Finding the Right Plane


April 2016

It’s really going to happen. You’re going to buy an airplane! There are numerous considerations and I will only focus on two of them. First - what type of plane is right for you? And secondly, after settling on the type, how do you find the exact plane?

Look at the kind of flying you want to do. Do you have a legitimate need for regular, long-distance transportation? If so, are you instrument rated? Multi-engine? If not, do you have the funds (and the time) to earn these ratings? Or do you want to fly primarily short distance for recreation, with perhaps one or two longer trips each year? Are you more interested in getting to business meetings or local fly-ins?

You might consider asking other aircraft owners about their choices and experiences. Ask your instructor, if you have one at the time. Contact local mechanics for their suggestions. Much like car shopping, you should never consider one recommendation. Don’t forget your spouse and other family members that might possibly be co-pilots or passengers. Buy-in from the relatives is very important, and if your airplane won’t accommodate them all (or all their stuff) it can make a huge difference. If you spouse feels cramped and claustrophobic, flying vacations may be out of the picture.

With all of this in mind, look for a type that meets 95% of your expectations. Almost no airplane is equally as desirable for cross-country IFR transportation as it is for local sightseeing and short-distance landings at a fly-in. A lot of light-sport planes are owned by a pilot who also has a second aircraft, for the very reason that no single airplane does it all. If your funding is a little more limited, you’ll want to aim at something that will do almost everything you’d like, realizing that you may want to rent the local trainer for fun flying if you buy an IFR ship, or take the airline for business and vacations if you choose an aircraft just for flying in your local area.

Now that you’ve narrowed down the type, it’s time to find the right airplane. Take a realistic look at your finances. Sometimes pilots will buy the most expensive airplane they can afford. But a prospective plane owner should allow themselves a bit of space between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Unless it is a brand new airplane, with factory warranties, you may want to budget for the inevitable repairs that come with almost any used airplane, maybe even enough money for one or two really essential upgrades, and, most important, the cash to actually own and fly the plane. This includes costs such as fuel, hangar, inspections, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and repairs, and, yes, insurance. The last thing you want is a relatively minor unanticipated expense to take you over budget and ground you.

Much like automobiles the type of plane, its age, condition and upgrades will be a factor of the annual insurance cost. Although there are exceptions, Avemco’s® experience paying claims suggests you might want to aim for airplanes no more than about 40 years old if you want to have the best chance of finding parts and support when you need them. Call us prior to purchasing and we can provide you with an estimate to insure your future purchase.

Now, talk to the experts. Almost all models are represented by a “type club.” There’s a comprehensive list of type clubs and contact information on the Air Affair site at* Give them a shout and benefit from their knowledge. When you begin to focus on a particular make and model, join its type club and gain access to their website and entire newsletter or magazine history. The small investment in dues and back issues could be well worth it, and the club will provide leads to members’ airplanes that are for sale. It will also help you find a mechanic to conduct a pre-purchase inspection of potential airplanes, and an instructor to check you out in the type when you find the plane that’s right for you. The importance of a thorough pre-purchase inspection can’t be overstated. Just because a plane has a great paint job and beautiful interior doesn’t mean it hasn’t been run through the mill. Damage can be hidden with a fresh coat of paint. And the FARs do not require that all damage be specified in the logbooks. For example, there is nothing that says an owner has to admit to a gear-up landing, only the repairs that have been made. If the engine and prop have been replaced, it may take a trained eye and experienced skeptic to discern why. If the tail has been reskinned, it may be hangar rash or corrosion. And, if it is corrosion, has it been dealt with properly?

Finally, use your Avemco Aviation Insurance Specialist as a resource. Call us and let us know what you’re thinking. Our underwriters will be able to answer many of your questions about specific makes and models of airplanes. Think of your time and effort spent on research as “buying smart” and you most likely will be rewarded with a positive experience.

Good luck and good shopping!

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Marci is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and has been with Avemco since 1987 serving general aviation aircraft owners and pilots. Marci holds a property/casualty insurance and life health license in all 50 states and has extensive knowledge of aviation insurance and the aircraft that Avemco covers. Additionally, she is active in Avemco’s loss prevention efforts developing educational programs and training for her staff. She has been a member of Women in Aviation International since 2001 and a member of the local DC chapter. In March 2015 Marci was elected to the Women in Aviation International Board of Directors.

Avemco® does not provide technical or legal advice, and is not affiliated with companies whose products and services are highlighted, advertised, or discussed in content contained herein. Content is for general information and discussion only, and is not a full analysis of the matters presented. The information provided may not be applicable in all situations, and readers should always seek specific advice from the FAA and/or appropriate technical and legal experts (including the most current applicable guidelines) before taking any action with respect to any matters discussed herein. In addition, columns and articles solely reflect the views of their respective authors, and should also not be regarded as technical or legal advice.