Airplane Buying Requirements

Once I got my pilot’s license, the idea of buying an airplane resurfaced. I still didn’t know what I wanted, but I did have a few parameters in mind:

Four seats (most two-seaters won’t really carry two actual adults very far)

  • IFR capability
  • At least a few hundred hours of engine time left
  • A common production airplane, nothing exotic or home-built
  • Price no more than my arbitrary limit of $30,000

Those were the musts, and the last one really limited my search. I wouldn’t be getting anything fast in that price range. It meant a 1970s or earlier model. (Most of the common single-engine airplanes went out of production by the mid-1980s due to liability lawsuits which seemed to say every accident was the fault of the manufacturer.) A few models fit all my needs, such as the Piper Cherokee/Warrior, Cessna 172, and possibly the Grumman Cheetah.

The used airplane market is like no other I’ve seen. It’s not at all like the car market, where there could be hundreds to choose from in a given price range that meet the buyer’s wish list. The supply is very limited, and prices have been rising steadily the last few years; they aren’t making any more old planes, and the new ones that are available do cost as much as a house. The number of existing airplanes of a specific model and year is surprisingly low; even the popular models rarely had more than a few hundred built per year.

Prices of used airplanes vary a lot, even for similar models/years, for several reasons. Differences in condition and installed equipment are two major ones. There are no price guides available to the general public (although insurance companies or AOPA can give you estimated values), and some owners aren’t aware what their airplanes are worth.

Continue to The Search for an Airplane.

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