Buying a first plane

Niss, who flies out of Barrie Airpark (CNA3), left this comment on my posting Should I buy or rent? (divide all prices by about 1.2 to get US dollars):

I am looking to buy a share in an aircraft. Right now at my local airport (CNA3) there is a 1966 Piper Cherokee 140 on the ramp. The owner is looking for $32500 and I am told that he might be interested in selling off 25% Shares. TTSN: 5693 HRs SMOH: 1917 HRs, cylinders were redone 400 hours ago. The broker that is selling it is my old boss and mentor at the airport, so I know the salesman and the owner are reputable. Also I am a student, am looking to go on to bigger and better things including my CPL and other rateings. What do you guys think this animal would cost in maintenace fees, etc? Would you say this is a wise decision for a student?

Niss – that sounds like a reasonable starter aircraft for VFR. If you want to go on and get your instrument rating, you should know that the panel is probably not in the standard T arrangement, unless someone has had it redone; you might also need to make some changes to the panel and add an alternate static air source if the plane is not currently IFR-ready. Neither of these should be a deal killer, but it’s good to be aware. Go for a test flight in the plane (you should pay for the gas, and the owner or broker should be with you) and see how you like it.

Before you plunk down about CAD 10K (including tax) for a 25% share, you need to have a thorough prepurchase inspection done by a mechanic who has never worked on the plane — that might mean bringing someone in for the day from Brampton, Markham, Peterborough, or another city nearby. Expect to spend at least CAD 1K on the inspection, maybe more if there are any areas of concern. Obviously, it would be nice to get all the 25% partners together first so that you have to do the inspection only once and can split the cost — otherwise, each will have to do his or her own inspection. A proper prepurchase will take a full day and involve a detailed review of the logbooks (including airworthiness directives and service bulletins), removing the cowling and all inspection plates, checking compressions, looking for corrosion inside the wings, etc. The plane will probably be put up on jacks, and if there are any concerns, the seats might come out as well to allow better access to the interior. You should also review the logbooks yourself to see how often the plane has flown (if it flies less than 100 hours a year, look at it carefully; if it flies less than 50, be concerned; if it flies less than 25, be *very* concerned), whether there is any damage history, and how often parts are replaced. When’s the last time the vacuum pump was replaced, for example? How old is the battery? How old are the tires? Are the gyros getting elderly? This might be too much to worry about for your first plane, but you can bet I’ll be checking if or when I buy my second — even if the individual parts are relatively inexpensive, it gives you a good idea of how well the plane has been maintained.

Remember that the time on the engine has a lot to do with the value of the plane. Including removal, shipping, and reinstallation, an engine overhaul for a Lycoming O-320 costs at least CAD 25K, maybe more like CAD 30K. Is the engine on this plane just about run out (2000 hours)? Has the engine been giving trouble and getting a lot of top work (new cylinders)? Are the compressions OK? The mechanic can help with that. Many people believe that a half-time engine (~1,000 hours) is the best deal — a brand-new overhaul done just to sell the plane might be shoddy, while a run-out engine will require you to take the time to do the overhaul and break in a new engine. Likewise, beware of any plane sold with a fresh annual — that has no value to you, since the seller will probably defer any marginal items.

Expect all the partners combined to spend about CAD 5K/year on maintenance, excluding engine reserve, if the plane is in good condition — that includes replacing radios, pumps, tires, batteries, starters, etc. as they fail. The plane will also need to be painted every decade or two, at a cost of over CAD 10K Some AMEs will let you help with the maintenance, reducing the cost a bit, but whether that’s a reasonable trade will depend on how much your time is worth. The problem is that there’s a lot of variability — you might pay $2,000 one year, and $8,000 the next. You’ll spend about $2,000/year on insurance, given the low airframe value, and gas and oil will depend on your flying (estimate about CAD 35/hour for gas, depending on where you buy it). Parking will depend on where you decide to keep the plane — you’ll want at least an electrical plugin if you plan to fly in the winter. A hangar can be expensive, but also much more convenient (and you can split it four ways).

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About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
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4 Responses to Buying a first plane

  1. Niss Feiner says:

    David,

    Thanks for the information. Like I said the broker is my old boss who is also an AME, he has personally flown the plane and likes it himself. I do not believe that he would intentionally try to steer me wrong (but maybe I am aeronautically naive). Would you feel it neccisarry to go through the $1K inspection for a 25% or have Joe (my old boss) give it a once over and his opinion? I compeletly agree with going over the logs and plan on doing that anyway. Also, as you can see by the website link I provided (Click it, go to Aircraft Listings/Parts => Single Engine => 1966 Piper Cherokee 140) it has fresh cylinders and a 70/80 compression. Do you feel that this is a high time for an engine or airframe? I figure that where I am at with my aviation career, I really only need to squeeze about 400 hours out of an aircraft in its lifetime.

    Thanks for the input,

    Its nice to finally find some help and insight for Canadian planes and Canadain Plane Prices.

  2. Niss Feiner says:

    Also,

    I would be buying 25% but he would be holding the remaining 75% untill he can sell it off.

  3. david says:

    It’s your call, of course — I can understand not wanting to spend $1,000 when your whole share will cost $10,000, but at least chat with some local AMEs who haven’t worked on the plane and see if they can put something less expensive together for you. Good inspections make good neighbours — if you don’t do the inspection and something expensive shows up in a year or two, it might strain your relationship with your old boss, and that could be a bigger loss than the money itself.

    I’ve never been in a partnership, but from what I’ve heard personality is everything. You’re probably better off putting together a group of three or four people you’re comfortable with and buying the plane outright; otherwise, you might end up trying to share the plane with people you cannot get along with. COPA has some information on partnerships, if you’re a member; there are also many articles online.

  4. Niss Feiner says:

    Dave,

    I spoke to Joe today and he said that FUBC was actually overhauled Toes To Tits a couple of years ago. Im going over sometime next week to have a look at the logbooks but I think its nota bad deal.

    Niss

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