How to buy an aircraft
Choosing the aircraft that is right for you.

To buy an aircraft is not a simple matter, even if you are experienced. An aircraft, carefully chosen and properly maintained can end up costing you as little as the fuel and oil over a period of time, or you may incur significant losses. Click here to share your own experiences, and scroll down from this point to read about others experiences.

Narrowing the Selection

There are many considerations to take into account when choosing which aircraft to buy.
First answer this question:

1. For what purpose do you want to buy an aircraft?
This will help you decide what performance you require,ie how many people do you want to carry? How much luggage? How far do you need to fly?

Many light aircraft cannot fill all the passenger seats and still carry full fuel. Check that the loading capacity of your potential aircraft suites you BEFORE you buy it. This will narrow the types of aircraft you will look at somewhat.

If you just want to have fun, land on the beach for breakfast, or flip over to the battlefields for a picnic lunch with your loved one or a friend, then something like a Bantam could be an excellent choice with it's 30m take off and landing roll (the 6 cylinder one)

If you are going to be operating from higher altitudes, eg. based in Jo'burg, where you are already at 5500 feet before you start, (and have you remembered to do your density altitude calculations?) You want buy an aircraft with enough power to actually get off the ground on a hot day. Perhaps something with a turbo?

2. How much money are you planning to spend?

Consider not only the purchase price, but the running costs, which include not only fuel and oil, but also MPI's major inspections, hangarage, insurance, excess insurance, pre-purchase inspections (a very solid investment when trying to avoid unforseen maintenance costs!), and how close the aircraft is to engine, propeller and airframe overhauls.

3. Is speed important to you?

Retractable undercarriages and bigger engines are more expensive to maintain and run. Both of these, as will as aircraft design, contribute significantly to aircraft speed. Also consider the type of strips you will be flying in to before you buy an aircraft. Do you need a more rugged undercarriage?

It is a good idea to take your time, page through ads, get an idea of prices, and what is fair.

Find an Aircraft Guru

Before you buy an aircraft, find an aircraft guru, someone you can trust, who has been in the aircraft game for, preferably, decades. Use their experience to your advantage.

The best way to find someone reputable to assist you with your decision is your local AMO (Aircraft Maintenance Organisation), the same guys you will be taking your aircraft to for it regular maintenance. Since AMO's deal with aircraft all the time. They are aware of what to look out for in which aircraft.

A shiny new paint job and a pretty interior can blind the potential aircraft owner into believing the inner workings and structure of this 10, 15, 20 year old aircraft are just as clean and shiny. (Lets hope your cylinder heads are not, because then you will be in for spending some impressive petty cash!)

There are many potential hidden pitfalls in purchasing a previously owned aircraft. Many aircraft salesmen/women are either not aware of them, or might not take the time educate you about them. Some examples are that a propeller has to have a mid life inspection every 5 years and an overhaul every 10 years. If the propeller comes up short on its next inspection, it could cost you from a new blade to a complete replacement, including the hub.

A good AMO will measure the prop for you on a pre-purchase inspection and let you know what you could be taking on before you buy an aircraft. Then there are engine considerations. For example, an engine that is 12 years old has to, by law, go though a very thorough (and potentially costly) inspection. Blow-by's give an indication of the engine's health. (A bit like your ECG in your Aviation Medical tells on you). Hoses need replacing periodically, engine mount rubbers, many many little things that add up quickly if you do not know what to look for.

Then there a is the airframe. What if your first inspection reveals a corroded spar, which might cost you R100 000 to replace, and a 12 week waiting period to arrive on back order?

The best thing you can do is get a pre-purchase inspection done by your local AMO. They will remain accountable to you in the future.Your AMO will also be able to give you an accurate idea of your running cost, which will include your fuel burn, maintenance, insurance, hangarage, and so on.

The Artful Sidestep - buying cheap, directly from America

"Goed koop is duur koop" - (translation: Buying cheap is buying expensive).  Buying your aircraft from abroad may seem a cheaper option, even with the costs of ferrying or boxing it to this country for re-assembly, but there is something else you need to be aware of.

In America it is only necessary for aircraft owners to comply with FAA Airworthiness Directives(AD). South Africa, and the rest of the world comply with the Manufacturer's Service Bulletins, (MSB). The MSB's are the more stringent of the two, and can be in one of three categories:
>> Mandatory
>> Critical, or
>> Advisory/Recommended
eg. There is a MSB for the Cessna 172, requiring 5 fuel drains per wing. The AD does not require this. You buy an aircraft, a Cessna 172, in America for an excellent price and ferry it into South Africa. Then you find out you have to comply with the MSB before the SACAA will allow your aircraft to be registered.

So now your aircraft will now cost you around R20 000 more than you were expecting. This is just one example of many.

When Aircraft Power & Systems exceed Pilot Ability

Although it may seem more appropriate for you to be seen in a Cessna 210, a Baron or a Bonnie than a Cessna 182, Cherokee 235 or Cherokee 6, since the former may reflect your position, status and personal preference better, it may not be such a clever idea to leap into ownership of the former types with a fresh PPL.

Many a pilot has paid with his life and the lives of his passengers for taking on an aircraft that he was just not yet ready to handle.

If reading this is starting to make you angry or eliciting some other emotional response in you, then this advice is for you. Heed warnings.

Start with a less powerful aircraft and build your way up to the more powerful one you desire. You did not get to the powerful and prosperous position you are in now overnight. It took time. Just because you have a flying license, doesn't mean you are capable of flying a powerful aircraft, directly after your forgiving, low powered, simple, training aircraft. We like you. Live a little longer. Build up to it. You will be glad you did, even if it is secretly.

The bonus? You will pay less insurance if you buy an aircraft that is a little more basic when you first begin to fly. If the aircraft insurance guys are loading your premium, go look at the accident statistics. They are probably also placing in-office bets on your life expectancy.

Take your time, do your homework, don't rush your decision when you buy an aircraft.

Do you have good advice or tips about buying an aircraft?

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