The 6 Most Important Questions to ask when Buying a Used Airplane

The most important thing you can do when you buy a used airplane is ask the seller THE RIGHT QUESTIONS! Get the answers to these 6 questions BEFORE you go to inspect the aircraft. The answers to these questions will be the determining factors in the value of the aircraft.

These are the 6 most important questions to ask an aircraft seller. The last question is something not many buyers even think to ask!

1. What is the engine time since new and since overhaul?

The single most important factor in the value of your used airplane is the Engine Time. The closer the engine gets to the manufacturer's recommended TBO (Time Between Overhauls) the less it’s value. Regular use and maintenance keeps the engine components lubricated and means the engine will be more likely to go to full TBO. An aircraft engine which has not been used regularly is more likely to develop rust and other issues that may require an overhaul much sooner than TBO. A complete examination of the engine logbooks will reveal the hours flown each year and whether regular maintenance intervals have been followed. 

2. What is the airframe total time and condition?

The next most important question will be to ask how many hours are on the airframe and its condition. High total time in a used aircraft can reduce the airplane's value. Total time is something that cannot be changed and amounts to wear and tear on the aircraft just like miles on a car. Ask the seller about the condition of the paint and interior. Is there any evidence of hail or corrosion. These will be important talking points and determining factors when choosing the best aircraft for the value. 

Refurbishing an aircraft’s paint and/or interior can cost thousands of dollars. If an aircraft has been kept in a humid or saltwater climate, it may have internal corrosion that must be treated or repaired. Aircraft that are kept outside may have hail damage that can range from very light (almost invisible to the eye) to severe hail on wing and control surfaces. This can be unsightly or potentially affect the aircraft performance and require repair.

3. What avionics have been upgraded?

Avionics upgrades are more affordable when you are buying an aircraft as opposed to installing the avionics after the purchase. Most owners who upgrade the avionics in their plane will find that they get less than half of the cost back when they sell the aircraft. When you are looking for an aircraft to purchase, find one that has desirable avionics already installed. Especially look for aircraft which have had autopilot upgrades. Upgrading the autopilot system is the most expensive avionic there is, so it is wise to buy an aircraft with the upgraded system already installed.

4. Are the aircraft logbooks and maintenance complete?

An aircraft’s logbooks are of extreme value in the price of that used airplane. Missing, incomplete, or foreign logbooks can affect an aircraft’s value greatly. Have an Aviation professional or mechanic verify all logbooks to be sure the maintenance data is complete, accurate and comparable to the information the seller has supplied. Are all inspections and AD's current and correctly documented in the aircraft logbooks?

5. Is there any damage history?

Does the aircraft have any damage history? How long ago was it damaged and who repaired the damage? The answers to these questions can also greatly affect the aircraft’s value. A used airplane which was recently repaired will have a greater deduct in value compared to an aircraft which had the same damage many years ago. An aircraft repaired by a very large reputable shop with new parts will have less loss of value in comparison to one repaired at a small shop where they repaired and/or rebuilt parts.

6. Does everything work??

Ask the seller if everything on the aircraft is in working condition and document their answer. When you complete your test flight, confirm that all systems and avionics are in working order. Any discrepancies can be negotiated upon closing.




Finding the Best Aircraft on the Market

Finding the best used aircraft on the market involves much online research, time on the phone, and a good eye for the most important factors that affect an aircraft’s value. Document everything the seller tells you about the particular aircraft your interested in.

Research online sources of ‘AIRCRAFT FOR SALE’

There are many online resources available today to find used aircraft for sale. There are the old standbys like Controller and Trade A Plane, but one of the most reliable, trusted sources in the aviation industry today is! is an aircraft search engine created over 20 years ago by aircraft dealers for aircraft dealers to locate every used airplane available for sale. then puts every aircraft for sale into a searchable database and is updated daily. Click here to search ADN – FindAircraft now!

Make a spreadsheet with your favorite aircraft

Place each aircraft that meets your needs and value criteria into a spreadsheet so that you can compare apples to apples. Print out each aircraft specification and write the answers to the questions above on the specs. Then incorporate your answers into your spreadsheet. You will be amazed how quickly you will be able to separate the best buys.

Research FAA records for safety data, AD’s and damage history

Once you locate the best buy on the market, research the airplane's history online for undisclosed damage by searching the NTSB and FAA records for accidents/incidents. Those reports will disclose whether the damage sustained was minor or major. Many aircraft owners are unaware of previous damage history not written in the aircraft logbooks. Searching the NTSB can also provide an aircraft make and model safety history. The FAA provides information on current Airworthiness Directives by Make and Model. The sources will give you much insight into the history of a used aircraft.

