5 questions to ask before purchasing an airplane


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Ask a Lender
October 23, 2017 | Updated November 14, 2017


Row-of-airplanes-deciding-which-to-buy

Key Points

5 questions to ask when airplane shopping

  1. Why do you need an airplane?
  2. How many passengers do you intend to carry?
  3. How fast do you need to go?
  4. What is your budget?
  5. How much sweat equity can you provide?

Even if you’ve never purchased an airplane before, it should come as no surprise that the process is more complicated than buying a car or a truck. If you’re buying an airplane for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to start.

It’s best to carefully consider what kind of airplane best suits your needs — it’s a large investment that you’re probably going to have for a while, so you want to make sure you’re happy with it. Start by asking yourself the following five questions to help you focus as you shop for a plane.

1. Why do you need an airplane?

Why do you need (or want) an airplane? The answer to that question will help you determine what kind of plane best suits your needs. If you intend to fly locally on the weekends, for example, your needs will be different than if you intend to fly cross-country for business meetings. A common rule of thumb is the “90 percent rule,” which advises pilots to purchase a plane that will meet their needs 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent of the time, renting an airplane should suit your needs.

2. How many passengers do you intend to carry?

If you’re a recreational solo-pilot, you may be fine with a light-sport aircraft that only has room for one passenger. On the other hand, if you’re planning to take the entire family along on vacations, you will need to opt for a larger plane that accommodates more passengers. Keep in mind that some light aircraft can’t be fully fueled if every seat is occupied, limiting your range.

3. How fast do you need to go?

Do you have a need for speed? Although fast aircraft can be fun, keep in mind that there are inevitable tradeoffs for that speed. Aircraft with faster top speeds tend to be more expensive and less fuel efficient. They also typically have retractable landing gear, making them more complex to fly and maintain. On the other hand, a faster plane gets you to your destination faster, saving you time. And did we mention they can be fun to fly?

4. What is your budget?

Remember, the cost of an airplane goes far beyond the purchase price. You need to budget money for insurance, maintenance, fuel, storage and tie-down fees, and other unexpected expenses. With these expenses in mind, ensure you purchase a plane well within your budget so you’re not stretched thin when it comes time to do major repairs or maintenance.

5. How much sweat equity can you provide?

Kit airplanes, also known as homebuilt or amateur-built aircraft, can be more affordable than certified aircraft — aircraft whose manufacture is overseen and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The major disadvantage of a homebuilt aircraft is the time that must be invested in building it. Building an aircraft also requires a great deal of skill. If you’re not mechanically inclined, you may be better off purchasing a plane that’s already been built. Because homebuilt airplanes are less regulated, you are open to greater customization than with a certified aircraft.

Bonus: How do I get airplane financing?

Once you determine what kind of airplane to buy, you may find that you need a loan to pay for it. Getting preapproved for an airplane loan gives you an advantage during the buying process. Lenders will want to evaluate your credit score, income and outstanding debts. Lenders will most likely ask for several months’ work of bank statements and the past two years’ tax returns. You’ll also need to provide the lender information on the make, model and condition of the airplane you wish to purchase.


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