Airplane Pre-Buy Considerations - What you need to know before you purchase.

My friend Jon is a successful local business owner.  He’s also one of the most passionate aviation enthusiasts I’ve ever met.  Last month he bought a 2014 Cirrus SR-22, which is absolutely beautiful.  I’m completely jealous, just not enough to trade my wife in for one.  So I’m putting mine on hold.

This is Jon’s third airplane in five years.  He hit a few snags on the first two purchases.  On his Cirrus however, his learning curve seems to have leveled off and he handled this buy like a pro. 

He knew exactly what he was looking for, gained some solid experience, and had the right resources for his purchase level.  I’d say experience, resources and realism are the three key components to any successful airplane purchase. 

If you’re getting ready to buy for the first time, get ready to make some mistakes.  Everyone does, including my buddy Jon.  I made some doozies.  The learning process is usually painful for all of us on the first go around.  

My first airplane purchase was a stark contrast to Jon’s recent score.  I didn’t have experience, resources or realism in my corner.  I decided to buy an airplane on the cheap to build time for my first airline job.  

I found a 1976 Cessna Skyhawk that leaked a quart of oil an hour and was way over engine TBO (time between overhauls), but I thought the price was right ($15,000).  I financed this dog on a ten year loan at 8% interest.  Clearly, I was poorly resourced. 

The paint had completely peeled off of the fuselage and the side windows were so sun damaged that I could barely see through them.  The front seats were torn to shreds and the rear seat was missing.  Clearly I was unrealistic.  There was no way I was going to get my hours and offload this ugly mess without a significant investment in upgrades.   

The compressions weren’t in tolerance.  On several hot days, I didn’t think I was going to get off of the six thousand foot runway at my home field.  I eventually made the executive decision to make all takeoffs as a short field/soft field hybrid. 

I made sure to use every ounce of runway, held the brakes and applied full power while holding full aft yoke.  I got into ground effect as soon as humanly possible and prayed to god I would accelerate to Vy before crossing the end of the runway.   

Clearly inexperienced, I was risking it all to get to an airline on the cheap.  I was completely naive and my judgement… nonexistent.  How I got to where I am today is a complete miracle, and a story I didn’t share on any of my pilot interviews.   

They say good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.  That’s a vicious cycle, particularly for a pilot.  The stakes are always high in aviation.  Thank god you don’t have to go it alone.  Pilot Mall offers a full line of aviation reference manuals to help you navigate this maze we call airplane ownership.        

People buy airplanes for an unlimited number of reasons.  Some are trying to build time, others start a business, and there are those of us who just love to fly airplanes.  Whatever your reason, it’s time to start  thinking like both a pilot and an asset manager.  You now have a significant investment to protect.  The decisions you make could cost you if they aren’t well informed.

Once I bought the Skyhawk, my questions before any flight suddenly increased ten-fold.  Every decision now came at a possible cost to either my safety, or finances.  I had to learn to make some tough choices if I wanted to live to be an old pilot. 

This is why being properly resourced for the airplane you choose is critical.  Don’t cloud your judgement with financial concerns.  Be realistic about the type of airplane you can afford to comfortably maintain.     

After buying my Skyhawk, there were many times I found myself feeling confused.  All the decisions were now resting on my shoulders.  I found that building   a strong foundation in overall systems theory helped me eventually reduce those nagging, self-doubting moments. 

I highly recommend Aircraft Systems For Pilots by Dale De Remer.  It was originally published in 1992 and is currently in its fourth edition.  I’ve kept this book as a reference since 2002.  I still refer to it frequently today.  This excellent guide will help you build the foundation you need.  

Airplane ownership can be lonely.  There’ve been several times I’ve felt like the last guy at the dinner party table when the check comes.  I usually get it when I have to decide whether or not to fix a nagging problem that isn’t critical, but really expensive. 

I’ve found that educating myself enough to intelligently describe these sorts of issues to an A&P is a good idea.  Can I let the issue go for a while?  Will this decision compromise my safety?  Will waiting end up costing me more in the future? 

I don’t like to go into my mechanic’s shop with an issue blind.  There’s nothing worse than paying for two hours of labor only to be told, “I’m sorry, we couldn’t duplicate the problem,” or “We can fix it, but I’d wait until your annual.” 

You don’t have to be a mechanic to own a copy of The Aviation Maintenance Technician Manual.  This is a great book to help you get a general idea of what’s wrong with your plane and look for quotes on the fix.  A little up front knowledge will really ease your anxiety when it’s time to turn your plane over to the shop.   

Airplane ownership is a fantastic journey, but go into it with your eyes open.  Check out the Pilot Mall Airplane Maintenance and Ownership library.  As a proud new airplane owner, you’ll be glad you did.

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