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Pre-Purchase Aircraft Inspections

The most important things you will do becoming an aircraft owner is “The Purchase”. Purchasing an aircraft is not like purchasing a “Car”.  It is far more difficult. There are many things to consider, among them are; 

  • Your ability to fly that aircraft. Is it too much for You? 
  • How was the aircraft maintained? 
  • Has “ALL” the work on the plane been recorded in the logbook? 
  • Does the logbook match the work that is listed in the Airworthiness Record File at the FAA? 
  • Has the aircraft been in an "accident or had major damage?" 

Major damage or a "prop strike" are important things to know about an aircraft "BEFORE You purchase it". 

It is hard to reconcile that a lot of aircraft are purchased sight-unseen! We have been involved with dozens over the years. You need a very experienced Mechanic to know where to look, and for what!  NEVER let the Seller perform an Annual as a part of a purchase! You purchase the aircraft "SUBJECT-TO" an Annual by an Independent IA of YOUR choosing. These are the FAAs guidelines on what should be included in an annual inspection; Remember, the Seller wants a sale. It’s no different than buying a used car, except your life might depend on it! The costs for us to do a Pre-Purchase Inspection on most PISTON aircraft is $150 per hour, which includes a full aircraft inspection, record audit, and AD search.  A TURBINE aircraft Pre-Purchase cost is $200 per hour due to additional aircraft inspections such as bore-scoping the hot-section(s), avionics suites, etc.

The average Pre-Buy Inspection costs about 2-5% of the purchase price being asked by the seller. It makes no difference if the aircraft has a current Annual Inspection, because most accomplished just prior to offering the aircraft for sale are not comprehensive, nor do they comply with the checklist found in FAR 43, Appendix D  (Annual and 100-Hour Inspections checklist and our Annual Inspection Flowchart.   The Annual is advertised by the Seller to facilitate the sale. This is why the FAA created Regulations that provides for fines and penalties for anyone misrepresenting an aircraft for sale. Always have someone qualified, not part of the sale, do a comprehensive Pre-Buy Inspection.

How to Rate an Aircraft for Sale!

When you decide to purchase an aircraft, divide the aircraft into three elements:

  • The Airframe
  • The Engine(s)
  • The Avionics

If the Airframe lacks integrity, such as serious internal corrosion, pass it up!

The Avionics are really easy. What is the value of what is installed if you need to replace it? If it has very sophisticated Avionics, such as a Garmin 1000 system, what does it cost to repair it if something goes wrong? (You are looking at used equipment, and it does fail!) Lastly, what will hurt you potentially quickly, are the engine or engines

  • How much time is on them?
  • Who overhauled them?
  • Was it a field overhaul, factory overhaul, factory rebuild?

All these make a big difference! In most cases you must assume that you will need to overhaul the engine(s) within a few hours after the purchase. It might make more sense to buy an aircraft with run-out engines at TBO because you know what will be needed, and you'll buy the aircraft much cheaper. However, you must review the engine maintenance records to see how the engines were operated and maintained to assure they will be acceptable for overhaul. Also, if you buy an aircraft with time allegedly left on the engines, what internal PMA parts have been installed? How many engine parts have been replaced along the way?

A very nice pic of a Rockwell 112

Great Paint, Great Interior! Bad Engine, Bad Prop!

Think of a Realtor selling a house. They go through an extensive staging process landscaping, painting, installing cheap "Realtor Carpet", and renting furniture, all to make it more appealing visually. 

Aircraft brokers do the same thing, including a current Annual. Never buy an aircraft with a current Annual if someone affiliated with the broker did it!  At one point we reviewed a Rockwell 112 for a customer. The paint and interior were about an 8. The avionics were all operable, but were old style, not the new Garmin type. However, when the cowling was removed, it was a completely corroded engine and prop! It had spent over 10 years on a tiedown. Also, it had only flown less than 100 hours in 8 years. The owner thought it was priced right with comparables at $50K+, but in actuality, because the engine and prop needed overhaul, the value was really about $20K. Our customer was very pleased that we had accomplished a Pre-Buy Inspection! The aircraft and engine only had 1200 hours since new, but was never maintained properly.

A Vintage Bonanza!

A Vintage Bonanza, 1947-1956, can be a good investment, if you have a qualified person do the Pre-Buy Inspection. Again, three elements:
  1. Airframe (the most important)
  2. The Engine
  3. The Avionics
If the Airframe, with many Magnesium components, is not in excellent condition, it can be a financial disaster!
  • Airframe cost $15-$20K (assuming the flaps, ailerons, and ruddervators are OK!)
  • Engine overhaul cost (E-Series) $25-$30K (Including upgrade to E-225)
  • Propeller overhaul cost (either Beech electric or hydraulic) $3500
  • Avionics install cost (Garmin 430 system) $10K

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