Research and obtain aircraft values or an aircraft appraisal from a knowledgeable source

Consider joining an aviation value source such as VRef or obtaining a professional aircraft appraisal on the aircraft you are considering purchasing. The aircraft value guides and appraiser can give you retail values versus wholesale values. This information will provide you with the tools you will need to make a reasonable offer on a used aircraft. It can also assure that you are not paying too much. 




Aviation Professionals

Purchasing a used aircraft will most likely involve some of the following professional services:

Aircraft Consultant/Dealer/Broker

Most used airplanes sold today are being represented by a professional aviation consultant or broker. They will supply you with complete answers to all of the questions listed above in a verifiable and professional manner as they have many years of experience in representing aircraft for clients. Occasionally you find an aircraft owner going the route of ‘for sale by owner’. They usually will not be accustomed to answering the very detailed questions listed above by prospective purchasers. In this case you could consider hiring a professional aircraft consultant to act as your buyer's agent’. 

Hiring an Aircraft Sales Professional to work for you as your ‘Buyer’s Agent’ will pay for itself. An Aircraft Sales Professional can provide advice on the aircraft performance characteristics, operating costs, resale market, and pre-purchase inspection criteria. They have vast experience with the aircraft sales process assuring you of a smooth transition into your new aircraft. A professional can help you avoid the common mistakes of a novice buyer and will help you even after the sale with maintenance, upgrades, and resale advice. For a complete list of aircraft dealers in your area, click the following link:

Aviation Insurance Agent

Aviation insurance varies based on pilot experience and make and model plane. We recommend finding an agent familiar with your individual needs. Call or visit our sponsor James A. Gardner Company today for your free quote. 

Aviation Maintenance Facility 

Most buyers choose to perform a pre-purchase inspection with the maintenance facility that will be maintaining their used airplane. They ask the mechanics to research any applicable AD’s that may be costly and to perform an inspection of the engine, all systems and logbook entries. Any discrepancies are then negotiated with the seller.

Aircraft Instructor

Unless you are very experienced in the make and model aircraft you are purchasing, choose a seasoned pilot or flight instructor to ride along with you on the aircraft flight test before purchase. Have them verify that all systems and avionics are operational. Compare your notes to what the seller has disclosed to you previously and negotiate from there.




The Actual Aircraft Sales Process


The Offer – Determine Fair Market Value

As mentioned previously in this article, seek the help of an aviation professional to determine the aircraft’s true value. Use that as a guide when making the seller an offer. If you decide not to seek the advice of a professional, obtain a used airplane value estimate and compare that to comparable aircraft on the market. Choose the aircraft based on comparative values and establish that there is no history that would negatively affect the aircraft’s value.

The Purchase Agreement

These are standard in the aviation industry and your aviation sales professional can help you with the proper documentation. Many now use Docusign for completing the agreement. If you are not working with an Aircraft Dealer, you can obtain an Aircraft Purchase Agreement from AOPA.

The Pre-Purchase Inspection

Your mechanic will handle the pre-purchase inspection as discussed above. Prior to closing you negotiate and agree with seller the corrective actions or price adjustments. It is a good idea to have the maintenance facility that will be maintaining the aircraft do the pre-purchase inspection. Many buyers will ask their maintenance facility to also complete an annual inspection after closing on the aircraft. 

The Flight Test

Take an experienced aviation professional, seasoned pilot or instructor with you on the flight test to verify any items that may need to be remedied or repaired. You will have a knowledgeable resource when approaching the owner for an adjustment in the price or compensation for the repair before closing.

Insurance Coverage

Insurance coverage is usually bound at closing. Your aviation sales professional will advise you on the proper procedure to ensure that you and your pilot are covered when you fly your new plane home.

Aircraft Title and Escrow Services

Most aircraft buyers secure their title and hold funds in escrow with a professional aircraft title company such as Aero Title. The title company can assure that proper documentation is in place to secure your interest and/or your bank’s interest in the aircraft. The title company will handle all funds in escrow and wire transfer immediately upon closing. They will file all documents immediately with the FAA after closing ensuring a smooth transition.

These are all of the steps you will need to buy a used airplane. You don’t have to be an aviation professional to do your own research when buying a used airplane, but it helps! Visit FindAircraft and use the same tools Aviation Professionals use everyday in the ADN Member Section – JOIN TODAY! 

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