five-step process helps with that analysis.

Step One: Look for the right aircraft. Is it really what you need? Are you simply flying around the patch by yourself? Then you don't need that four-placer. Consider how you are going to use the aircraft.

Step Two: Develop a purchase contract — there's a sample on the AOPA Web site. It's similar to a real estate contract in that it outlines the agreement. If you have a dispute later, you'll be able to see in black and white just what was agreed upon and not be forced to rely on memory or hearsay.

Step Three: Get a prepurchase survey. Make sure it's with a mechanic of your choosing and/or with the recommendation of people in the area. Just because it's standing on three legs doesn't mean it's OK. Get a clean bill of health and make sure all airworthiness directives are complied with.

Step Four: Talk to your insurance company. There's no reason to buy an airplane that you can't get insured to fly. The insurance company may require you to have more hours for an airplane — you want to know it up front so you can get the experience or choose a different model.

Step Five: Do a title search. It's best to discover any ghosts in the file before you proceed. It's no fun to own an airplane that's not yours alone.

If you really, really have to have information on that dream aircraft this minute, take advantage of the Vref system on AOPA Online. This aircraft valuation service is an easy-to-use form that the purchaser fills in with data about the proposed aircraft. Vref then provides a price range.

Don't get emotional about the purchase, Knight cautions. There are no steals — if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource 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 perform an aircraft valuation immediately.

Tips on Buying Used Aircraft.

Aircraft make and model reviews by AOPA Pilot editors.

Information on the AOPA Aircraft Financing Program.

The AOPA Title Service — before you buy, make sure the coast is clear.

Operating cost calculator.

Payment calculator based on current interest rates.

Free classified advertising of aircraft for sale, parts and accessories, and services.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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