How Will You Use Your Plane? – Business vs pleasure, long hauls vs short hops, typical number of passengers, pavement only vs occasional grass strip, hours on airframe and engine(s), horsepower, type and age of avionics, interior and paint condition. Sit down with a notepad and a refreshing beverage before you start looking and give serious thought to these items. For example, your heart may be set on a turbocharged plane. But it makes little sense to buy one when the majority of your flights will be too short to take advantage of the higher altitude benefits a turbo affords.
Many Choices – High wing vs low wing, retract vs fixed, conventional vs tri-cycle, single vs twin, turbo vs normally aspirated, etc. These are all important considerations. Each of the choices you evaluate will have their own positives and negatives. You need to be clear about your personal objectives before you begin because there will always be conditions, situations and opportunities that will distract and even confuse you as you execute the search/evaluation process. The clearer you are, the more focused you will be when you are evaluating a potential purchase. This is vitally important, because the emotional “gotta have this one” demon is always lurking, and can cloud your judgement.
Fix-Up Costs – What are you going to do to make the plane “your own?” From avionics to paint, from interior to engine mods to airframe enhancements … how much will it cost you to get your new plane into the condition you are looking for? Know these numbers in advance.
Operating Costs – The True Cost of Ownership is determined by all the factors that go into owning an aircraft, not just fuel. There are free cost evaluation formulas available on the internet. Some of them are very comprehensive and are spreadsheets that you just plug your own numbers into. Find a good one and use it.
Insurance – One of the biggest and most often underestimated expenses in owning a plane (or upgrading to a different one) is the insurance “sticker shock.” Don’t fall into the “teenager” mentality of thinking you only need to budget for tires, oil, gas and registration. This can be one big gotcha!
Financing Costs, Storage, Fuel and Fees – round out the “before you begin looking” items. Investigate each of these thoroughly because you can easily spend more than you need to. For example, many plane owners register their planes in Delaware simply because the annual costs are hundreds of dollars cheaper than registering a plane in their home state!