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AOPA Aircraft Buying Guide: Your blockbuster event--buying an aircraft

AOPA Aircraft Buying Guide

Your blockbuster event—buying an aircraft

By Dave Hirschman

When the perfect airplane
is on foreign soil

By AOPA ePublishing staff

You’ve finally found it—the airplane of your dreams. Unfortunately, it’s located and registered outside of the United States. Now what?

International aircraft sales are more common than you might think, and AOPA’s Pilot Information Center has the resources you need to complete the transaction confidently. The Guide to Aircraft Importing and Exporting provides an overview of the process as well as detailed information on such topics as registration, airworthiness, escrow, and options for transporting your new airplane. The guide also offers links to U.S. export/import laws and checklists to help you keep track of the details.

When conducting an international transaction, many agencies may be involved, including the FAA, the civil aviation authority in the other country, U.S. Customs, and others. Together you and the seller are responsible for meeting all of the requirements of both governments. If you are doing business with someone in Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas, you’ll find information about those nations’ regulatory requirements online.

Trips to Blockbuster are more likely to end well if you know in advance what movie you intend to rent—and buying an airplane, in that sense, is the same.

Keep an open mind to new facts and additional information that could influence your decision. But keep focused, or the buying process could turn into a bewildering house of mirrors.

Many Web sites are devoted to buying and selling aircraft.
Aircraft Shopper Online
Aero Trader

There are also some tremendously useful online forums that focus on aircraft ownership. For old and new aircraft, type clubs are a wealth of information. Knowledgeable brokers can be helpful, particularly for high-end aircraft.

Do some research on the type of aircraft you want by reading the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Safety Highlights—type-specific aircraft reviews of some of the most popular general aviation airplanes. And if you’re looking for an older aircraft, learn about some of the special maintenance needs in the foundation’s online course, Aging Aircraft .

Shopping online is immediate and avoids publication and distribution delays—but time can work in a buyer’s favor, too. Some shrewd aircraft buyers keep old Trade-A-Plane copies and wait until ads expire to contact sellers. Their logic is that, after the sellers’ phones have stopped ringing with prospective buyers, they will be more motivated to sell than ever.

Used-aircraft dealers used to scour the West and Midwest buying aircraft that had been in dry climates where corrosion was unlikely to be an issue. Then they would sell them on the coasts where, theoretically, the airplanes sold at a premium. But the Internet has leveled regional differences in aircraft values.

John Downing, an Atlanta, Ga., pilot who has bought and sold nearly 100 airplanes during more than 40 years of general aviation flying, says he finds the best deals at local airports.

“I know most of the planes and pilots in this metropolitan area,” he said. “And when there’s a plane I really want, I let the owner know that I’m interested. It saves the trouble and expense of traveling all over the country looking at different airplanes. Those expenses can really add up. With local airplanes, I’ve got a good idea what I’m getting, and I know how the plane has been flown and maintained. That increases my comfort level.”

April 2, 2008

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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