By GUY R. MAHER
So you are ready to buy your first plane? Great! But before you do, how about reviewing my top 10 list of first time buyer mistakes:
1. Not defining “why” you want to own. This may sound silly, because we all have lots of reasons as to why we want to own.
But defining your main purpose(s) for owning is paramount to then determining if the effort and cost of owning is truly worth it.
Are you sick of the renting hassle? Are you looking for more capability in an aircraft than is presently not available through rental or a club? Do you just want to have your own plane for pride of ownership? All of the above? None of the above?
Notice I didn’t include any incentive related to cost, such as “Want to reduce your cost of flying?” Why? Because in most cases, that rarely happens unless you are going to be flying a considerable amount more than you do through renting. But that doesn’t mean that ownership doesn’t make sense for you. It just means you must clearly define your goals for ownership.
2. Picking the wrong airplane. This one is a biggie. I see so many buyers proclaim they need much more plane than is really practical or affordable.
The mission is the key. If you are going to be doing most of your flying within a 200-mile radius and with only one passenger, yet you buy that six-place plane for those two trips per year of 400 miles and four people, that’s not maximizing your investment.
There are many other factors that go into the selection of a particular type of plane, as well as how it’s equipped. We all lust for more plane than we can fully utilize. The key is buying smart for the majority of your flying, not the minority.
3. Not being realistic about the cost of ownership. Just because you’ve decided you want to own a plane — for whatever reason — doesn’t mean you are able.
Digging deep into the cost of ownership of the plane we’ve determined makes sense and then being honest with yourself as to the impact those costs will have on your non-flying life is critical.
Besides the purchase price, which most first-time buyers concentrate on, the real expenses to consider are two-fold: First are the fixed costs — they happen regardless of whether the plane is flown or not. These include insurance, storage, property taxes, and interest if you are financing.
Then there are direct costs — those that occur when you do fly. These include fuel, oil, and maintenance — both scheduled and unscheduled — and reserves for overhauls.
Find out from other owners, forums, local mechanics, etc., what the true costs and potential cost exposures are. Then make that most critical decision of what to own, or to own at all.
4. Trusting the wrong advice. So how do you know the advice is right or wrong? You know by vetting the advisor.
Announce you want to buy a plane and you’ll be bombarded with advice from friends, CFIs, local mechanics, line crew, FBO managers — the list goes on.
I’ve seen many a good plane maligned, or the wrong plane recommended by airport hangar-flying “experts” who had no operational and/or ownership experience with the brand.
Before you accept any advice from the locals, ask one direct question, “How much flying, owning, or maintaining experience do you have with this model?”
5. Skimping on the vetting process. Do not skimp on hiring the correct help and letting that help do their job properly and thoroughly. This includes prepurchase inspections, documents review, title searches, valuations, and contracting, to name a few. This is no time to cut corners.
6. Maxing out the budget on purchase price. If your budget is $70,000 and you blow it all on the purchase, you’re in for trouble. Do not go into any purchase without a solid cash reserve put away for those first-year surprises. Between 5% to 10% of the purchase price is not out of the ordinary, especially if the plane is complex.
7. Mishandle obtaining insurance. Aircraft insurance is not like any other. Going from broker to broker asking for quotes will do you way more harm than good. Ask around for references. Pick a broker, then let him or her go to work for you.
8. Not joining a type club for your plane. Chances are there is at least one active type-specific organization for the plane you are buying. Join it. They are a wealth of advice, comfort, fun, and overall support for your ownership experience.
9. Not obtaining training from a type-specific instructor. Oh sure, if you’ve been flying 172s forever and now buy one, it may not be as critical. But contrary to what some may tell you, all planes do not fly alike. Find a CFI who really knows that plane and you’ll be trained to get the most enjoyment and utility out of your new purchase.
10. Not seeking qualified advice. It’s easy to feel like an “expert” after a few nights of reading all the buying guides, playing with Vref, and cruising the ads. But the truth is they only skim the surface. This is no time to pretend you are the expert.
I know this might seem discouraging or frightening. Although that’s not the intent, buying a plane requires the same respect for the traps as the act of flying itself.
Besides being professionally involved with aircraft sales and training for more than 40 years, I’ve personally owned more than 30 aircraft from single, to twins, to helicopters. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes. But that didn’t mask the pure joy and rewards I received — and still receive — from ownership. There’s nothing like it.
And when planned and executed properly, owning is a true joy. Good luck and happy hunting!
Guy Maher has been providing professional aircraft buying and selling assistance, and type-specific training for over 40 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.