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Thinking about buying an aircraft

Anyone who has learned how to fly has probably also thought about owning an aircraft at some point as well. If this sounds like you then you may also be asking “What type of aircraft is best for me? How much will it cost? Where will I keep it?” and so on. Answers to these questions require patience but here are a few ideas to get you started. Feel free to talk with members or staff of the Brantford Flying Club for guidance when considering the purchase of an aircraft. We work with small aircraft every day!

What are your needs?

The Brantford Flying Club use Cessna single engine aircraft (aka certified aircraft) as opposed to experimental types which are not suitable for commercial flight training. Many private aircraft in use today are certified aircraft made by Cessna, Piper, Diamond, Cirrus and many others.

Once you are familiar with the small aircraft market (aka general aviation), you can focus in on the size and style of aircraft. Also the load requirements, range, speed, and avionic options.

Consider these thoughts and any remaining questions such as:

Does the type of flying you prefer require a basic or more advanced aircraft? Will I use the aircraft enough to justify the expense or should I continue to rent? Can I really afford to own at this time?

High wing vs. low wing

The choice between a high or low wing aircraft should really be based upon personal preference although some may argue the technical comparisons of aerodynamics including slips, stalls, dihedral and flare characteristics. The benefits of high wing over low include the convenience of checking main wheels/ brakes and fuel samples, it’s easier to enter the cabin (some low wing models have only one cabin entrance), access to wing tie-downs and using the bracing struts for pushing the aircraft. Fuel supply is gravity fed so boost pumps are not required but may be equipped for high performance. The benefits of low wing over high include not having to worry about hitting your head on the wing during pre-flight, it’s easier to check fuel levels without having to climb up to dip the tanks.

The overall visibility from the cabin may also become the deciding factor. The best view from high wing aircraft is mainly downwards which is beneficial in the air for looking below. The view from a low wing is mainly upwards and an advantage from the ground as well as from the air when looking out and above.

How much does an aircraft cost?

Narrowing down the cost of an aircraft is dependent upon the type of aircraft that you have determined would meet your needs. Once in that specific range of comparing aircraft types the cost will be largely based upon the age of the aircraft, time on the engine and installed equipment. From there the rest are details to most buyers.

Keep in mind that there are many 20 and 30 year old aircraft out there and they remain very common in today’s marketplace. They just don’t age like your average car does.

Costs involved with purchasing the aircraft should include your time spent actually looking at aircraft on site, getting a pre-purchase inspection (or 2, or 3), actually buying the aircraft and paying the required taxes.

Costs of ongoing ownership are often categorized as fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs include insurance, storage fees and regular maintenance (out-of-phase items/ annual inspection). Variable (hourly) costs include fuel, additional oil changes and a maintenance/ engine overhaul fund. The hourly rate considers the cost per year divided by flying hours for those who prefer to keep track. Additional costs may include aircraft damage, issuance of an Airworthiness Directive (AD) requiring a mandatory inspection or repair scheme, maintenance findings affecting the airworthiness of the aircraft or avionic repairs and upgrades.

Where can the aircraft be stored?

Small aircraft are usually stored either inside a hangar or outside in a designated tie-down spot. Renting a hangar is more expensive but it also protects the aircraft from the harmful effects of the weather. The traditional tee hangars fit only one aircraft but allow you to also store your extra aircraft supplies in a safe place. Sometimes more affordable space is available in large hangars where the space is shared with other tenants. If an outdoor spot is your last option then ensure that you use the appropriate covers on the airframe and gust locks on the control surfaces. Aircraft ownership can also be more affordable through a partnership while ensuring that you enter this type of arrangement with someone whom you trust and can get along with.

Doing the research

There are many sources available when looking to purchase an aircraft. Most airports have a bulletin board for posting personal ads for aircraft, hangars, block time, pilot supplies or whatever. An aircraft broker can help you locate the type of aircraft that you have in mind or you can visit an aircraft dealership for new or used models. Buying a new aircraft these days can be expensive but you also have the advantage of the latest equipment and factory support. Many people by used because most models hold their value and you can still upgrade your equipment as desired.

Aviation publications such as Trade-A-Plane, Controller, Aviation Consumer or the COPA newsletter carry an endless supply of aircraft for your shopping pleasure. The COPA website is a valuable resource going into much greater detail of how to buy an aircraft. You will also need to learn the terminology for the ads such as TTSN, SMOH, STOH, SPOH, NDH etc. And of course the internet can lead you to all sorts of listings of aircraft and their descriptions, reviews, flight tests and even type clubs that focus on certain models. Sometimes there are small yet significant design changes between year and model that you may want to check out. An abundance of insider information can also be learned by talking with flight instructors, owners, mechanics and other enthusiasts. The aviation community is a more personal and encouraging part of the process that you will remain part of throughout your travels.

Making the deal

The process of determining all of the ideas mentioned above eventually leads to a decision. That decision is hopefully made with confidence once you know what it is you are looking for. In most cases if you are a new pilot, a simple aircraft is the best choice to get you started and comfortable with the ownership experience. Then you can move up from there. That is not always the case, but either way you have some more information to work with concerning your purchase.

When it comes time to make your purchase, don’t be led by your emotions but rather the results of your research and pre-purchase inspection. Purchasing an aircraft can be exciting like any other big purchase but pay attention to the details and everything should work out fine.

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