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How to Buy a Used Airplane

Thereare a number of questions that can be asked on how to buy a used airplane. Through clubs or private organizations you can rent a plane on almost any given day. However, owning provides the pride of ownership, increased flexibility in flight times, and increased control over upkeep. Which choice makes the most sense for you? The costs of buying an airplane include a down payment, principal and interest on a loan, insurance, storage, the annual inspection, regular maintenance, taxes and fuel. How much can you afford? Are you interested in acrobatics, sightseeing, fun flying, short trips or cross-country trips? The best type and model depends on how you plan to use the plane. Once you've decided on a model and a price range, how do you find, inspect and buy a used airplane?

Used Airplane versus Airplane rental/borrow

To help clarify the trade-offs, add up how much you currently spend on rentals, and compare this number to the annual cost for owning an airplane. If you fly 50 to 75 hours a year and spend $50/hour on rentals, you are already spending $2,500 to $3,750/year. An inexpensive plane with a grass tie down might even cost you less to buy a used airplane. Besides the financial aspect, there are other trade-offs to consider. With rentals, you can fly different planes and don't have to worry about maintenance. With owning a used airplane, you almost always have access to your plane on your schedule and you can control maintenance and upkeep.

Used Airplane Financing

If you are borrowing the money from a bank, calculate yoiur down payment and the monthly payment based on current interest rates. If you are buying a used airplane 100% with your own money, don't forget to include the opportunity cost. That is, how would you have invested the money if you buy a used airplane, and how much interest are you forgoing through this purchase.

Used Airplane Insurance

There are two types, liability and hull. The liability protects your assets against claims arising from an accident involving the use of your plane. It may be required in your state. The hull insurance covers physical damage to your aircraft and is often required by lending institutions. Insurance may range from $700 to $2,000/year for a small, inexpensive airplane depending on the options chosen.

Used Airplane Storage

Options range from grass tie downs to heater hangers. Tie downs are cheaper, but hangars provide protection from sun, precipitation, wind and vandalism. Tie downs range from grass spots where you'll have to install your own anchors to marked stalls on concrete pavement. There are several choices in hangars- the most common is the T-hangar. Planes are arranged in rows facing in alternating directions. Some hangars are two walls with a roof, providing limited protection from wind and vandalism. Some are heated but cost more. Some are chaotic cramming in as many aircraft as possible. An additional cost may be "hangar rash" when the tips of the wings of one aircraft brush against another. Prices vary based on the type of amenities and the location. Check with your local air strip for more specific rates.

Used Airplane Operations

Airport fees and fuel. The actual amount depends on usage for your used airplane.

Used Airplane Maintenance

Includes the annual inspection and other yearly maintenance. The annual inspection may cost from $500 to $1,000 for a small plane. Other maintenance may cost from $800 and up.

Other Includes taxes and fees.

Your Used Airplane Objective

Before you start shopping, defining exactly what you need can help narrow the field on how to buy a used airplane. How many passengers will you typically carry? How far will you fly? How fast do you need to get there? What type of airstrips will you land on? Will you be flying in congested airspace? Are there certain styles such as antiques and classics that you find more appealing? How will your needs change over the next 3-5 years?

Jets versus Propellers

Jets are obviously much faster, but are more expensive to buy and operate used.

New Versus Used

Used planes cost less than new planes, but may have more mechanical problems. This does not mean that used planes are unsafe. The average general aviation airplane is over 20 years old.

Homebuilt versus Popular

Homebuilt planes often are faster, lighter and may cost less to operate (if you built it yourself, you may be able to do your own maintenance). However if you built it yourself, there is work in assembling, you need a place to put it together, and if you sell it, you may be liable for any problems the future owner has. If you buy it used and fully assembled, you are somewhat at the mercy of the mechanical skills of the previous owner.

Classics and Antiques

Older planes have stylistic appeal and are popular at air shows. Classic usually refers to planes built between 1945 and 1955. Antique usually refers to planes built before 1945.

Which used Airplane? Attributes on used Airplanes


What is the range? Manufacturers calculate the maximum distance the plane can fly at 75% power without refueling. Will the used airplane be able to land at your local airport? Standard airports have 3,000 to 4,000 feet runways, local strips may be smaller.


How fast do you need your used aircraft to travel? Cruise speed is measured as the speed at 75% power, and is usually expressed in statute miles per hour.

Number of Seats

How many seats will you need? Most planes can effectively carry fewer passengers and luggage than the number of seats they have.

