Please help me! Some of you who know me are probably saying I’ve needed help for years, but this is something even more serious than helping some old guy who’s been in this industry for a long time. I’m asking all of you to do your small part in getting the word out about the importance of getting a good pre-purchase inspection before buying an airplane.
I recently learned about a situation that made me very angry and, after I provide you with a few details, I hope it will anger you too and make you want to be part of getting the word out to, hopefully, help others avoid a similar situation. It seems that an individual came into some new money and, always having had an interest in general aviation, decided it was time for him to buy his first aircraft. I’m not certain of his background or his knowledge of our industry, but he had money to spend and was about to jump in with both feet. I don’t know who he spoke with — if anyone — before making the purchase, but the end result was not good.
He bought a Piper Chieftain that had just come out of a fresh annual inspection, so all should be good…right? Wrong, and it gets worse. After he paid for the plane, the new owner contacted a very experienced FAA IA and experienced pilot to check out the aircraft. It’s a darn good thing it did.
The Chieftain was given a very thorough inspection even though it had “a fresh annual” recorded in the logbooks. The inspection revealed several serious mechanical issues, the first being a critically cracked engine mount on one engine. The inspection also revealed that almost the entire exhaust system on one engine was unserviceable. The exhaust system contained several pieces that were nearly paper thin, obviously a result of improper operation, which usually is a result of excessive leaning. One of the turbocharger transition assemblies was also cracked, again probably as a result of excessive leaning.
All of the items that were found on the “fresh annual” aircraft could have resulted in an engine fire in flight or loss of a complete engine during flight. The word frightening seems to be an understatement in this case. By the way, the new owner felt even more confident about his purchase because this aircraft had just come off of a Part 135 operation, therefore he assumed it had to be well maintained.
How do we get the word out to potential aircraft buyers that it’s a “buyer beware” environment we live in and there are those who may take advantage of the unknowing?
Here’s the challenge I put to each and everyone of you. Please go out of your way to talk to anyone who may be thinking of buying a new or different aircraft. Plead with them, if necessary, to have a good pre-purchase inspection completed by a qualified maintenance facility or a knowledgeable technician. Sure, this may cost some money, but the results of such an inspection could save lots more money later — and maybe even save a life. Always remember what I’ve preached for years in my technical seminars: You cannot put a price tag on safety!
There are many used aircraft that can be bought for, say, $20,000 and to an individual who has the desire to join us in this great industry/hobby, this amount of money may not be out of their reach financially. However, this initial purchase price is just the tip of the iceberg. The annual operating cost, which is more than the cost of fuel, should be carefully considered, including other important things such as inspections, insurance, and hangar rent, including insurance for that also.
Let’s draw a parallel to owning a house versus renting. When you buy a house, there are inspections that take place and certain requirements that must be met before the sale can be finalized. Then it’s up to you as the new owner to pay the mortgage, pay for homeowners insurance, electricity, gas, oil or whatever type of heat you have, telephone, TV cable, and refuse removal — and let’s not forget taxes and other incidentals. My point is the initial cost of the house is just the beginning. The same may be applied to buying an aircraft.
We’d like to encourage anyone who has a passion to fly to consider the big picture before making your decision.
This may appear that I’m trying to put people off from becoming an aircraft owner, but that’s not my point at all. I’m just trying to prevent people who have a passion for aviation to avoid a situation that may cost them more than they are prepared to pay and turn them against our industry forever.
I may have ruffled some feathers with this plea for help, but if I can get just one person to read and digest the information here, it’s all worth it. So, please join me in trying to educate the masses of the pitfalls that can be avoided with a little thought and the use of common sense.
In my next column, I’ll return to answering some of the questions you’ve been kind enough to submit to General Aviation News.
Paul McBride, an expert on engines, retired after almost 40 years with Lycoming. Send your questions to: AskPaul@GeneralAviationNews.com.