Buying a Used Single Engine Aircraft

Scott F. Smith


Buying a Used Single Engine Aircraft
Engine Research & Installation
Avionics Research & Installation
Air Frame Repair
Finding a Flight School
Negotiating a Lease Back Agreement
Commercial Operations
Cash Flow Analysis

I wasn't exactly sure how to go about buying a used aircraft, so I attended Scott "Sky" Smith's seminar on "How to Buy a Single Engine Aircraft," at the 2003 AOPA Fly-In.

Scott's advise was to find the least expensive plane possible, fix it up, and lease it back to a flight school to offset the cost of ownership. The plane he recommended was the Cessna 150 or 152.

My Dad and I agreed with what Scott had said in the seminar, and after the meeting. Dad said to me, "You'll never know how much it is going to cost until you do it for yourself." I think I can still hear words echoing in my headset.

I began picking up rag sheet magazines like Trade-A-Plane, Controller, and the like and began to scour the pages for 150's and 152's that might make a reasonable choice. I decided I wasn't going to do this unless I was going to learn to fly in the plane we bought.

I also ordered "Sky" Smith's book, "How to Buy a Single Engine Aircraft," and read it from cover to cover.

The first paragraph his book starts like this,  "Buying an aircraft is a major decision. Not just because an aircraft costs money (so do cars, boats, and computers), but also because an aircraft puts a lot of things at risk. Considerations like personal safety and financial security can be compromised. Sometimes the aircraft does more than the buyer needs, costs more than the buyer can afford, or is more difficult to operate than the buyer expected."

I think Sky is saying is that it is easy to buy an airplane, but more difficult to manage, maintain, and mitigate the risk than most people think...that is...if you don't have a good plan, good credit, or a lot of cash.

As I continued my research, I found several planes that were possible candidates. I was mostly searching for a Cessna 172P models and Cessna 150' or 152's 1968 or newer. After about 3 weeks of research I found N50037 on Trade-A-Plane.

I e-mailed the web-link to my Dad, President/CEO of Oakton International Corporation,  and my brother Mark who lives in Pompano Beach, Florida.

N50037 just so happened to be at Tampa Bay Executive Airport in New Port Richey, FL, just across the State from Mark, so I called the owner, Art Michaud, and he said that there already was a buyer who was supposed to put a down payment on the plane by Friday, but if that buyer didn't come through the plane was available again.

Art and I seem to communicate well on the phone, and we established a rapport that I was serious about purchasing his plane.

I would soon begin to realize that buying a plane is not like buying a car, especially a used plane.

With a car, you test drive it, pop the hood, maybe check the oil, look underneath for leaks, listen for rattles, and if you are satisfied with the product, maybe begin negotiating terms with the owner. If everything goes well, you may drive away and park it in your driveway a few days later.

A plane, however, is a completely different beast, and if you are asleep, you may wake up next to Godzilla.

What should everybody do when considering purchasing a plane?

#1. Get a pre-buy inspection by a mechanic with an FAA Inspection Authorization (IA) certificate at a different airport, and who is not the owner's mechanic.

#2. Do a title search with the FAA. Anyone can order a CD-ROM of any Civil aircraft from the FAA for $5, or have the Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association (AOPA) send you the Portable Document Format (PDF) files by e-mail. You can also join their legal services plan for a nominal fee each year.

#3. Look thoroughly through the log books. If in doubt, ask your IA to do this for you, or with you. If you don't, you may be sorry. Incomplete log books are trouble, especially if the plane is going to be in a flight school. Also, you may find yourself trying to comply with the complete history of Airworthiness Directives ever published for the plane you bought. Big dollars! I think the most two important things related to buying an airplane are the Engine and the Log Books.

#4. How many hours are on the engine Total Time (TT) and Since Major Overhaul (SMOH). Having a cylinder swapped out doesn't constitute an overhaul. Someone going through the entire engine, swapping all four cylinder's replacing bearings, X-Raying the crank case for cracks, etc., now that's an overhaul.

#5.What kind of Avionics does it have? Is it IFR Certified? Avionics can be more expensive than the engine overhaul. It is not uncommon to drop $14,000 on a new radio, indicators, audio panels, etc.

#6. What Condition is the Airframe in? There is no such thing as a "little corrosion." Having a little corrosion is like having a little cancer. Corrosion can be a big killer to a purchase.

#7. What Condition is the Interior in? Ripped up seats, broken knobs, all contribute to reduction in value and price can be negotiated down if the interior is unacceptable

#8. Exterior? What does it look like? Does it have any curb appeal? This is what most flight school students see first, thus, if it looks nice, it must fly nice. Shallow, but that is what people think.

#9. Price. VRef is an excellent place to start with respect to finding a price that is reasonable for the age and type of aircraft sought. The pre-buy inspection should reveal items that can help negotiate the price down, because believe me, everything you negotiate down you are going to put right back into the plane to make it right.

I could come up with about 50 more things to look at, but the items above are typically the order that things should happen.

Sad, but true, but most people who buy an aircraft do these in exactly the wrong order, and I am not excluded from this crowd. I have had my share of "learning experiences" with taming Godzilla.


• Home • Introduction • Buying and Aircraft • Engine Research & Inst. • Avionics Research & Inst. • Air Frame Repair • Finding a Flight School • Negotiating a Lease Back Agreement • Insurance • Maintenance • Commercial Operations • Cash Flow Analysis • Conclusion •

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