Seating Configuration

What is your seating preference, Tandem v. Side-by-side? Tandem may be faster due to narrower configuration and may give the pilot more visibility and more legroom. However, side-by-side seating makes communication between occupants easier in your used airplane.

Avionics Level

What are the level and condition of the instruments and other electronics? Multiple communication radios are helpful for longer flights or flying in congested airspace.


Low wing generally have better flight visibility for flying in crowded airspace; High-wing airplanes may be better for sightseeing. Whish is more appropriate for your personal objective?

Landing Gear

Which type of gear do you prefer, Conventional or Tricycle Gear Landing gear- Conventional is more rugged and may have lower wind resistance, however a tricycle gear is less complex and may have lower maintenance costs.

Other Attributes on used Airplanes


How old is the plane? Will you easily be able to find replacement parts?

Physical Condition

Look for rust, cracked paint, and warn parts.


Note the manufacturer and size. Continental and Lycoming are the most common, and therefore the least expensive to find replacement parts. Also consider fuel consumption. Will you easily and cheaply be able to fill up with the right kind of fuel?


What is the capacity of the plane? It's measured as the allowable total weight of the plane, passengers and cargo.

Useful Load

Similar to gross, the useful load measures carrying capacity. It's the gross weight minus the weight of the empty plane.


What is the stall speed (usually expressed in statute miles per hour)?


How much will it cost you every year? Include purchase costs, storage costs, maintenance costs, ad flight costs.

Where to find a Plane

There are basically four sources of information on where to find used airplanes for sale:

Aircraft Dealer/ Broker

Contact General Aviation Services. They are a leader in the corporate used aircraft industry. General Aviation knows how to buy used airplanes because they buy for themselves, not just their clients.

Word of mouth

Join clubs at you local airstrip, look at the bulletin boards, and ask around.

Print Classifieds

Look in the classifieds sections of local papers, or look in your local boodstore for classified magazines specializing in small aircraft.


Check out the online classifieds.

The Purchase Process

Phone Screen

Ask about the aircraft before you decide to see it.

Buyer Inspection

Have an experienced mechanic look the plane over.

Title Search

Verify that the seller has legal rights to sell the plane. Names of the title search companies can usually be found in classified sections next to the listings of aircraft for sale.


Transfer ownership or have a qualified representative from General Aviation Services do all the work for you.

Phone Screen

Before you make a trip to see a plane, make sure you ask the following questions:

  • Flight time for the airframe and engine.
  • Date of the last major overhaul, last annual inspection and last anvionics check.
  • List of all applicable airworthiness directives and whether or noth the plane is in compliance.
  • Compression readings for each cylinder at the last time measurements were taken.
  • Damage history, major and minor (if any).
  • Overall condition of the interior and exterior.
  • Price

Buyer Inspection

Walk around the plane, look to see if the plane sits level. Look at paint for consistency; it may be an indicator of replacement parts. Make sure the paint's not cracking or flaking. The wear on the paint is a good indicator of how the plane has been treated. Has it been left outside baking in the sun and buried under snow, or has it been stored in a covered hangar? Also look for dents, rust and missing pieces to get a general sense for how well the plane has been maintained.

Go inside the cabin. How well do the doors close? What is the general feel of the interior? Is it well worn? Does it have an odor? Look at the avionics. Does the plane have a Mode C transponder? Does the plane have an emergency locator transmitter? If it is missing either, find out why.

As a final step of the buyer's inspection, examine the log boods. Look for the frequency of flights, repairs and inspections.

Test Flight

Open the windows during the start to listen to the engine. Does it sound normal? If it sounds rough, don't even take the plane up, walk away. Watch all the gauges during takeoff. Do the engines operate smoothly? Do a few turns. How does the aircraft feel? Check all the avionics.

Prepurchase Inspection

It is strongly recommended that you have a mechanic inspect the plane before you buy it. In this inspection, make sure you confirm that the Ads (airworthiness directives) are up to date, all maintenance was preformed and recorded correctly, and all inspections are current. Make sure you find a mechanic who is familiar with the make and model so the he/she knows which areas to focus in on. Also ask for estimated repair cost for anything found wrong.

Instead of trying to figure out on your own how to buy a used airplane, consider having an aircraft dealer help you out. General Aviation Services has saved their clients a lot of money instead of the client buying an airplane on their own. General Aviation knows a lot of "hidden treasures" in the aviation industry. GAS has been in the airplane marketplace for over 37 years with established partnerships worldwide. Why deal with the hassle of airplane homework? Have someone like GAS who has been in your shoes, do the homework for you. GAS will show you how to buy a used aircraft.